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How to Treat Endometriosis with Diet

“Endometriosis is a major cause of disability and compromised quality of life in women and teenage girls.” It “is a chronic disease which is under-diagnosed, under-reported, and under-researched…[and for patients, it] can be a nightmare of misinformation, myths, taboos, lack of diagnosis, and problematic hit-and-miss treatments overlaid by a painful, chronic, stubborn disease.”

Pain is what best characterizes the disease: pain, painful intercourse, heavy irregular periods, and infertility. About one in a dozen young women suffer from endometriosis, and it accounts for about half the cases of pelvic pain and infertility. It’s caused by what’s called “retrograde menstruation”—blood, instead of going down, goes up into the abdominal cavity, where tissue of the uterine lining can implant onto other organs. The lesions can be removed surgically, but the recurrence rate within five years is as high as 50 percent.

Endometriosis is an estrogen-dependent disease, so might the anti-estrogenic effects of the phytoestrogens in flaxseeds and soy foods help, as they appear to do in breast cancer? I couldn’t find studies on flax and endometriosis, but soy food consumption may indeed reduce the risk of that disease. What about treating endometriosis with soy? While I couldn’t find any studies on that, there is another food associated with decreased breast cancer risk: seaweed.

Seaweeds have special types of fiber and phytonutrients not found in land plants, so in order to get these unique components, we would need to incorporate sea vegetables into our diet. Seaweeds, may have anti-cancer properties, including anti-estrogen effects. Japanese women have among the lowest rates of breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancers, as well as longer menstrual cycles and lower estrogen levels circulating in their blood, which may help account for their low risk of estrogen-dependent cancers. We assumed this was due to their soy-rich diets, but their high intake of seaweed might also be helping.

When seaweed broth was dripped on human ovary cells that make estrogen, estrogen levels dropped. Why? It either inhibits production or facilitates breakdown of estrogen. It may even block estrogen receptors, lowering the activity of the estrogen that is produced. This is in a petri dish, though. Does it happen in women, too? Yes.

Researchers estimated that an effective estrogen-lowering dose of seaweed for an average American woman might be around five grams a day, but, apparently, no one has tried testing it on cancer patients yet. However, it has been tried on endometriosis, as I discuss in my video How to Treat Endometriosis with Seaweed.

Three women with abnormal menstrual cycles, including two with endometriosis, volunteered to add a tiny amount of dried, powdered bladderwrack, a common seaweed, to their daily diet. This effectively lengthened their cycles and reduced the duration of their periods—and not just by a little. As you can see at 3:14 in my video, subject 1 had a 30-year history of irregular periods, averaging every 16 days. Taking just a quarter-teaspoon of this seaweed powder a day added 10 days onto her cycle, up to 26 days, and adding a daily half-teaspoon increased her cycle to 31 days, nearly doubling its length. Furthermore, as you can see at 3:38 in my video, all three women experienced marked reductions in blood flow and a decreased duration of menstruation. For 30 years, subject 1 had been having her period every 16 days, and it typically lasted 9 days. Can you imagine? Then, by just taking a daily half-teaspoon of seaweed, her period came just once a month and only lasted about four days. Most importantly, in the two women suffering from endometriosis, they reported “substantial alleviation” of their pain. How is that possible? There was a 75 percent drop in estrogen levels after just a quarter-teaspoon of seaweed powder a day and an 85 percent drop after a half-teaspoon. 

Of course, with just a few women and no control group in that study, we need bigger, better studies. But, that study was published more than a decade ago and not a single such study has been published since. Millions of women are suffering with these conditions. Does the research world just not care about women? The more pointed question is: who’s going to fund the work? Less than a teaspoon of seaweed costs less than five cents, so a larger study may never be done. But, without any downsides, I suggest endometriosis sufferers give it a try.


For more on endometriosis, see my video What Diet Best Lowers Phthalate Exposure?, and, to learn about the anti-estrogenic effects of the phytoestrogens in flaxseeds on breast cancer, see Flaxseeds and Breast Cancer Survival: Clinical Evidence.

Interested in more on sea vegetables? See:

I recommend staying away from kelp and hijiki, though. Why? See Too Much Iodine Can Be as Bad as Too Little.

