Complementary and Alternative Treatment for Endometriosis

When a woman is undergoing treatment prescribed by her healthcare provider for her endometriosis, she is said to be under standard medical care. In some cases, an individual may choose to seek additional symptom relief or other treatment options to help her feel like her best self while she is undergoing standard medical care. Treatment options that are used in combination with standard medical care and that have been approved by a healthcare provider are called complementary therapies or complementary medicine. In some cases, under a provider’s guidance and observation, an individual may choose to participate in an alternative treatment option instead of her standard medical care. As its definition implies, this is referred to as alternative medicine.1

Below are several complementary and alternative medicinal practices that a woman with endometriosis may consider. It is important to note that no complementary or alternative medicinal practice should be attempted without the support and guidance of a trained healthcare professional.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a type of traditional Chinese medicine that involves inserting small, thin needles into the skin in attempts to provide pain relief and reduce stress, among other potential health benefits. The theory behind the practice of acupuncture centers around balancing the body’s flow of energy. This flow of energy is called chi (chee) by those who practice acupuncture. Practitioners believe that an individual’s chi flows through pathways in their body called meridians. The needles placed during acupuncture are thought to help re-balance the recipient’s chi, potentially providing pain relief and other health benefits along with it. The points where the needles are placed are often places where muscles, nerves, and connective tissue can be stimulated, according to practitioners of Western medicine. This stimulation may be what provides relief.2,3

Chiropractic care

Chiropractic care, also called chiropractic, focuses on the body’s structure in relation to its function. Practitioners of chiropractic care are called chiropractors. Chiropractors are health care professionals who perform a variety of different types of chiropractic care, including spinal manipulations (also called spinal adjustments). They often see individuals who are struggling with lower back pain, headaches, generalized back pain, whiplash, and upper and lower-extremity joint conditions, among other issues. Chiropractors most commonly perform adjustments to the spine. Adjustments involve applying a controlled force to joints that aren’t as mobile as they normally would be as a result of an injury, overuse, or other issue.

Chiropractors can also perform adjustments to other parts of the body. Adjustments are thought to restore mobility, alleviate pain, decrease inflammation, reduce muscle stiffness, and improve bodily function without the use of medications or surgery. In addition to adjustments, chiropractors may perform other kinds of chiropractic-related care, such as massage. They may also recommend rehabilitative exercises and provide lifestyle counseling as well as nutritional or dietary advice.4,5

Herbs and supplements

Some women have turned to herbs and supplements in hopes of experiencing additional relief from their endometriosis and its related symptoms. It is especially important to check in with a healthcare provider before trying any herbs or supplements as some of these products can cause undesirable side effects or can interact with medications. Alternatively, before a new medication or treatment is started, it’s important to let your provider know if you have previously been taking supplements or herbs of any kind.

Currently, there is no scientific consensus on the effect of utilizing herbs and supplements for endometriosis and its related symptoms. However, herbs and supplements can impact different individuals in different ways, and some may experience relief from symptoms when using certain herbs or supplements in a healthy and safe manner. Some common herbs and supplements that women with endometriosis may consider trying include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Milk thistle
  • Probiotics
  • Omega 3 fatty acids
  • Curcumin (found in turmeric)
  • DIM (diindolylmethane)
  • Vitamin B6

Chinese herbal medicine

Chinese herbal medicine is a type of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Other types of TCM include tai chi and acupuncture. The practice of TCM and Chinese herbal medicine dates back thousands of years. Chinese herbal medicine utilizes hundreds to herbs from a variety of sources. Some are common pantry staples, including ginger or cinnamon, while others are uncommon to Westerners such as astragalus (huangqi) or bupleurum (chaihu). Practitioners of Chinese herbal medicine believe that in the correct combinations and amounts, these herbs can prevent or treat conditions including digestive issues, infertility, joint pain, endometriosis, anxiety, and more.

The Materia Medica is a Chinese reference book that informs the practice of Chinese herbal medicine. It describes all of the substances used and where they come from. It also helps practitioners make specific combinations of herbs. These herbs can come in loose form or in powder form to be made into tea, however, some Chinese herbs come in capsule or tablet form.6,7

Mind-body practices

Mind-body practices are techniques and therapies that aim to connect the body with the mind to help reduce stress and provide other health benefits. Individuals who practice and teach mind-body therapies believe in the mind-body connection. The mind-body connection refers to the mind’s ability to potentially impact the body’s wellbeing and experiences, positively and negatively. The mind, in this case, is more than just the brain. It refers to the thoughts, feelings, and mentality that an individual has toward themselves, their personal experiences, and the world around them. Stress is known to play a role in the development and progression of many different physical and mental health-related conditions, and decreasing it may improve overall health.8,9

According to the mind-body connection theory, connecting an individual’s mind and body, and focusing on having a positive, relaxed attitude and outlook toward a situation may improve physical outcomes. Alternatively, having a negative outlook and believing in poor outcomes with the mind, may negatively impact the body. Examples of mind-body practices include the following:

  • Meditation
  • Mindfulness
  • Yoga
  • Tai qi
  • Qigong
  • Hypnosis

This is not an exhaustive list of all complementary and alternative therapies for endometriosis. For your safety, consult a healthcare provider before participating in any complementary and/or alternative therapies.

Written by: Casey Hribar | Last reviewed: June 2018
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