Endometriosis, or inflammation of the endometrium, is one of the major causes of infertility worldwide.
As you may recall, the rising level of oestrogen in the blood stimulates the growth of the lining of the uterus, the endometrium, prior to ovulation.
This extra layer of tissue rich in blood supply is vital as it provides a site for the fertilised egg to implant itself, and a source of nutrients to help it survive during the early stage of the pregnancy. When the pregnancy doesn’t occur, this extra layer of tissue is shed and disposed during the menstruation.
Unfortunately for many women, some of that endometrial tissue doesn’t get expelled during the menses. Instead, it travels backwards and migrates to other parts of the body outside the uterus. These include the cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes, colon, wall of the bladder and, in some rare cases, the lungs and even the brain.
With a regular blood supply, this implanted tissue keeps growing and responding to the cyclic hormonal fluctuation of oestrogen and progesterone causing it to bleed and be torn during menstruation. Unable to exit the body, the shed dead tissue shrivels and stagnates, causing inflammation and often scaring to the surrounding area.
In many cases, the dislodged tissue obstructs the fallopian tubes. As the sperm is unable to complete its journey to fertilise the egg, normal pregnancy becomes impossible.
Even when there is no obstruction these implanted cells can produce chemicals, which attack the sperm, thus preventing the egg from being fertilised.
Endometriosis can also make a woman’s life miserable in many different ways by causing back pain, abdominal cramping, painful intercourse, and intestinal or urinary pain during menstruation.
While retrograde menstruations, as well as anatomical abnormalities (for example, a smaller that usual cervical opening), can explain the tissue migration, many women with these problems do not have any complications, and only 30-50% of women with endometriosis are unable to conceive. So the picture is still unclear.
The common Western medical approach is to prescribe drugs targeting the pituitary gland to reduce the production of oestrogen, the hormone responsible for the growth of the endometrial lining. Another option is surgical intervention to remove the implanted tissue, but it is, in many cases, only a short-term solution, as the unwelcome guest will often return.
Traditional Chinese Medicine has been treating gynaecological disorders with acupuncture and herbal remedies for nearly two thousand years. In this Oriental framework, endometriosis is diagnosed as a blood stagnation pattern. This occurs when the blood is not flowing freely inside the reproductive organs.
The first treatment step is to regulate the menstrual cycle.
Our patients are asked to take their temperature every morning as soon as they wake up. In a normal menstrual cycle, the morning temperature rises evenly after the menses and continues rising slowly before dropping suddenly with the onset of ovulation two weeks later. Once the fertile period has ended, the rise of progesterone levels causes the temperature to climb sharply in the second part of the cycle. It reaches its peak just prior to menstruation, before suddenly dropping with the arrival of the menses. A temperature chart gives the practitioner a chance to monitor the hormonal level changes throughout the cycle, and to adjust the delivery of the acupuncture and herbal treatments accordingly.
The next therapeutic step is to adjust the patient’s diet according to the pattern of irregularity.
Since most herbicides, chemicals and hormones used to treat animal products contain synthetic oestrogen-like substances, which have negative effects on our hormonal system, anyone suffering from endometriosis should only consume organic meat, and eliminate dairy products as much as possible from their diet. It is also beneficial to include supplements such as flaxseed, evening primrose or fish oil to regulate the body’s immune response to the inflammation present. Other foods that can help purify the blood include lemons, limes, onions, kelp, grapes, tomatoes, figs, apricots, cherries, dates, lychees, cucumbers and celery.
One should also increase the consumption of walnuts, chestnuts, peaches, spring onions, iron-rich dark green vegetables, and cold climate crops such as cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, beetroot turnips, cauliflowers and carrots. To harmonise the liver function one is advised to avoid or greatly reduce coffee and alcohol and to eat more carbohydrates and spices such as basil, cardamom, rosemary, chives, garlic, coriander and peppermint tea.
The herbal and acupuncture treatments that follow are aimed at stimulating the blood and harmonising the kidney and liver function to regulate the delivery of the different hormones in the body. The process can take several months, but in many cases that is all it takes to put the body back on track, and finally allow nature to take its course.
Olivier Lejus BHSc.MHSc. is a registered acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist practising in Sydney. A former casual university lecturer and tutor in Oriental medicine with over 15 years experience in clinical practice, Olivier specialises in Japanese- style acupuncture for the treatment of male and female infertility, migraine, pain, and insomnia.www.olejusacupuncture.com