Updated: Mar 8
March is Endometriosis awareness month and I wanted to talk about the impact this disorder can have on the health of the digestive system. Endometriosis is where tissues which are similar to the lining of the uterus – the endometrium - grow outside the uterus. Typically, the tissue grows on the ovaries, fallopian tubes and the lining of the pelvis.
This endometrial tissue acts in the same way as it would inside the uterus. It thickens, breaks down and bleeds with each menstrual cycle. The build-up of this tissue outside of the uterus can result in cysts, scar tissue and adhesions (tissues sticking together).
Symptoms of endometriosis include.
Severe cramping and pain
Pain during intercourse
Painful bowel movements
Digestive symptoms such as constipation, diarrhoea, bloating and nausea.
Endometriosis can often be misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome. This is because the symptoms often overlap.
It is important to get the correct diagnosis so you can be clear on what treatment is suitable for you. Pelvic exams, ultrasound, MRI and laparoscopy are tests which can diagnose endometriosis.
Endometriosis and gut health
Many women with endometriosis will suffer with uncomfortable digestive symptoms because of their condition. It is possible for endometrial tissue to grow onto the surface of the intestines, which can lead to digestive issues such as constipation, bloating, stomach pain and cramps.
Scarring and adhesions can impact the way the intestinal muscle’s function. This can also be common after corrective surgery. The intestinal muscles move food along in a movement called peristalsis. The muscles contract and relax to aid the movement along from the small intestines to the bowel and out via the rectum. We also have a cleansing action which sweeps undigested food and unwanted bacteria out of the intestines. This is called the migrating motor complex.
Both actions can be reduced in endometriosis, because scarring and adhesions stop the muscles from contracting properly. This can lead lead to constipation, bloating and pain.
Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth
Endometriosis can also lead to a condition known as Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth – SIBO.
This is an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestines.
Adhesions and scar tissue from endometriosis or surgery, and inflammation caused by endometriosis can alter the way the bowel works, causing a build up of bacteria.
SIBO can lead to bloating, constipation, reflux, loose stools and other IBS symptoms.
What can you do?
It is important to get a correct diagnosis. If you are suffering with painful or heavy periods, and haven’t already done so, go and talk to your GP. If you have ongoing digestive issues and have not had a diagnosis it’s also important you discuss this with your doctor. It is important to rule out inflammatory bowel disorders such as ulcerative colitis or Coeliacs disease.
If you have been diagnosed with endometriosis and you have lots of digestive issues you may want to consider SIBO. There are tests you can do which will look closely at the bacteria in both your small and your large intestines. If you have an overgrowth in any area, you may need help reducing the bacteria which should help to reduce your digestive symptoms.
Increasing digestion can also be helpful. You may try including bitter foods such as rocket or radish before meals to help stimulate the release of digestive enzymes.
Making sure you have the correct nutrients in your diet is also important. Increasing zinc levels helps to improve stomach acid and a diet rich in B-vitamins can help your body to produce the digestive enzymes needed to break down food effectively. Eating rainbow foods and a diet high in plant based fibres can help to ensure you are getting the right nutrients to help support your digestion.
Mindful eating and stress reduction can also help to reduce digestive symptoms. Slowing down while you eat, taking a few breaths as you sit down for your food and putting your knife and fork down between mouthfuls can help you to digest your food more effectively.
Reducing the bacteria in the small intestines and increasing digestion can help to reduce unwanted digestive symptoms such as reflux, bloating and constipation. It’s also important to address the underlying cause. There are many things you can do to help manage endometriosis and working with a practitioner that specialises in this area is important.
You may also want to look at visceral massage, which can help to reduce scar tissue on the intestinal wall. A practitioner that specialises in this kind of massage can help to reduce the likelihood of SIBO and other digestive issues related to endometriosis.
If you would like to find out more about how endometriosis may be affecting your digestion, you can book a free call with me to discuss your symptoms in detail.
Just click on the link to book a free 30 minute call with me.