Understanding Inflammation and Endometriosis
Last updated: August 2021
Inflammation is a natural process in the body which occurs when there is some kind of injury or threat. The body’s immune system releases white blood cells to the area of invasion or trauma in order to protect and heal the area and to kill of any infection, etc. that may be present. The result to us looks like swelling, redness and pain, but healing is actually taking place.
What is chronic inflammation?
Inflammation is not supposed to be long-term; It’s a temporary response to a temporary trauma, which once healed, can alleviate. However, chronic inflammation occurs when for some reason, the body feels under threat and is under threat by a trauma or invasion that can’t be healed, like endometriosis or a stressful situation.
Chronic inflammation is actually damaging to the body and in terms of endometriosis, can cause heightening pain.
What are the links between endometriosis and inflammation?
Endometriosis is an inflammatory disease. Inflammatory chemicals play a role in the growth and development of endometriosis, but endometriosis also releases inflammation into the surrounding area1 and triggers an inflammatory reaction from the immune system too2.
The immune system is unable to ‘clean up’ endometriosis and so the cycle of inflammation continues as the body attempts to inflame and heal the area. Over time, this results in more scar tissue, which causes further damage by sticking to organs and inflaming areas of the pelvis.
Inflammatory chemicals known as prostaglandin E2 have also been found in higher levels in the pelvic cavity3, in the fluid that surrounds the pelvic and abdominal organs, known as peritoneal fluid. However, not only has inflammation been found in the pelvic cavity, but research has shown that people with endo have higher levels of oxidation4, a damaging process which causes inflammation in the body.
Finally, people with painful periods have also been found to have high levels of these pro-inflammatory chemicals in their menstrual blood5 - and I think the majority of us with endo can classify ourselves as amongst that group!
What are the risks of chronic inflammation?
Chronic inflammation has a number of side effects and has been linked to some of the world’s most prevalent diseases6 and mental health conditions7, such as depression and diabetes. It’s important for everyone to be aware of chronic inflammation, not just people with endometriosis.
What else causes chronic inflammation other than endometriosis?
An inflammatory lifestyle such as smoking, drinking, sleep deprivation, lack of exercise, and a diet high in inflammatory foods can all contribute to chronic inflammation.6 Foods that are known to cause inflammation include trans fats, sugar, alcohol, processed meat and foods and for some people, certain allergens like gluten.
What are some of the strategies for reducing chronic inflammation?
Eating a nutrient-dense diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods is one of the best ways to reduce inflammation. Antioxidants, which counter-act the inflammatory process of oxidation, are found abundantly in vibrantly colored fruits and vegetables, so the term ‘eat the rainbow’ is used with good reason! Of course, keeping pro-inflammatory foods like sugar and alcohol to special occasions also makes a huge difference.
Chronic stress additionally causes inflammation, so taking measures to manage stress with cortisol-lowering practices such as yoga and meditation are very helpful. Finally, leading a generally healthy lifestyle, which includes some form of daily exercise and adequate sleep, will also play a pivotal role in reducing inflammation.
We can tailor this approach to be more endo specific, but beginning with the foundations of good health is essential.
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