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Diet Considerations with Endometriosis

While there is no cure for endometriosis, diet has shown to possibly play a role in mediating symptoms of the condition and promoting overall health and well-being. While we’ve covered what foods are beneficial to eat if you have endometriosis, there are also foods that you might want to consider excluding from or minimizing in your diet.

According to doctors at the St. Louis University School of Medicine, eliminating certain kinds of food from your diet might help with managing symptoms of endometriosis.1 Symptoms like abdominal pain, nausea, cramping, and pelvic pain are associated with endometriosis, and excluding certain foods known to cause these symptoms can help.

Elimination diet

Foods like dairy, gluten, and added sugars can exacerbate symptoms of endometriosis. The lactose in dairy can be hard for some people to easily digest, causing things like pain or diarrhea. Gluten, a protein in wheat products, can cause adverse symptoms in those who are sensitive to it, including abdominal pain and diarrhea. It can also interfere with vitamin absorption, hormone regulation, as well as affect the autoimmune response. Added sugars in foods can increase inflammation.

All of these symptoms can be present in endometriosis, but these foods can make them worse; trying an elimination diet can be helpful. This is also called the low-FODMAP diet.2 This kind of diet isn’t for everyone, but some people find it to be beneficial, even if they only reduce consumption of these kinds of foods. Before starting any kind of elimination diet, talk with your doctor about whether it’s a good idea. She might suggest meeting with a nutritionist first, to ensure proper meal planning and substitutes so that your nutrition isn’t impaired during or after the diet.

For the first two weeks of an elimination diet, remove all foods containing dairy, gluten, and added sugars. Read labels carefully to make sure you’re not inadvertently consuming dairy, gluten, or extra sugars. Remember, if you are eating out at a restaurant, even if something is dairy or gluten-free, it can be cross-contaminated by countertops or fryers. Here are some things to look for when reading food labels:

  • Gluten: anything wheat, barley, rye, and oats, malt, dextrin, brown rice syrup, modified food starch, soy sauce. Non-food products can also contain gluten, like vitamins, shampoo, lotions, toothpaste, and cosmetics.
  • Sugar: corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, maltose, malt syrup, nectars, sucrose.

Keep track of your symptoms, noting any changes in severity, duration, or occurrence. After those first two weeks are over, slowly reintroduce these foods, one at a time for one week at a time (ie, one week dairy, one week gluten, etc), into your diet. As you start eating these foods again, keep track of new symptoms that pop-up, or if any of the symptoms get worse at all. If you notice anything different, tell your doctor about your observations to see whether making more permanent changes to your diet might help.

Diet alternatives

If you’re cutting out dairy, gluten, and/or added sugars, your diet doesn’t have to suffer. There are lots of alternatives to these foods that are nutrient dense. You can drink almond, rice, soy, coconut, or lactose-free milks; dairy-free cheeses and yogurts; gluten-free pastas and breads, and unsweetened tea and juices. Choose options with reduced sugar or no added sugars, and foods lower in fat and sodium.

There is no specific diet for endometriosis, so the focus should really be on a healthy, balanced, nutritious diet, high in fiber and low in saturated fat.3 While eliminating certain foods might work for one person, eliminating other foods might work for another – and for yet another person, it might not be effective at all. It’s a good idea to try and incorporate plenty of fruits and vegetables – the more colorful your plate, the better – and eat lean and plant-based proteins. Before making any dietary changes, talk with your doctor about your concerns and about whether this option is good for you. Talking with a nutritionist might also be helpful to get information about nutrients that can help with inflammation and the immune response, both of which are thought to be involved with endometriosis.

  1. Yeung P, Catanzaro R. The anti-inflammatory and elimination diet for adults living with endometriosis. http://obgyn.slu.edu/uploads/centerforendo/Combined%20Anti-Inflammatory%20and%20Elimination%20Diet%20for%20Adults%20Living%20with%20Endometriosis%20booklet.pdf Accessed July 10, 2018.
  2. Galan N. What should you eat if you have endometriosis? Medical News Today website.
  3. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321471.php Reviewed April 11, 2018. Accessed July 11, 2018.
  4. Endometriosis: Nutrition and exercise. Center for Young Women's Health website. https://youngwomenshealth.org/2012/06/12/endometriosis-nutrition-and-exercise/ Updated January 20, 2017. Accessed July 11, 2018.

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