Has your period pain ever been so intense that you’ve curled up into a ball and cried? That’s the reality for myself and so many other women who have endometriosis. It’s a condition that isn’t talked about as often as it should be because our suffering is linked with periods, which even in this day and age can still be a taboo topic.
As a bit of background into endometriosis, it’s a condition where the lining of the uterus grows in places it shouldn’t, like around the bowel or on the ovaries. This can lead to menstruation occurring in the abdominal cavity, which creates massive amounts of inflammation, hence the extreme pain.
The only official diagnosis for endometriosis is a laparoscopy, which is a surgical investigation of the reproductive organs. They also often excise (cut out) the endometrial growths while they’re having a look around. I haven’t personally gone down that path, but my symptoms are enough to presume endometriosis is the culprit of my pain.
Last year, one of my typically horrible periods was on it’s last day, when all of a sudden I started to bleed profusely, 25mL every 10 minutes to be exact. Considering a healthy period is supposed to involve 30mL blood loss in total, this was extreme. Even though acupuncture has great points to stop bleeding, I was so scared by the amount of blood loss that I went straight to hospital.
I stayed in hospital overnight, but ultimately nothing was done to stop this from happening again besides going on the contraceptive pill. Heavy bleeds are a common side effect of endometriosis, so the only proper treatment I was offered was a laparoscopy. I heartily declined the offer and decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. My studies as a doctor of Chinese Medicine had taught me enough to believe that surely there was a way to naturally calm down the inflammation in order to reduce the endometriosis pain.
EATING THE PAIN AWAY
After doing some research, I found a 2012 study that showed improvement in the participants who went gluten free for a year. So bye-bye pizza, pasta, bread and all those other fun things! At the end of the day, I figured it was a worthwhile sacrifice to make, and one I haven’t regretted at all. Initially I gave up wheat and dairy, then decided to give up other inflammatory foods and drinks like processed sugar, caffeine and alcohol as a natural extension to reduce inflammation even more effectively.
The first day of this new diet was already amazing, because for the first time in years I could actually see my hip bones! I didn’t even realise I had been permanently bloated for years. This was a great sign of the inflammation being immediately reduced.
You might be thinking I just munch on carrots now, but in all honesty, I feel like I eat a varied diet and I still really enjoy the foods I’m eating. Today I had pear and cinnamon porridge with activated almond milk for breakfast, a salmon fillet with a rainbow salad and poached egg for lunch, and a vegetable curry with rice for dinner. Peppermint tea has become my flavour of the month for drinks, and I treat myself with a turmeric latte when I go to a café with friends. My plate is colourful and delicious, and the best part? I’m not in pain.
I used to have random sharp pains in my lower abdomen at all times of my cycle, even when on the contraceptive pill. Sitting around in the evening with a heat pack on your lady bits isn’t fun. It has now been about 4 months since I’ve been on the diet, and I only get an occasional twinge when I’ve had a cup of tea that day, or inadvertently eaten some wheat.
HARNESSING THE POWER OF ACUPUNCTURE
When I get those random bouts of pain, I perform some acupuncture on myself to reduce the inflammation down again and restore good Qi (energy) flow throughout my body.
When I worked in a hospital in China, a girl once came into the hospital in a wheelchair with severe period pain. She walked out after her treatment without the wheelchair, feeling so much better straight away. It was amazing to see at the time, and has definitely encouraged me to remember to keep up regular acupuncture treatments on myself. I also do acupuncture during my period if the bleeding starts to be too heavy. I’ve used those special points on patients with heavy bleeds as well and it’s quite remarkable how well it has worked.
Chinese medicine also has another wonderful option in herbal medicine. There are herbal formulas that are designed to reduce “blood stasis” in the lower abdomen. That’s the Chinese way of describing endometriosis lesions. These herbs are great for helping the body to expel the lining in the first day of menstruation. Surprisingly, it’s actually poor shedding of the lining that creates excessive bleeding. Encouraging the shedding to occur fully on day 1 allows the body to rebuild the lining on day 2, which stems the flow of bleeding as the veins are no longer exposed.
TAKEAWAYS FOR SUFFERERS
My advice to other women who have, or think they may have endometriosis, is to get a team of health professionals to help you. Your doctor can help you with diagnostic investigations, but if you want to make dietary changes, a dietitian, nutritionist or naturopath could help, and your acupuncturist is a handy person to have on call for those times when the pain creeps back or menstrual bleeding is too heavy, and to maintain overall hormonal balance in the body.
Kim Gatenby ia a Doctor of Chinese Medicine. Kim is well respected for her success working with male and female patients struggling with infertility, where she uses a combination of acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and nutritional medicine to improve outcomes. For more information go to kimgatenby.com.
You won’t believe where endometriosis spread to for this woman, plus read about the woman who had Australia’s most famous facial for her endometriosis symptoms.
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