Learn more about other natural remedies for menstrual problems:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations:

Discuss

Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


29 responses to “How to Treat Endometriosis with Diet

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  1. In looking at some of the older NF videos on seaweed, I noticed that wakame is good for boosting the immune system to fight virus infections. I wonder if it would help with the Covid-19 virus?

    https://nutritionfacts.org/video/how-to-boost-your-immune-system-with-wakame-seaweed/

    Perhaps Dr G or a knowledgeable moderator can comment. And also, is wakame safe to eat regarding contaminants from polluted oceans. Can it be grown in sterile tanks and have the same benefit?

    1. Darwin- While wakame is generally regarded as safe, there are health concerns especially if the seaweed is grown in ocean areas known to be more polluted. Here is a research article reviewing the risks and benefits: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6551690/ Risks and benefits of consuming edible seaweeds
      In Dr Greger has addressed this in relation to arsenic in Nutritionfacts.org/video/cancer-risk-from-arsenic-in-rice-and-seaweed/ when he states”… I’d recommend to avoid hijiki due to its excess arsenic content, and avoid kelp due to its excess iodine. But all other seaweeds should be fine…” There are many sites on the internet about growing your own seaweed, but I’m not sure how practical that is. There are US producers and you can certainly read labels and request product information to clarify heavy metal content/testing. I hope this is helpful.

  2. In the Skibola study, the researchers used Brown Kelp. In other NF videos Kelp and Hijiki seaweed are contraindicated. Can you make this easy for us and make a suggestion which seaweed is preferential for this application, and how much?

  3. So many thanks for covering an issue which many ignore. I’ve been suffering with this for likely 15 years now and only recently diagnosed. Even after being referred for help two years ago I am yet to get effective treatment. I’m taking bladderwrack daily in capsule form and using ginger etc. for inflammation. Just wish there was more funds for research and healthcare for women’s issues.

    1. Dr Moth
      VSH just posted a lecture by Dr. Linda Carney titled “Food, Mood and Women’s Health.” This lecture was very interesting, plus her website might have something more specific to Endometriosis.

    2. My mother suffered from endometriosis (1950’s and on) as did I, until menopause. I grew up in the interior of BC, Canada, an area will many pulp and paper mills, some industry and now wildfires. I lived on an airport. It is known that endometriosis can be caused by Dioxin, a powerful endocrine disrupter. Emissions (dioxin) from pulp and paper mills, etc., travel long distances and land on crops whereby they are then eaten in large quantities and concentrated by cattle. Then we consume the dairy and meat. (I now eat a plant based diet). The levels are supposedly better today but I worry about increases from all the wildfires on the West coast and the many coal plants still operating. I also suffer from hypothyroidism, chronic fatigue had many reproductive problems (heavy periods, infertility and fibroids) in my younger days. I had good results from taking progesterone to counter my chronic estrogenic state but I didn’t learn about this until I was close to menopause.

      There is a lot on the internet about dioxin. Here are two sources:

      “Human exposure to dioxins and dioxin-like substances has been associated with a range of toxic effects, including chloracne; reproductive, developmental and neurodevelopmental effects; immunotoxicity; and effects on thyroid hormones, liver and tooth development….”

      https://www.who.int/ipcs/assessment/public_health/dioxins/en/

      https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/dioxins-and-their-effects-on-human-health

  4. Amazing research and therapeutic success in treating and preventing endometriosis and other cell overgrowth conditions has also been available for 30 years using bio-identical hormones at physiological levels to bring the orchestra of many human hormones to healthy 30 year old levels, and balancing human progesterone (NOT the “Frankenstein-hormones “progestin” and fake estrogen: Premarin (from pregnant mare urine) created by pharmaceuticals, but molecularly-identical human hormones. Cell overgrowth and tumor promotion is from too much estradiol not balanced with the correct amount of progesterone, and other hormone imbalances. Please Look up Dr. Terry Hertoghe and Dr John Lee’s work. Healthy plant based food and eliminating all xeno-estrogens as well as environmental toxins and junk food from your body is only part of creating radiant health. One must also examine all hormone levels AND function and fix possible damage to your endocrine glands caused by birth control pills, diet, high body fat content, etc. Anti-aging protocols exist now already to supplement lagging hormone levels and bring back cellular function, Cardiovascular health ( prevent heart attacks and strokes when combined with food and lifestyle changes). Proactive human health is created and cultivated with vigilant, daily WORK. Your body is made from food, but ongoing cellular processes depend on hormones for instruction, growth and daily function. Lagging and declining hormone levels also correspond to lagging health, aging and decline of all cellular and bodily functions. Remarkable reversal of disease and decline and aging can be achieved with BOTH a super whole-food diet AND targeted supplementation of essential nutrients and supplementing and balancing to physiological levels (the top 1/3 in hormone levels for 20-30 year old target range) of your top 5-10 human hormones.

