Fiona McMahon, DPT
March is Endometriosis Awareness Month. Endometriosis is a condition that is near and dear to our hearts at Beyond Basics Physical therapy. Endometriosis is a gynecological disease that occurs when a tissue similar to the lining of the uterus implants itself outside of the uterus in the abdominal and pelvic cavity. It is an inflammatory condition, whose symptoms can vary from mild to severe. Most commonly endo is seen as causing painful periods, but it can also cause bowel and bladder symptoms, issues with fertility, pain with sexual activities and general pain. For the past two years we have done a post about endometriosis during endometriosis awareness month on how musculoskeletal pain can be a contributor or the primary cause of abdomino-pelvic pain condition. To learn more about how the disease affects the body and its symptoms as well as how we treat the condition at BBPT click here:
For this year’s Endometriosis Awareness Day I decided to review an article on how diet may or may not affect endometriosis. The full version is here for free:
About this Article
The article by Fabio Parazzini and his colleagues is a literature review. The point of a literature review is to aggregate many studies on one topic and determine a general trend in the data in one place. A literature review is not as powerful as its cousin a meta-analysis, in which more powerful statistical tools can be applied to interpret the data. Nonetheless, literature reviews can provide us with a general sense of what is going on in a certain field of research.
First things first, let’s talk about the limitations of this review. Designing a single study on endo and diet can be rather difficult. First of all, not all endo is the same. Women with endo can experience vastly different symptoms that don’t always correspond to the amount of endometrial deposits seen on laparoscopy. It can be really difficult for researchers to ensure they have a homogeneous (or similar) study population. Secondly, studying something like diet it usually correlational and not causal. Diet can reflect a lot of other components besides the nutrients going into one’s body. Diet may reflect factors such as culture, wealth, education, geographic region, which all may play independent roles in the diagnosis and progression of endo. Most of the studies examined were based on self-report, which also may not be entirely accurate.
Now that we have the caveats out in the open, let’s talk about why a study like this is useful. Like I said before, this article is an aggregation of multiple other publications. When we see similar results produced by different authors in different groups of people, it lends a little more weight to the individual study’s findings. Most importantly Parazzini is also careful to include information on why a particular food group may be more beneficial or even harmful in the progression of endometriosis.
What the Article Found
Green Vegetables and Fruit
The authors found two studies that show that a higher intake of green fruits and vegetables reduce the risk of endometriosis. They found that the higher the intake of green fruits, specifically (think okra, etc) caused the decreased risk of endometriosis and did not find the same relationship with green vegetables (think kale, spinach, and lettuce). Parazzini notes that green vegetables and particularly fruit are high in a compound called organochlorine, which has been shown in other studies to reduce the risk of endometriosis. Organochlorines are a particularly broad class of molecules and can be found in healthy things but also make up compounds used in industrial purposes. This study is referring to those occurring naturally in vegetables and fruits.
Vitamin A is found in animal products like fatty fish, dairy, and animal kidneys and livers. Its building blocks are found in green and orange vegetables and fruits and can be manufactured into vitamin A in the body. Parazzini and colleagues found mixed results some with no benefit for development of endo and some that did show benefit. No studies showed harm.
Vitamin C and E
These vitamins were not consistently found to be helpful in reducing endometriosis risk. Some studies reported that increased amounts of vitamin C and E intake reduced risk of endometriosis, while other studies failed to yield significant findings. Parazzinni did provide evidence from other studies which demonstrates the antioxidant properties of vitamins C and E. Parazinni purposes that because there may be a link between oxidative stress and disease, vitamin C and E may be helpful in reducing the inflammation associated with endometriosis.
Red Meat and Saturated Fat
Again, results were mixed. Saturated fat mainly occurs in animal products. Some studies found a correlation between red meat and endo risk, but no association with butter. In other the results were flipped.
Other items investigated
- Olive Oil
- Fish and Omega 3
- Minimal to no evidence supporting associations between endo and dietary intake for any of these products were found.
What’s it All Mean?
One of my patients once told me she was instructed to finish every study, with the phrase, “more research is needed.” This is certainly the case in the field of endometriosis treatment. There’s a lot about endometriosis that we don’t understand We need well constructed studies that will allow researchers to do more powerful meta-analysis to help guide our treatment. This review was only able to include 11 studies for review out of the 256 initially found.
With all that said, I do think there are some key takeaways from this study. There was a general trend in healthier foods and more promising results. Parazinni was also diligent to include mechanisms by which these healthy foods could be helpful. Secondly, there was no harm found by eating what is considered a healthy diet, (high in greens and vitamins). These findings, although small, in combination with the general benefits of a healthy diet, should encourage patients with endo to explore in more depth how eating certain foods affects their symptoms.
At Beyond Basics we take pride in treating our patients from a holistic perspective and we appreciate that we can collaborate with other healthcare providers in our community, including expert nutritionists, naturopaths, functional medicine doctors and mental health therapists. We find that the combination of diet, specific physical therapy techniques, mental health and self-care, can significantly reduce pain and other symptoms and improve function in many patients. Our clinicians specifically are experts in manual therapy techniques such as visceral and connective tissue mobilization techniques, myofascial release and other soft tissue mobilization techniques discussed in the previously mentioned endometriosis blogs. If you are suffering from endometriosis, come visit us today.
Learn more about what we do at BBPT with our upcoming PH101 classes, which are free to the public. Here are some you may find interesting:
April 6th: Does my diet really matter?
April 13th: Pain & Sexuality: Is it all in my head? No, it is not!
April 20th: Ladies Only Session
April 27th: Optimize reproductive health
May 4th: Improve your birthing experience.
All events are at 7pm with light snacks.
Register at: pelvichealth-101.eventbrite.com because space is limited!!
See full list of classes below