There’s no question that endometriosis can play havoc with your quality of life. In this condition, tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside the uterus. Yet the ebb and flow of estrogen throughout the month works on this external endometrial tissue just as it does on the uterine lining, inciting growth when estrogen levels are high. That’s fine for endometrial tissue within the uterus; but when endometrial tissue in the pelvic or abdominal cavity grows, it can cause severe pain, unusual bleeding and damage to other organs, including the bowel and bladder, and even lead to infertility. The pain can be so bad, in fact, that some women spend a day or more a month in bed.
While there are a variety of treatments for endometriosis—ranging from medications to surgery—you shouldn’t discount lifestyle changes. We know that lifestyle changes, including what you eat and how much physical activity you get, affect other estrogen-dependent conditions, such as menstruation, fibroids and menopausal symptoms.
Unfortunately, the few studies on endometriosis and lifestyle focus on whether certain diets or levels of activity are connected to endometriosis, not whether those aspects improve endometriosis-related symptoms. However, that doesn’t mean they’re not worth a try.
Several studies find a strong connection between endometriosis and diets high in red meat and low in green vegetables and fresh fruit. This fits with other studies finding similar connections between these eating patterns and endometrial cancer and fibroids (noncancerous tumors of the uterus). One seminal study in this area compared 504 healthy women and 504 women with endometriosis, finding that women who ate beef every day were nearly twice as likely to have endometriosis, while those who got seven or more fruit and vegetable servings a week were at least 40 percent less likely.