    1. This is marketing hype not science.

      ‘The jury has heard that a senior British specialist is highly critical of the Belgian doctor’s methods, which consist of using hormones to treat a wide range of conditions from chronic fatigue syndrome to bed wetting. In a report to the court, Dr Neil Fraser, the safeguarding doctor for Herefordshire, described them as “quackery”.’
      https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/controversial-belgian-anti-ageing-doctor-thierry-hertoghe-gives-evidence-at-poisoning-trial-9809093.html

  5. Surprised there is no mention of iodine in this discussion. Iodine deficiency causes disease in the endometrium, breasts (fibrocystic disease – cancer), prostate – cancer, and thyroid (most all problems).
    This is the reason seaweed works because it is the food with the most iodine by far.
    The human body requires above 12 mg of iodine to function properly. This is why the Japanese are so healthy and have such low cancer rates.They average over 13mg a day eating seaweed.
    Here is what I have learned in my 5 month study:
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1xg0f74cmP5kziKOJl9QgPCzREevpUgrP_ATSElF4Dss/edit?usp=sharing

    1. Richard Brown, you are correct that the human body contains approximately 12mg. of iodine, That the amount present in all tissues.
      But ingesting that amount per day is not recommended!

      Yes, I am aware that the Japanese consume a relatively large amount of iodine daily. But, having done this for generations they are apparently genetically adapted.

      Westerners do not tolerate such large amounts. Doses over 1.1 mg. are not recommended for them. Studies show larger doses, in the 1.5-1.7 range start causing adverse effects on thyroid function.

      See the dissuasion posted below, read starting on page 32.
      Please do not encourage people to be consuming dangerously high doses!

    2. Richard

      The Japanese do not consume 13mg of iodine daily on average. The real figure is apparently 1-3 mg daily.on average.
      https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26197981/
      https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21975053/

      In addition, WebMD notes

      ‘In sensitive people, iodine can cause side effects including swelling of the lips and face (angioedema), severe bleeding and bruising, fever, joint pain, lymph node enlargement, hives, and death. However, such sensitivity is very rare.

      Large amounts or long-term use of iodine are POSSIBLY UNSAFE. Adults should avoid prolonged use of doses higher than 1100 mcg per day (the upper tolerable limit, UL) without proper medical supervision. In children, doses should not exceed 200 mcg per day for children 1 to 3 years old, 300 mcg per day for children 4 to 8 years old, 600 mcg per day for children 9 to 13 years old, and 900 mcg per day for adolescents. These are the upper tolerable limits (UL).

      In both children and adults, there is concern that higher intake can increase the risk of side effects such as thyroid problems. Iodine in larger amounts can cause metallic taste, soreness of teeth and gums, burning in mouth and throat, increased saliva, throat inflammation, stomach upset, diarrhea, wasting, depression, skin problems, and many other side effects.’
      https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-35/iodine\

      If people want reliable and accurate information about iodine and iodine supplementation, they should consult trustworthy sources like the US National Institutes of Health rather than relying on the assertions of people holding strong ‘alternative health’ beliefs with a habit of posting factually incorrect statements.

      ‘High intakes of iodine can cause some of the same symptoms as iodine deficiency—including goiter, elevated TSH levels, and hypothyroidism—because excess iodine in susceptible individuals inhibits thyroid hormone synthesis and thereby increases TSH stimulation, which can produce goiter [2,59]. Iodine-induced hyperthyroidism can also result from high iodine intakes, usually when iodine is administered to treat iodine deficiency. Studies have also shown that excessive iodine intakes cause thyroiditis and thyroid papillary cancer [2,59]. Cases of acute iodine poisoning are rare and are usually caused by doses of many grams. Acute poisoning symptoms include burning of the mouth, throat, and stomach; fever; abdominal pain; nausea; vomiting; diarrhea; weak pulse; and coma [2].

