Is Your Immune System To Blame For Painful Periods? Here's Exactly What To Do About It

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Times are changing and after centuries of silence, the conversation around periods and all things menstruation is becoming more and more open. With new mobile apps that track fertility and period pants trending, slowly and surely we're reconnecting with our bodies and everyone is learning a little bit more about women's health.

The more we learn about periods, the more we realize that not everyone’s is the same—and there really is no normal. For some women their period comes and goes smoothly, but for others it brings debilitating pain, illness, and such discomfort that they can’t work or socialize. Many of them have endometriosis, a condition that currently affects a whopping 10 percent of women of reproductive age. Once rarely talked about outside women’s clinics, high-profile women (like Lena Dunham and Daisy Ridley) are now openly talking about their struggles with endometriosis, bringing the conversation into the public eye.

Endometriosis and painful periods:

Endometriosis is a chronic condition characterized by excruciating periods. It occurs when cells from the lining of the uterus find their way outside the uterine cavity, typically to the abdominal area, ovaries, or bowel. And despite sitting in the wrong location, these are still endometrial cells, meaning they are under the influence of the female hormone cycle and will react accordingly. As a woman has a period and sheds blood, these cells also go through this process but unlike the blood released from the uterus, it has nowhere to go so it collects locally, causing inflammation, pain, cysts, and scar tissue.

While the exact cause of endometriosis is uncertain, it is considered a disease of hormone and immune dysregulation, which is inflammatory in nature. With this in mind, encouraging balance in the body can make a big difference in easing the symptoms of this painful condition experienced by so many. Here I share my top advice for bringing back that much-needed balance.

1. Activate hormone harmony.

Endometriosis is an estrogen-dominant condition, so those who start their menstrual cycle at an earlier age or do not have children are at a greater risk. Many chemicals and toxins are perceived as estrogens in our body and increase the amount of total estrogen, so my first recommendation is to decrease your total estrogen load:

  • Choose organic foods that are in season.
  • Avoid plastics whenever possible and never cook food in them. Glass or ceramic are the best options.
  • Use chemical-free household products.
  • Switch to skin care products that are paraben-free.
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2. Get to know your immune system.

The immune system is responsible for killing invaders and then clearing them out. In endometriosis, it is thought the immune system is overwhelmed by the amount of endometrial tissue. Factors for you to be aware of that can affect the immune system include:

  • Undiagnosed food intolerance, which can affect the immune system, the most common triggers being wheat and dairy. I would recommend eliminating them for one month and monitoring symptoms.
  • Insufficient nutrients, meaning you aren’t absorbing the food you eat due to problems with digestion. What you absorb is more important than what you eat. Apple cider vinegar is a great addition to salad dressings and is high in acetic acid, which assists with absorption of minerals.

3. Get on top of inflammation.

It's essential to reduce inflammation in the body when you have endometriosis, and one way to do this is to make sure your fatty acids are in balance. It's very common for people to be high in omega-6s, which can be pro-inflammatory and low in omega-3s, which are anti-inflammatory. A typical Western diet provides us with a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, but quick ways to influence this include:

  • Reducing trans fats. This is typically anything cooked in vegetable oils like fried foods, margarine, and packaged baked goods.
  • Eating organic grass-fed meat, but only in moderation.
  • Adding a lot of oily fish such as salmon and sardines to your diet.
  • Eating flaxseeds daily, they are a great source of omega-3s and fiber.
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4. Support your liver and healthy detoxification.

This is essential for the removal of the excess estrogen in the body. B vitamins are essential for the function of the liver and for converting estrogen into its less harmful form to be excreted. Here's how to support your detoxification process:

  • Include vegetables at every meal especially broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower.
  • Flaxseeds (again!) are a great source of fiber, so add them to your diet daily.
  • Warm water with lemon in the morning is a great kick-start for the liver.

Have more questions about endometriosis? Here's how a doctor helps her patients manage it naturally and three foods to eat to help manage symptoms.

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