One in 10 women in the United States is affected by endometriosis during her reproductive years, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecolosists. And unfortunately it’s a chronic disease that often goes undiagnosed. Endometriosis occurs when misplaced tissues grow in areas like the cervix, bladder, ovaries and fallopian tubes. Basically, the tissue that forms the lining of your uterus is found outside the uterus, causing bleeding, inflammation, scarring and pain. While there is no cure, there are ways to treat and manage the condition, including knowing what to eat if you have endometriosis.
For those who are affected by endometriosis, it is recommended that you focus on an anti-inflammatory, hormone-free diet. Take a look, below, at what you should and shouldn’t consume.
1. Eat nuts and seeds
Foods like almonds, walnuts, hemp seeds, chia seeds, natural nut butters and ground flaxseed are all excellent sources of B vitamins and high in omega-3s, which are anti-inflammatory and good for those with endometriosis. Go for one or two servings a day — perfect for that midday snack.
2. Avoid dairy
Try a low-fat dairy or, if you can, dairy-free diet. Seek out organic dairy products and check labels to avoid foods containing whey, casein, cow’s milk or milk protein — this will reduce the number of added hormones in your food.
According to a September 2014 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, dairy containing A1 beta-casein has been shown to cause higher levels of inflammation triggering symptoms of endometriosis than dairy with A2 beta-casein.
3. Eat fish and seafood
Salmon, herring, sardines, black cod — you name it.
Three to five servings of fish a week will have you swimming in omega-3s. Keep an eye out for higher-fat fish and deep-sea fish because they have even greater levels of omega-3s, which are anti-inflammatory.
4. Avoid gluten
A December 2012 study published in Minerva Chirurgica journal found that, among the 207 women studied, 75 percent reported a statistically significant decrease in the painful symptoms of endometriosis after spending 12 months on a gluten-free diet.
Try to focus instead on consuming whole grains like steel-cut oats, quinoa and rice (brown, basmati and wild). The B vitamins and added fiber found in whole grains promote a healthy digestive tract and reduce spikes in blood sugar.
5. Eat fruits — specifically berries and stone fruits
No surprise here. Fruits are good for those with and without endometriosis as they’re a staple in healthy diets, but their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties make them particularly good for those with endometriosis. Seek out fruits with a lower glycemic index, such as blueberries, raspberries, peaches, strawberries, pears, grapefruits, oranges, cherries, apples and pomegranates. Aim for one or two servings a day, and choose organic when you can to avoid pesticide residue, which has been — according to a May 2006 study in Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology — associated with hormone imbalances.
6. Avoid sweets
If you have a sweet tooth, this one may be difficult, but sugar is pro-inflammatory, according to an August 2006 study in the Journal of American College of Cardiology. In other words, sugar is bad for endometriosis and should be limited.
Not all hope is lost, though. To satisfy cravings, reach for small servings of dark chocolate, dried fruit, frozen yogurt or sorbet.
7. Eat vegetables
Again, no surprise that vegetables are important to a healthy, balanced diet. Veggies are also found to be chock-full of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Dark leafy greens, Brussels sprouts, carrots, beets, peas, onions, cauliflower, whatever floats your boat — just be sure to build a colorful, diverse plate of vegetables to get the full range of benefits and wide variety of vitamins A, E and C. Try to get four or five servings per day.
8. Limit red meat
Beef, steak, pork and veal should all be limited to one or two servings per week, at most. Red meat is shown to not only be pro-inflammatory — according to a November 2013 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition — but also cause hormone imbalances, a September 2009 report in Annals of Oncology found. These two combined is bad news for those with endometriosis.
When you do indulge, eat grass-fed and organic meats.
9. Eat cold-pressed vegetable oils
Oils are rich in omega-3s and antioxidants as well as monounsaturated fats, which raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol. Look for expelled cold-pressed oils because they are not chemically treated, according to the Saint Louis University School of Medicine. Whether you drizzle them over a salad, roast or sauté vegetables in them or use them as the final touch on avocado toast, aim for two to four servings a day.
10. Avoid alcohol
Alcohol is believed to impair ovarian function, aggravate PMS symptoms and negatively affect fertility, according to the Saint Louis University School of Medicine Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Women’s Health Center for Endometriosis. Plus, alcoholic beverages tend to have added sugar, which can prevent other vital nutrients from being absorbed.
A version of this article was published in January 2018.