In 2010, I started experiencing sharp pains following intercourse, sometimes before or during bowel movements, and nearly always during my monthly flow. At the time, I was a student of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, in the midst of my studies learning how acupuncture and herbal therapy can help heal (not just mask) debilitating conditions. I began to question my own gynecological health due to the debilitating pain I experienced associated with my cycle, but I wasn’t ready to move forward with an endoscopy to know for sure whether what I was experiencing was actually endometriosis or not. Not yet…
Endometriosis is an often painful gynecological disorder in which the uterine lining (the cells of the womb) begin to proliferate outside of the womb itself, like the bowels, the abdomen, and in rare cases even the brain and lungs, which can lead to severe and sometimes fatal events.
Western Medicine provides a few options: hormonal supplementation, like birth control, anti-inflammatories, or surgery; however, none of these fix the condition, and only suppress it for a time. In fact, some women need surgery to remove the endometriosis as often as every 9 months. No thank you, I wanted see how Chinese Medicine may be able to help me first.
Chinese Medicine looks at the body from a completely different perspective, taking a more holistic approach by considering patient history, diet and nutrition, emotional health, and stress levels. Looking for patterns based on what symptoms are present, a skilled Chinese Medicine practitioner can determine the underlying cause of endometriosis (or whatever else may be ailing you). Chinese Medicine also has helpful (non-invasive) diagnostic tools that can nearly always help make a diagnosis of endometriosis, like pulse taking and tongue diagnosis. In fact, fast forward from 2010 to 2016, as I am sitting in a Medical Pulse Diagnosis seminar in Seattle, I learned the “endometriosis pulse”, which is a pretty cool tool to have when assessing the severity of endometriosis in my patients.
There are various root causes for endometriosis in Chinese Medicine, but for simplification sake, it really comes down to “blood stagnation” or “stuck blood” in which there is a lack of healthy blood flow to the area. In my case, which is common with many women, a major culprit was due to a lifetime of being exposed to a cold environment. I was a competitive swimmer through most of my childhood and adolescence, and the 5am daily swims in uncomfortably cold water eventually made their impact of my health. Interestingly, being exposed to cold during adolescence, and specifically while on your cycle, such as sitting on a cold gym floor in shorts while on your period can create what we call in Chinese Medicine a “cold uterus”. This can also happen during C-sections, as our uterus is open to the cold air and instruments of the operating room. (Sure enough, my pain got much worse after my C-section.)
Our wombs love warmth, and when coldness invades, it stagnates blood circulation, creating painful periods with dark flow and clots. When there is any sort of stagnation in blood flow, regardless of the area, pain is created. Although cold invasion isn’t the only underlying cause of endometriosis, it happens to be a familiar story I hear from many of my female patients.
Other things that compound pain and inflammation of endometriosis are:
· stress, commonly referred to in Chinese Medicine lingo as “qi stagnation”
· eating inflammatory foods, especially dairy, processed foods, sugars, and non-organic meat (especially hormone-treated meat)
· intercourse during your cycle
With the help of herbs and acupuncture, my pain began to alleviate with each progressive cycle. Today, the pain is both rare and minimal. So, how was that possible? Here’s the scoop…
Chinese herbs can help break down the endometrial tissue, promote healthy blood flow, and even warm the uterus (if that’s indicated). Acupuncture is a gentle, yet powerful healing modality that can help alleviate pain, reduce inflammation, promote healthy blood flow, regulate hormones, and calm the nervous system. Calming the nervous system is a key factor to healing, as the body can maintain homeostasis, self-regulation and restoration only when the body is in the parasympathetic state (or the relaxed state). Acupuncture also tends to have a slew of much-welcomed “side effects”, such as improved sleep, diminished headaches, decreased PMS symptoms, heathier digestion, less stress and anxiety, and an overall happier mood.
In summary, here are ways to help ease (and potentially heal) endometriosis:
· Reduce stress (I’m a yoga advocate because it is great for body flow and movement and also reduces stress. And, of course, acupuncture is golden for this too!).
· Eat consciously: include lots of fruits and vegetables (preferably cooked veggies, especially during Fall and Winter). Say no to dairy, processed foods, excess sugars, and hormone-treated meat. Why cooked veggies? Because raw food is cold in nature (salads, most fruits, sushi, juices, smoothies, etc.), and when raw foods are ingested, they create more cold in the body; thus, more stagnation, perpetuating the pain and the problem.
· Acupuncture weekly (or as suggested by your Chinese Medicine practitioner/Licensed Acupuncturist)
· Take your herbs. They may be nasty, but they’re great for your health.
· Try cupping! This is one of my favorite modalities to use for anyone dealing with endometriosis, as it not only relaxes the muscle tension and feels A-MAZ-ING, but by creating suction to muscles and fascia, healthy and oxygenated blood can circulate where there has been blood stagnation. This therapy isn’t for everyone, and should only be performed by a licensed practitioner who understands and has diagnosed the underlying cause of your endometriosis.
Written by: Lori Earley, LAc, MAOM, MS, DiplOM