What is Endometriosis?
Endometriosis occurs when endometrial cells migrate and grow outside of the uterus thus inducing a chronic, inflammatory reaction that may cause health complications and increase a woman’s risk of infertility amongst other issues. The endometrial cells may colonise (hence become stuck) any adjacent cells or organs including the pelvic peritoneum, ovaries, recto-vaginal septum, bladder and bowel.
Risk factors include early onset of menstruation, allergies, genetics, exposure to toxins in the environment (e.g. xenoestrogens), lower body weight, excessive alcohol consumption and heavy, prolonged menstrual cycles (Vinatier et al, 2001, p.27).
In mild endometriosis, chemicals being released from the endometrial cells may interfere with conception or affect the normal early development of the embryo. In moderate to severe forms, it is possible that scarring can interfere with ovulation and block the passage of the egg along the fallopian tube. It can also prevent the sperm from reaching the egg (Gurates et al, 2003, p.128).
Despite this, many women with endometriosis have conceived, carried and birthed children without difficulty.
Signs and Symptoms
Pain is the most common symptom, followed by fertility complications. Pain can occur during menstruation (dysmenorrhoea), in the lower abdomen, back or pelvis, during intercourse, ovulation, urination or with bowel movements. Pre-menstrual tension, menorrhagia, irregular bleeding and pre-menstrual spotting are commonly associated (Steege et al, 1993, p.100).
Retrograde menstruation is considered the key causative mechanism. This is when menstrual blood flows backwards along the fallopian tubes into the pelvis and facilitates the entry of endometrial cells into the pelvic region, instead of out through the vagina naturally. This is why your Acupuncturist will usually ask you to use pads instead of tampons (Maciocia, 2011, p.850).
Once in the abdominal cavity, these cells develop into small patches or plaques, which grow in size and may develop into nodules. On the ovary, these can increase in size and burrow to form cysts, known as endometriomas or ‘chocolate’ cysts (Clement, 2007, p.252).
If all attempts to treat the endometriosis have failed, surgical treatment such as laparoscopy may increase the chances of pregnancy. Combining surgery with acupuncture and herbs can increase your chances of a good healthy, recovery, and of course a successful and healthy pregnancy. Before pursuing surgery or drug therapy, assess your options through research and make informed decisions to ensure your endometriosis will be best treated according to your individual needs and requirements (Danny et al, 2007, p.1113).
Do Medical Treatments Cure Endometriosis?
Conventional medical treatments include pain killers, anti-inflammatories drugs and surgery which mask the symptoms rather than treat the root cause of the disease. Hormone therapy may also be prescribed to you such as the oral contraceptive pill, but this can reduce your fertility (Massan & Killick, 2003, p.351) and reduces your libido, given natural hormone production, ovulation and menstruation will be suppressed. Long term use of hormones can increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, cause mood swings, weight gain and also mask underlying gynaecological imbalances.
TCM Treatment for Endometriosis
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treats a wide range of illness and disease including endometriosis. It is an ancient traditional medicine where we encompass acupuncture, herbs, cupping, lifestyle, diet and much more. The treatment works with your qi, energy or vital force, that flows between organs in the body in meridians or energetic pathways. Health challenges and disease represent blockages of qi in the body, and can be moved and strengthened to restore your health and vitality with regular treatment. TCM is reknowned for its relative lack of side-effects, being gentle and non-invasive and treats you as an individual, holistically.
Women with endometriosis may present with poor digestion, circulation, blood stagnation and a component of kidney yin or yang deficiency. The kidney energy is responsible for many functions including human reproduction and development, manufacturing blood, creating healthy, shiny hair, along with the reproductive fluids of the vagina and penis. When the kidney energy is too weak to warm and circulate the blood, it will stagnate (Maciocia, 2011, 849). Endometriosis affects women particularly in the pelvic area given the liver channel is sensitive to stress and is responsible for moving qi through the body. Initially, the qi becomes stuck long-term and then this affects blood, given blood will always follows where qi flows (Zhou & Qu, 2009, p.515).
What is Blood Stagnation?
For the body to remain healthy it must be constantly moistened, nourished, and detoxified by an abundant supply of clean, fresh blood. When the blood does not circulate freely, the blood stagnates thus disease may occur. These signs include but are not limited to the following: stabbing pain that is worse when pressed upon, fixed masses on the surface of the body, dark complexion, rough scaly dry skin, dry hair, a purple hue to the lips and finger nails, a dark purple tongue with possible signs of bruising, dark menstrual blood with clotting and a sluggish-feeling pulse (Pitchford, 2002, p.392). All signs that the blood is not oxygenating the body.
