Antioxidants: Helpful for Endo?

Last updated: June 2019

After my first and only lap over 15 years ago, my doctor offered me only a couple of options for post-surgery treatment of the endo he had diagnosed me with. He told me I could go on a GnRH (gonadotropin releasing hormone) agonist for a year, which would basically shut down all of my hormone production and put me into chemical menopause for that time, and then follow that up with hormonal birth control until I was willing and ready to conceive a child. The other option, if I didn't like the idea of being in menopause and being on a GnRH agonist, was that I could just skip that step and advance right only hormonal birth control pills.

I didn't want another hormonal treatment

I didn't like either idea. And I already knew biological children were likely something I didn't want. I had already known several people who had been on GnRH agonists and had had horrible side effects. My physical therapist at the time, a woman in her mid-40s (I was in my early 20s at this point), had had endo and had been on a GnRH agonist in her 20s. She had osteoporosis at her relatively young age as a result, as well as other health complications. I also did not care for hormonal contraceptives, as I had tried many brands and types and not only did none really benefit my painful periods, some even made them worse and introduced new disturbing side effects.

Opting for a holistic lifestyle

I decided, instead, to focus on creating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle that included diet, exercise, herbs, and vitamin supplementation. While I have still struggled with complications and pain that have been endo-related, I feel like I have fared better than many who opted for traditional therapies. Though I do have some friends who did well on hormonal birth control for many years for their endo, and so I didn't judge their choices, I knew it would not work well for me as I had already tried and failed with them.

The research supports my choice

It turns out that research supports that diet and nutritional supplementation can actually prove comparatively effective in treating endo-associated pain to hormonal therapies. For instance, one study from 2013 of 59 women with endo between the ages 19–41 years were randomly assigned antioxidant vitamins (vitamin E and C) or a placebo. For those on the antioxidant treatment, 43% of patients experienced relief in their symptoms, with symptoms of dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation) and dyspareunia (painful sex) decreasing in 37% and 24% patients, respectively.1

Another study, this one from 2007, found that dietary supplementation that emphasized antioxidants was equally effective in reducing non-menstrual pelvic pain in those who had surgery for endo than hormonal suppression therapy (i.e. GnRH agonists). In particular, the study noted that increasing antioxidant activity in the body -through intake of certain vitamins like E and C- "are able to improve endometriosis-related symptoms, without undesired prolonged hypoestrogenism state effects".2 In other words, changes in diet to emphasize antioxidants, along with supplementation if needed, can benefit endo symptoms without having to induce a menopause-like state.

Whether or not this is the best option alone is up to each individual, depending on their circumstance. But diet and vitamins seem a relatively health change one could try to see if they reap the benefits and notice improvements in their symptoms.

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