      Responses to excess iodine and the doses required to cause adverse effects vary [59]. Some people, such as those with autoimmune thyroid disease and iodine deficiency, may experience adverse effects with iodine intakes considered safe for the general population [2,5].’
      https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-HealthProfessional/

  6. With a disease this prevalent and so crippling, it is truly astonishing there haven’t been any real studies on the use of seaweeds yet to help ease the agony of endomitriosis.
    Bladderwrack seemingly has a very high iodine content (though the iodine may just be the only contributing factor). A seaweed with a lower iodine-to-weed ratio gives the user
    more of the many other beneficial nutrients found in seaweeds. Apperently there are 3500 kinds of seaweed, and you can grow them at home in a large aquarium,
    so in this information age, with the right coordination, there might be very little funding needed to build on and greatly surpass this 3 women study in usefulness

  7. PLEASE STOP SPAMMING!!

    A GUY CALLED LAWRENCE MURPHY (lawgmur@gmail.com) IS SPAMMING PEOPLE IN AUSTRALIA WITH YOUR ARTICLES BY CUT AND PASTE.

    LAWRENCE MURPHY, PLEASE STOP SPAMMING!!!

    1. Hi Nina, can you let us know on what platforms or websites this person is doing this? Our articles are able to be shared in any way, but must be attributed properly back to NF.org. It’d be great if we could have a look to see what’s going on. Thanks!

  8. As always, the education you provide to your followers is so valuable. How do you have the time? Perhaps its because you’re not inundated with hundred’s of patients for whom you are writing thousands of prescriptions…
    Whatever it is that continues to drive you, I am grateful!

  9. Thanks for the insight on endometriosis. We have been having this issue in ur family but thank God for modern medicine. We have managed to manage the condition. It is not something to be ignored, it is a very serious condition.

  10. I just saw this post below among then comments on Jeff Nelson’s latest video. Has anybody else had the same experience?

    ‘Ellen
    9 hours ago
    I can literally switch on and off my endometriosis symptoms by adding or eliminating high fat foods from my diet. No one believes me but I’ve experimented with this long enough to know that I’ll always eat low fat. The pain is NOT worth eating those nuts, oils or margarines’
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_A_wy_KrkZA&t=318s

  11. Interesting insight about seaweed and length/duration of menses. I lived in a rural area of Japan during the 70’s. I started eating a larger than normal amount of seaweed. I ended up losing my period for 3 years. I attributed the loss of menses to increased activity level and loss of body fat. Now I am reconsidering the reason. After I returned to the US, I resumed my intense activity level, kept a low body fat, ate no seaweed, and my menses resumed at every 19 days with a heavy flow. Very interesting. I hope there is more research.

  12. A very important subject and I’m grateful for the information in the article. However, I feel it’s important to mention that retrograde menstruation is only one theory as to the cause of endometriosis, it is not a proven fact. There is in fact no proven cause that has been universally acknowledged by health care professionals and researchers. There are numerous journal articles, some very recent, that have put forward reasons why retrograde menstruation cannot be considered a reliable, definitive cause of the disease. I would refer to the Endometriosis UK website in the first instance – Causes of endometriosis | Endometriosis UK
    https://www.endometriosis-uk.org/causes-endometriosis

  13. It would be great if Dr Greger could use LGBTQ inclusive language. Not all people with uteruses are women, specifically non-binary people and transgender men.

  14. Love your videos & books. But I had very bad case of endometriosis & saw a specialist for excision surgery many years ago. I was told the Retrograde theory has been debunked blood flow does not flow backwards this was Sampsons theory in 1927. The endometrial cells grow outside the uterus. Just wanted to clarify this so much misinformation on endometriosis. But I was able to get pregnant 2 months after my surgery! I am eating mostly a plant based diet now.

    1. Hi Nancy, thank you for your comment! I also had a surgery a few months ago because of endometriosis. Were you taking a birth control pill before your surgery? Are you taking it now? I plan to get pregnant in about 4 years and I wonder if I need to take the pill if I want to avoid another surgery before getting pregnant.

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