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Study: Diet Changes Can Help Lessen Endometriosis Symptoms

I came across a Swedish study that supports what I've been saying for years: Individual diet changes may help decrease endometriosis symptoms and improve well-being. The results were published online in February in the journal BMJ Open.1

Who was in the study?

Researchers recruited twelve people aged 28-44. They reached out to them through two Swedish diet-related endometriosis support forums. The participants had to have doctor-diagnosed endometriosis. They also had to have tried at least one dietary change to help with their endo symptoms. They couldn't have diabetes, celiac, or inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis).

Most said they changed their diet when medical treatments didn't help. They said they felt this gave them some control over their life. They found it easier to keep up the diet changes once their health improved.

Here are some other details:

  • 8 weren't on any hormonal treatments
  • 2 had an IUD (mirena)
  • 1 used a progestin-only pill
  • 1 used natural progesterone

How was the study conducted?

Researchers asked the participants open-ended questions like: Will you please tell me about your experiences of health after the dietary change?

They also asked about:

  • What kind of dietary change they made
  • Pain and other symptoms
  • Menstruation
  • Health
  • Work or school
  • Relationships
  • Relationship with a partner
  • Other changes

What kind of diet changes did they make?

Each participant followed their own plan. But there were some commonalities. Most said they started cooking their meals from "scratch" and ate "a lot more vegetables."

Many cut out or decreased:

  • Gluten
  • Dairy
  • Carbohydrates
  • Inflammatory food
  • Meat
  • "Junk" food

(The study didn't specify what types of carbohydrates or inflammatory foods they eliminated.)

They added:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Fish
  • Supplements (vitamins, minerals, omega-3, turmeric, ginger)

Which symptoms got better?

The two biggest changes were an increase in energy and a decrease in general pain.

They also reported:

  • Less menstrual pain
  • Less heavy bleeding with their period
  • More regular periods
  • Less gas and bloating
  • Fewer colds, headaches, and nausea
  • Less allergy symptoms
  • Better sleep
  • Fewer bowel symptoms
  • More regular poops

Many said they felt "healthier," even if they still had endo symptoms. They also experienced a "happier" and more "patient" mood.

Diet changes led to other lifestyle changes

Some participants said they tried to decrease stress and increase physical activity. They did things like yoga, mindfulness, meditation, dancing, or went for a walk. Many said their focus on diet helped them pay more attention to their body, which helped them feel more confident.

What are the study's limitations?

The biggest one is that the study was really small. The authors point this out, but they feel like they interviewed enough people because so many answers were similar. Another drawback is that they only talked to people who saw improvement with diet change. That leaves out all the people who tried a diet change but didn't feel better.

What do the results mean?

More evidence-based research is needed. But these results are in line with previous studies that show diet can influence endo symptoms. I've definitely experienced that in my own life. High-FODMAP foods along with wheat, dairy, and ultra-processed junk can definitely make me feel worse.

If you're interested in changing your diet, don't wait for your OB-GYN to bring it up. None of mine ever did. I worked with my gastroenterologist and a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). They helped me make changes safely.

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