Blood stagnation can also be the result of blood deficiency, where there is not enough blood to circulate and nourish the body, it becomes sluggish and stagnates. Blood stagnation can further be complicated with hot or cold syndromes and qi stagnation, everyone is different. My treatments for endometriosis and fertility acupuncture almost always target blood stagnation and the underlying cause, given women are prone to this every month when they menstruate.
Acupuncture & Chinese Herbs
Numerous studies have postulated that endometriosis is an auto-immune disorder in the body. Acupuncture can improve your immunity, and improve liver function that stimulates the nervous system to release hormones (Mathur, 2004, p.90).
Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine can also reduce your stress so that energy and blood flow better in the body. Acupuncture gently moves your qi and blood and this reduces the chances of blood stagnating in your body. Ilana is knowledgeable and experienced to make the best recommendations according to your situation and health goals.
Herbal treatment is paramount to ensure that menstrual blood is effectively moved and discharged in endometriosis thus committing to taking the herbs everyday as prescribed for the length of treatment is necessary. With regular Acupuncture and taking your herbs, you should also find that your general wellbeing improves also, such as improved blood circulation in your body, fresher red menstrual blood flow and less period pain (Rubi-Klein et al, 2006, 42). Once you conceive, pregnancy acupuncture can support you through your pregnancy.
Ilana’s Treatment and Holistic Consultation Aims To:
- Treat the stress, a major cause of the disease.
- Move the stagnant blood and qi, which causes pain and infertility.
- Use both herbs (taken twice daily) & acupuncture (weekly) together: both play a key role in treating the condition.
- Without herbs, treatment is usually less effective and results slower.
- Depending on the severity and stage of your endomentriosis, the length of treatment may be 3 to 6 months (full menstrual cycles).
- Support you to make long-term dietary and lifestyle changes to strengthen your body and vitality.
Making lifestyle changes according to the following along with your TCM treatment allows your body to reduce the stagnation of endometriosis and inflammatory effects sooner:
- Take time in life to rest, don’t always rush around.
- Wear comfortable clothing that is not too tight.
- Practise mind body exercise such as tai chi, meditation, yoga.
- During your period: rest, avoid cold foods and drinks especially, avoid abdominal exercises.
- Take warm aromatherapy baths (not when you are menstruating).
- Essential oils that are beneficial: frankincense, myrr, clary sage, peppermint, lavendar, rosemary, juniper and thyme.
- Regularly use a heated wheat bag or hot water bottle on your abdomen and lower back.
- Apply warm castor oil packs on your abdomen to activate blood circulation, support the lymphatic system and balance hormone levels. This can be done two to three times daily when pre-menstrual and menstruating.
- Avoid all foods which have been treated hormonally, this can cause excessive oestrogen levels and affect your natural reproductive hormones.
- Eat mainly organic fruit and vegetables, some nuts, seeds and tofu.
- Avoid refined, rancid and hydrogenated oils. Go for whole fats; avocado, grass-fed lard, grass-fed butter and coconut oil.
- Use oils rich in both linoleic and alpha-linolenic fatty acids such as flaxseed, pumpkin seed, evening primrose oil, extra-virgin olive oil and chia-seed oils, but only if they are recently cold-pressed and refined. Including flaxseed, evening primrose oil & high quality cod liver oil in your diet will increase the benefical Omega 3 fatty acid ratios which are usually deficient.
- Include dietary spirulina, a variety of seaweeds and wholegrain, unpasteurised miso soup paste.
- Minimise consumption of animal meats, dairy products, eggs, fried, oily, sweet food and peanuts.
- Decrease the amount of dietary animal products, except fish.
- If you do consume meat, ensure it is free range and organic, not hormonally treated.
- Eat fresh walnuts (from the shell), dark greens, saffron and cold crimate crops (pumpkin, sweet potato, turnips, parsnips, carrots, yam).
- Foods which are especially good for resolving blood stasis include: kelp, lemons, limes, onions, irish moss, eggplant and bladderwrack (Lewis, 2013).
- Become informed, read the packet of what you are eating, does it contain preservatives, additives, processed flour, fats and sugars? If you cannot understand the ingredients then they are probably chemicals. If it has a long shelf-life, it won’t nourish your body.
- Exercise, childbearing and breastfeeding are also thought to mitigate against endometriosis.
By Ilana Sowter, B.H.Sc (Acupuncture) graduate from Endeavour College Melbourne, a B.Sc (University of Melbourne) graduate, Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association (AACMA) member and is a Registered Acupuncturist with AHPRA.
Ilana’s mission is to treat, support and empower you to successfully achieve your health goal, and learn priceless information so you will maintain this in the process beyond the TCM treatment. The impossible is possible. She practices at her Murrays Bay, North Shore, Auckland clinic by appointment Monday to Friday. To make an appointment call 020 4159 8393 or firstname.lastname@example.org