22 Mar Endometriosis & Autoimmunity: is there a link?
Endometriosis is often considered a hormonal condition, but get a load of this: there’s increasing evidence that it’s also an autoimmune one.
Although not new news (some studies started hypothesising this as far back as 1987), the autoimmune aspect isn’t often factored into conventional treatment.
What even is autoimmunity?
In the most basic (and I mean, really basic) terms, it’s when the immune system goes haywire and attacks the body’s own tissues & cells, treating them as invaders.
And what about Endometriosis?
Endo’s a painful gynaecological disease. Some of the tissue that lines the uterus (called the endometrium) ends up growing elsewhere – most commonly on the ovaries (causing chocolate cysts) as well as on the fallopian tubes, bowel, bladder (and even far out places like the nostrils). But that tissue still acts as it would in the uterus – it responds to the natural hormone cycle by thickening, breaking down and bleeding. The problem is that there’s now no way to exit the body. Eventually, this leads to the development of scar tissues & adhesions (or lesions) – and THIS is what causes that excruciating pain.
(Pssst. Read more about endometriosis here.)
So how are Endometriosis & Autoimmunity linked?
As Dr Lara Briden explains in her hormone blog, the immune system wouldn’t normally care two-ticks about the endometrial tissue, but it does in the case of Endometriosis – just not in a good way.. So when we’re dealing with Endo, it (the immune system) sets out and makes a whole heap of inflammatory cytokines & auto-antibodies which not only cause the lesions to inflame, but also promotes their growth.
She also explains how a 2012 literature review established that endometriosis often occurs with other autoimmune conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease & Hashimotos (autoimmune thyroid disease). Through the presence of certain cytokines & tissue specific auto-antibodies, the authors concluded that endometriosis meets a lot of the autoimmune classification criteria.
But why the HECK would this happen?
With a significant 70% of our immune cells found in our digestive tract, whenever we talk autoimmunity we have to go back to the gut – especially when intestinal permeability, or ‘Leaky Gut’, is so strongly linked to autoimmune diseases.
Exposure to lipopolysaccharides (LPS or bacterial endotoxins) and environmental toxins certainly don’t help matters either.
So what can be done to normalise Immune Function whilst factoring in Endometriosis?
Begin with your Belly by Addressing Intestinal Permeability (or overall gut health)
That’s a mouthful. But if you’re adding ‘fuel to the fire’, now’s the time to stop. You’d want to:
- Address lifestyle & emotional stressors (because I think Headspace is the bombdiggity, I’d really recommend giving it a go. And so would Andy).
- Include whole, single-ingredient foods (especially the anti-inflammatory ones: wild caught oily fish, curcumin and anti-oxidant packed berries, artichokes & even apples) whilst ditching the processed counterparts.
- Include collagen & bone broths as part of your intake (or supplement with L-Glutamine powder if you’re vegetarian).
- Take a step back from toxins (cigarettes, alcohol, certain medications, environmental chemicals, to name but a few).
- Do away with dysbiosis.
- Consider Vitamin D, Vitamin A, Zinc and Berberine supplementation, with guidance from your healthcare practitioner.
End Oestrogen Exposure
Women with endometriosis often have higher levels of oestrogen. Cutting out plastic containers & water bottles and by swapping cosmetics and household cleaning products for more natural alternatives can be really helpful in reducing exposure. And on the food front? As far as possible, ensure all animal products (meats, eggs & butter are organic/grass fed or wild caught). Remember – you’re not only what you eat but what THEY eat too.
Dig a Bit Deeper
These are simply starting points. So if you need some support along the way? My door’s open – let’s chat.