Q & A: Herbs for Endometriosis Symptoms

| July/August 2002

After years of severe menstrual cramps and pelvic pain, I recently had laparoscopic surgery and was diagnosed with endometriosis. What can you suggest in terms of vitamins, herbs or other therapy recommendations?
—H. W. via e-mail 

Stansbury responds: Endometriosis is a condition where the uterine lining spreads to the outside of the uterus. This malpositioned endometrial tissue releases blood into the pelvic cavity as the uterus sheds the endothelial tissue with the menstrual flow each month. How and why this happens is still uncertain, even though endometriosis is fairly common and has been investigated for decades. Some cases require surgical removal of the inappropriately placed tissue if it continues to spread, causes severe pain, or invades the ovaries, bowels, bladder, or other organs and tissues. Other cases are mild, slow to progress, and subside as the menses cease at menopause.

My approach has been mainly herbal. If symptoms indicative of excessive hormonal stimulation are present (breast tenderness, PMS, cyclical occurrence of acne, constipation, headaches, bloating, etc.), reducing the hormonal load on the body may help halt the progression of endometriosis. Avoid birth control pills, hormones ingested in animal products, and exposure to chemicals, fumes, and pesticides, many of which have been found to bind to hormonal receptors and elicit a hormonal effect. Consider herbs, such milk thistle (Silybum marianum), yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and burdock to assist the liver in metabolizing the body’s hormones. The liver-supportive nutrients choline, methionine and inositol may also help here.

Seen from the Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, endometriosis may be viewed as a condition of “stuck” blood, as well as an excess of blood, the most yin fluid. Using blood movers, pelvic decongestants and yang plant energies may help correct the situation. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) and cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) are blood movers and may help decongest the pelvis and pull more blood to the periphery of the body. Yarrow acts as a peripheral vasodilator, improves liver metabolism of hormones, and may reduce blood congestion in the pelvis.

A combination of these herbal ideas, as well as an excellent hormone-free diet and liver-supportive nutrients, may improve the condition when continued for many months. Acupuncture and energy-moving physical therapies, such as yoga and tai chi, are also recommended.

Willard responds: Endometriosis is often very uncomfortable, especially in the acute stage during and/or just before menstruation and sometimes at ovulation. I use a two-stage approach to treat endometriosis, one designated for the acute stage, followed by a treatment stage to reverse the condition.

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