My heart filled with joy when I got that text message. A former work colleague reached out asking about my experience with Endometriosis because he feared his girlfriend was battling the same disease. It was at that moment, when a twenty-something dude felt comfortable talking openly about female sexual health for his partner, that I knew my Chiavare mission was working. My mission is to make sexual health not X-rated, but actually about health.
Endometriosis has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My grandmother was diagnosed later in life after my grandfather found her on the bathroom floor in the 1960's hemorrhaging blood, which ultimately led to her hysterectomy. My mother also had Endo and chose to have a hysterectomy and one of her ovaries removed in an attempt to manage the symptoms of this misunderstood disease. I remember as a child asking her why she slept on a thick towel and seemed to be in so much pain for at least a week every month.
Based on this fantastic family history, it was inevitable that I too should end up with Endometriosis. Also ironic that I started my period at that same grandmother's house. Mom was showering and she poked her head out from behind the plastic curtain and said, "Welcome to womanhood!" and then resumed showering as if nothing too exciting had happened. Looking back, I am grateful for my mom's casual and honest approach to sexual health. She never made talking about the body taboo or wrong. Just normal.
My fight against Endo lasted 13 years until at the age of 23 I could no longer endure the side effects: falling to the ground in extreme pain, being swollen and bloated for two weeks every month, ovarian cysts, dealing with anemia, sleeping on a towel (just like mom, how cute), the IBS symptoms often associated with Endo, and feeling just plain awful.
The first surgery revealed that I had severe stage IV Endometriosis. Endo is a tricky bastard of a disease that can't be diagnosed without surgery. It was a tough operation but didn't fix the issues and therefore a second surgery was required the following year. This one even more invasive, but helpful.
Thankfully I had an incredible surgeon who always treated me like one of his own children and compassionately advised me accordingly. At 27 years old he gently suggested that I get married and have children within the next three years if I wanted to have a decent chance at pregnancy. My then boyfriend and I decided that we would not be dictated by disease. Life is what it is, and there was no rush to the alter.
Sidenote -- I'd like to publicly thank all my former boyfriends for being kind and loving to this gal every month. Not one of them ever showed signs of disgust or frustration, and all were always patient and tender. This is key for any man living with an Endo woman.
Now at 30 my Endometriosis is still very present. However, I have found AMAZING success by treating the symptoms holistically. My pain and heavy bleeding has significantly decreased from seven days to three days, IBS is virtually gone, anemia is improving, no recent ovarian cysts, and overall I feel a million times better each month! I feel better now, then I did after two surgeries. All this leads to more productivity, the ability to travel during my period (yes that's an Endo concern), and not being so bogged down by the evil period monster.
Here's what has worked for me. It's been 7 years since my last surgery and I feel better now than I did post operation! Even if you haven't been diagnosed with Endometriosis, this list could potentially help you avoid a surgery or make your tough periods more manageable.
*I am NOT a doctor, naturopath, or healthcare professional. Always consult a physician for your healthcare needs. This is my personal opinion and it is what has worked for me. These tips may not work for you.*
- Educate yourself. I've read TONS of Endo books, websites, and talked to lots of experts. This is my favorite book: Endometriosis: A Key To Healing and Fertility Through Nutrition by Dian Shepperson Mills and Michael Vernon. It provided great insight to treating the disease with diet and supplements. It's a long read, but worthwhile. I also worked with an Endometriosis health coach, Betsy Tadder. She's amazing! Meredith Gersten is also awesome!
- Evening Primrose Oil 1300 mg daily supplement at night before bed. Evening Primrose Oil has proven to be most effective! My body knows when the bottle has run out and I can tell a difference in my symptoms. Evening Primrose is amazing at reducing inflammation and pain. I like Solgar, Nature's Sunshine, and BlueBonnet brands. You get what you pay for in supplements.
- 3 tablespoons of coconut oil daily. To make it easy, I blend a spoonful up with each cup of coffee and it creates a delicious frothy drink. Coconut oil (if you buy high quality, RAW, and cold-PROCESSED) is great at reducing inflammation, boosting digestion, providing overall energy, and helping the body metabolize more efficiently. Always remember, inflammation is the precursor to most all disease!
