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Endometriosis & natural therapies

Many women in Australia with endometriosis use natural and complementary therapies to manage their symptoms and improve quality of life.

Research shows that women with endometriosis are more likely to use natural therapies, or see a natural therapist, compared to women who do not have endometriosis.

With endometriosis, natural therapies are often used to help manage a particular symptom, such as period pain or fertility issues. Treatment may also focus on typical features of the condition; for example, inflammation.

Despite the popular use of natural therapies in endometriosis management – and the many remedies and treatments promoted for the condition – there is unfortunately a lack of good quality research in the area.

Well-designed and larger studies are needed before any firm conclusions can be drawn as to whether or not these natural therapies are effective in managing the complex and varied condition of endometriosis.

Topics on this page

The treatments outlined here should only be prescribed by an experienced qualified practitioner, preferably with a special interest in endometriosis and women’s health.

There are important safety considerations when it comes to using natural therapies. And it’s important to remember that just because a product is ‘natural’ or used by your friend/family member/neighbour, doesn’t mean it is safe for you.

Being guided by a professional also increases the likelihood of effective dosing, and often gives you access to higher-quality ‘practitioner-only’ products, which can improve your chance of successful treatment.

Remember, it’s important to tell your doctor and specialist about all the natural and complementary therapies you are using.

Inflammation

Omega-3 fatty acids & fish oil supplements

Inflammation is believed to be an underlying process of endometriosis, and a key driver of its symptoms such as chronic pain.

Some research suggests that consuming a higher amount of ‘good fats’ – omega-3 fatty acids – compared to omega-6 fatty acids results in a healthy, non-inflammatory balance in the body.

Omega-3 fatty acids, taken as a supplement or eaten in oily fish, linseeds, flaxseed oil, hemp seeds and walnuts, are often recommended in endometriosis management as they are thought to reduce inflammation and help with chronic pain symptoms.

In contrast, omega-6 fatty acids, found in sunflower oil and corn oil, are thought to be associated with inflammation and pelvic pain.

Evidence to support this dietary pattern, or taking fish oil supplements for endometriosis, is however very limited and currently only based on theory.

While some research has looked at how eating more omega-3-rich foods might lower the risk of developing endometriosis (see Healthy living section, below), there are currently no high-quality trials that look specifically at omega-3 supplements for existing endometriosis and its symptoms.

Clinical trials and further investigation into effectiveness are required before any conclusions can be drawn.

Herbal medicine

Herbal medicines traditionally used to reduce inflammation and pain include:

  • ginger (Zingiber officinale)
  • turmeric (Curcuma longum)

There is some scientific basis for using these herbal medicines in inflammation-based conditions and some studies examining turmeric and endometriosis. However, no human trials in the area of endometriosis have been carried out and there is no evidence to say whether these herbs are effective.

Herbal supplements in bowl

Pain

Herbal medicine

Traditional herbal medicines commonly used for general period pain include:

  • cramp bark (Viburnum opulus)
  • black Haw (Viburnum prunifolium)
  • wild yam (Dioscorea villosa).

Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is another herbal medicine often used to treat the common endometriosis symptom of dull pain with heavy bleeding.

There are currently no high-quality research trials investigating these herbal medicines for period pain or endometriosis-related pain.

Magnesium

Currently, there are no trials examining magnesium supplements and endometriosis.

There are a few small studies looking at the effects of magnesium supplements in reducing general period pain.

Overall, the results showed that magnesium may be a promising treatment for period pain generally, however more research and larger high-quality studies are needed to confirm these findings and if the benefits also apply for endometriosis-related period pain.

Acupuncture

A recent review of research, which included 10 small studies, found that acupuncture may reduce endometriosis-related pain. However, the research is limited and of poor quality.

Further investigation and larger, higher-quality clinical trials are needed to confirm these findings.

Acupuncture

Traditional Chinese medicine

Currently there are only small studies looking at the effects of traditional Chinese medicine formulas in the management of endometriosis symptoms. These studies are also low quality.

Further studies are needed to find if they are effective and how they may work.

Vitamin Bs & B6

Vitamin Bs are commonly prescribed and self-prescribed for female hormonal conditions such as endometriosis.

Vitamin B6 (also known as pyridoxine) in particular is often promoted for women’s health generally and specifically for endometriosis.

It is unknown whether vitamin B6 is effective in managing endometriosis-related symptoms. It is involved in decreasing inflammation, which may reduce the growth of endometriosis; however, there are no high-quality clinical trials to date that examine whether it reduces period pain in general or endometriosis-related pain.

Young woman endometriosis booklet cover
Endometriosis booklet

Read more on endometriosis in our booklet 'Understanding endometriosis: All you need to know'

Healthy living – diet & physical activity

Many books, websites and ‘health experts’ claim that certain dietary and lifestyle changes can reduce the symptoms of endometriosis; however, there are actually very few studies to support such suggestions.

Even though there is no direct evidence that a certain lifestyle can reduce the severity of endometriosis, it is still important to strive to be as healthy as possible. Gentle physical activity, having enough quality sleep, eating a healthy diet and finding ways to manage stress that endometriosis can create are all important for your overall wellbeing, and can help to manage endometriosis. For more information go to ‘Managing endometriosis with a healthy lifestyle’.

Reduced risk of endometriosis

Some initial research in the area reveals that particular foods and lifestyle factors may help to reduce the risk of developing endometriosis. These factors are:

  • increased fish and omega-3 fats (2-3 serves of oily fish per week)
  • increased vegetables and fruit, especially green vegetables and citrus fruits, especially oranges
  • reduced trans fats, often present in fried foods, packaged cakes, biscuits, crackers, pies and pastries
  • reduced red meat and reduced processed meat
  • regular exercise and physical activity.

It is important to note that more research is needed before we can confirm if these diet and lifestyle factors may help to protect from the development of endometriosis, or are effective in reducing its symptoms.

Scientific studies have not clearly established potential benefits, nor harms in using alternative treatments. This is an emerging area, so evidence may change over time.

There are a wide range of therapies such as naturopathy, acupuncture, yoga and herbal medicine that may help you cope better with endometriosis.

While there is no direct evidence that nutrition influences endometriosis, it is important to a person’s overall wellbeing.

Endometriosis fact sheet
Endometriosis fact sheet

Outlines the signs, symptoms and causes of 'endo', as well as what you can do, including management and treatment.

This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at September 2019.

References

  • 1
    References available on request
Last updated: 19 August 2020 | Last reviewed: 15 September 2019

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