The newest sign that I’m kind of a grown up: adopting (and sticking to) a diet. It’s been about 6 months and I’ve lost about 8 pounds. I feel better, almost all my clothes fit, and people have noticed the difference. People have been asking questions, and this is the best route for me to give context and facts for what I’ve been exploring and experiencing. Although it is the most visible effect, losing weight was not the principal goal in changing my diet. It’s another strategy I’m employing in my ongoing battle with endometriosis.
Today is Part 1 of my Endo Diet. Here’s the information that made me willing to give up cheese and bread which I could (and have) lived on exclusively. It’s closely related to the anti-inflammatory diet that has gained popularity with arthritis sufferers. First it starts with a wee bit of science: Prostaglandins.
Prostaglandins are lipids made in your body when and where they are needed, in response to an illness or injury. Here’s the quick and dirty on them in the general health and wellness sense. They are obviously important little helpers. Here’s the short-story-long about their connection to dysmennorhoea. But for my purposes, here’s the gist:
They control processes of inflammation, redirecting blood flow, the formation of blood clots. You know, the Unholy Trinity of Womanhood.
They control ovulation, menstrual cycling, and induce labor. You know, the Gauntlet of Womanhood.
So, they’re useful and necessary and helpful for recovering from injuries, be them occasional like a bruise or recurring like menstruation. Eventually, your bruise heals and the swelling goes down. Your period ends, the bleeding stops, the cramping stops. What I think of as the good prostaglandins step in to inhibit the inflammation, they tell your muscles to relax.
With endometriosis, I’m sort of always injured. I may not always be bleeding, I may not always be hurting but those growths are always there, and my body always knows they shouldn’t be. So the prostaglandins are telling my guts to cramp (get rid of those clots!) and my abdomen to swell (to protect from the angry ovaries!).
How do you try to control something that your body creates naturally? Turns out that diet can make a big difference in two ways: limiting things that excite the prostaglandins responsible for inflammation, and adopting things that help your body inhibit inflammation.
Since they are lipids, your body makes them out of fat. The first thing to change in my diet was fat.
None trans fats. That’s an easy enough one to avoid with anything that comes with nutrition facts and everyone knows they are unhealthy. Saturated fats are to be avoided too, I haven’t been able to eliminate them, but I’m choosing them differently. Dairy is almost totally out, because it heightens your body’s inflammatory response. (I rock fat free Greek yogurt though, for protein and live cultures for digestion) I’ve actually gone for months now without any butter, and rarely vegetable oil. I have adopted avocado oil for cooking, it’s full of great things. I’m using coconut oil for baking and damn near everything else because it’s perfect for… DAMN NEAR EVERYTHING.
Soy. This one I really have eliminated entirely, because it’s easier to avoid than you might think. And there are many more reasons to do so than you might think.
Soy is high in phytoestrogen, which for purposes here you can just read as estrogen (but please read more because it’s kinda fascinating). My body is super sensitive to estrogen. I don’t want to put any in it, like, at all. This property of soy can inhibit your body’s absorption of calcium, magnesium, and iron. These are crazy-important for women with cramping and bleeding. It can raise your body’s need for Vitamins D and B-12.
Gluten. This one is getting easier to avoid because people are so much more aware of gluten allergies and intolerances. Women with endo seem to be a little more prone to gluten sensitivity. Either way, processed flours and wheats contain phytic acid that can aggravate cramps. It’s with reluctance that I avoid bread, but it has given me the reason to try pumpkin seeds, flax, hemp, and chia seeds.
Red meat: not all that hard for me to eliminate. I’ve never been into burgers. Steak only excites me if it’s super high quality slabs of heaven that was grass fed and smothered in a wine reduction. That is an exception to my diet I’m willing to make, because grass fed is not only delectable, it’s better for you. Note the Omega-3 and antioxidants.
Sugar–Another that is getting easier to avoid, but I recognize it’s going to be a long process for me to be close to sugar-free. A sugary diet can heighten your inflammatory response. I’ve adopted coconut sugar for my coffee and baking. Stevia is too sweet for me, agave gives me a tummy ache. So I’ll stick to coconut sugar, honey, and maple syrup.
Corn has been a bummer–I can eat myself stupid on Juanita’s corn tortilla chips. My first summer without corn on the cob since the days when I had braces. I’ve pretty well cut out eggs, as well. Both of them can worsen inflammation in your body.
So there’s the over-view of what I have cut out or limited. I’ve already acknowledged I’ve dropped some weight. But has it helped my endo symptoms?
Yes. I am confident in saying that it has helped. I am not cramping on a daily basis anymore. I’m with Susan that it’s not OK yet, but for me to have days at a time free of cramping is a damn fine step closer.