- Buying only meats and fish that are hormone-free, antibiotic-free, no chemicals added, and wild-caught. My body's hormone level is already crazy. Let's not add to it.
- Avoiding soy products and soy milk. Apparently soy can increase estrogen levels and as stated above, my Endo doesn't need any more hormonal unbalance.
- Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate -- Water is key for life. Drink at least half your weight in ounces each day. It helps flush the body, nourishes the cells, and keeps you looking young. The last part has nothing to do with Endo, but it's a bonus.
- Juice regularly. No, not the sugar loaded juice you buy at the grocery store. I'm talking about the fresh vegetable and fruit juice you can make at home. This is my favorite juicer. Make sure you understand the difference between the many types out there. My health coach explained that juicing for the body is similar to providing a shot of nutrients. It's powerful and works wonders. When else am I really going to eat carrots, cabbage, cucumber, lemon, apples, and beets all in one sitting?
- Exercise. Of course everyone always tells you to exercise, but with Endometriosis or tough periods, it is extra important. Why? Because the body functions better when it's receiving proper nutrients and being worked. Movement can reduce pain, swelling, inflammation, and even period cramps. Sometimes my Endo puts me on the floor. Those are the moments when I need to go take a walk. It loosens the muscles and allows for better circulation. Do yourself a favor, starting exercising! Aim for 3-4 days a week with at least 30 minutes of activity. Then work up from there.
- Avoid Dairy. I'm very much lactose intolerant, which is very normal for gals with Endometriosis. However, I love cheese, milk, and ice cream -- and continued to eat them on a regular basis. Then I learned that dairy can increase inflammation in the body PLUS if you have a slight dairy intolerance (or full blown lactose intolerance like me) your body is working extra hard to deal with the dairy in its system. So you end up bloated, adding inflammation, and potentially messing up normal digestion. Skip dairy, or find what works for your body. I only drink almond milk now (helps a ton) and find that goat and sheep's cheese doesn't have the same negative affects as cow's milk cheese.
- Cut Wheat/Gluten. Read a few pages of the famous book Wheat Belly and you'll understand why. For me and my Endo, wheat does nothing beneficial. I get tons of fiber from plant and nut sources and find that I'm less bloated and sluggish when I avoid wheat. Does that mean I have wheat intolerance? Who knows. Does that mean I won't eat a slice of pizza late night? Absolutely not. Late night pizza can be essential once in a while. Just be choosy and start taking a look at your weekly wheat intake, then cut it in half. See how you feel.
- Cut Added Sugar - we know it's bad for us and we know why. If it has more than 6-8 grams of sugar per serving, I won't eat it. The 90% rule works for me... indulge only 10% of the time and you'll be good to go. Summer wouldn't be the same without an ice cream cone.
Help the body detox. Go to the gym and sweat it out, use an infrared sauna, or do a coffee enema. Read more about the benefits of coffee enemas and look up the Gerson Institute. Just help your body get those toxins out. A decent sweat sesh every couple days will be very beneficial.
- Probiotics daily. I really trust and like Natren brand. Make sure you're getting high quality strands that work.
- Udo's Choice Omegas 3, 6, 9 Oil with DHA. There are lots of brands out there to get your omega fatty acids. This one is my personal favorite. It's plant based. A high quality fish oil capsule is another option.
- Listen to your body! Your body is an amazing, beautiful machine. It will tell you what it needs and what it doesn't like. Be patient with yourself and your own healing process. Holistic results take time. What works for me, may be different for you. Listen to your body and respond accordingly.
Endo Sisters, listen up! It is NOT your fault that you have Endometriosis. It is not your fault that you got dealt a tough hand and have to deal with the life altering side effects. However, you ARE responsible for how you respond to the disease. You are responsible for the choices you make. So make that response count! You're a tough, beautiful, resilient woman and you can beat it! Stay strong endo warriors!!
Live. Laugh. Lube.
*Again these tips are my own personal opinion. They may not work for you. Consult a healthcare professional for all your health and body needs.*