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:

How to Achieve Food Synergy

There are thousands of phytochemicals that will never make it onto the side of a cereal box but may play a role in reducing the risk of chronic diseases—and those are just the ones we know about. Whole plant foods have consistently been found to be protective, so it’s reasonable for scientists to try to find the “magic bullet” active ingredient that can be sold in a pill, but “[p]ills or tablets simply cannot mimic this balanced natural combination of phytochemicals present in fruits and vegetables.” When isolated out, the compound may lose its activity or behave differently. The antioxidant and anticancer activities of plant foods are thought to derive from the “additive and synergistic effects of phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables,” meaning the whole may be greater than the sum of its parts. This helps explain why a pill can’t replace the complex combination of phytochemicals present in whole plant foods.

As T. Colin Campbell has pointed out, more than a hundred trials “overwhelmingly show no long-term benefit for vitamin supplements, along with worrisome findings that certain vitamins may even increase disease occurrence for diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.” Supplementation with fish oil, for example, appears useless or, even worse, “posing increased risk for diabetes,” yet the science doesn’t seem to matter. People continue to buy them. “The public desire for quick fixes through pills…is overwhelming, especially when money can be made.”

Each plant has thousands of different phytochemicals, as well as entirely different phytonutrient profiles. So, there may be synergistic effects when eating different foods together, too. Eating beta-carotene in carrot form is more beneficial than in pill form. because of all the other compounds in the carrot that may synergize with the beta-carotene. Well, when we dip that carrot in hummus, we suddenly have the thousands of carrot compounds mixing with the thousands of chickpea compounds. So what happens if we mix different fruits with different vegetables or different beans?

As you can see in my video Food Synergy, combining foods across different categories increased the likelihood of synergy. For example, a study showed the antioxidant powers of raspberries and adzuki beans. If there were a strictly additive effect, the expected combined antioxidant power would simply be that of the raspberries plus that of the adzuki beans. However, the observed combined antioxidant power was actually greater than the sum of one plus the other.

What about cancer-fighting effects? The study was repeated, but, this time, different combinations of food were dripped on breast cancer cells growing in a petri dish. For some foods, the same synergistic effects were found. Grapes, for example, can suppress the growth of breast cancer cells about 30 percent, but onions worked even better, cutting breast cancer cell growth in half. One would assume that if we added half the grapes with half the onion, we’d get a result somewhere in the middle between the two. Instead, the researchers found that cancer cell growth was suppressed by up to 70 percent with that combination. The whole plus the whole was greater than the sum of the whole parts. Given these findings, did the researchers recommend people eat a variety of foods? Perhaps adding some raisins along with chopped red onions to our next salad? Where’s the money in that? No, the reason the researchers were investigating the different types of interactions was “to identify mixtures that hold synergistic interactions that can ultimately lead to the development of functional foods”—maybe something like grape-flavored Funyuns.


Why should we care about the antioxidant power of foods? See

If you’re not familiar with this concept of reductionism, be sure to check out some of these other videos: Industry Response to Plants Not Pills, Why Is Nutrition So Commercialized?, and Reductionism and the Deficiency Mentality.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

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

What About Canned Fruit?

Food cans used to be soldered with lead compounds—so much so that people living off of canned food may have died from lead poisoning. Thankfully, this is no longer a problem in the United States. Lead contamination was one of the first priorities of the Food and Drug Administration back in 1906, before it was even called the FDA. Newspapers now have online archives going back a century so we can read about landmark historical events like “FDA Proposes Lead-Soldered Cans Be Banned” from way back yonder in…1993. So even though it was a priority in 1906, the ban didn’t actually go into effect until 1995. Evidently it was complicated because lead solder was “grandfathered” in as a “prior-sanctioned” substance.

Now that the lead is gone, though, are canned foods healthy? It depends primarily on what’s in the can. If it’s SPAM or another processed meat product, for instance, I’d probably pass.

What about canned fruit? We know fruits and vegetables in general may help protect us from dying of cardiovascular disease, and, when it comes to preventing strokes, fruit may be even more protective. But whether food processing affects this association was unknown, as I discuss in my video Is Canned Fruit as Healthy? One study found that unprocessed produce, mostly apples and oranges, appeared superior to processed produce. But that study focused mainly orange and apple juice. It’s no surprise whole fruit is better than fruit juice.

What about whole fruit when it is in a can? Dietary guidelines encourage eating all fruit whether it’s fresh, frozen, or canned, but few studies have examined the health benefits of canned fruit…until now. Canned fruit did not seem to enable people to live longer. In fact, moving from fresh or dried fruit to canned fruit might even shorten one’s life. Therefore, perhaps dietary guidelines should stress fresh, frozen, and dried fruit rather than canned.

Why the difference? While there’s no longer lead in cans these days, there is bisphenol A (BPA), the plastics chemical used in the lining of most cans. BPA can leach into the food and might counterbalance some of the fruits’ benefits. Recently, for example, blood levels of this chemical were associated with thickening of the artery linings going up to the brains of young adults. Canned fruit is often packed in syrup, as well, and all that added sugar and the canning process itself may diminish some nutrients, potentially wiping out 20 to 40 percent of the phenolic phytonutrients and about half of the vitamin C.

Maybe one of the reasons citrus appears particularly protective against stroke is its vitamin C content. It appears the more vitamin C in our diet and in our bloodstream, the lower the risk of stroke. And the way to get vitamin C into the bloodstream is to eat a lot of healthy foods, like citrus and tropical fruits, broccoli, and bell peppers. “Therefore, the observed effect of vitamin C on stroke reduction may simply be a proxy for specific foods (eg, fruits and vegetables) that causally lower stroke” risk. How could the researchers tell? Instead of food, they gave people vitamin C pills to see if they worked—and they didn’t.

This might be because citrus fruit have all sorts of other compounds associated with lower stroke risk, proving that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. You can’t capture Mother Nature in a pill. It’s like the apocryphal beta-carotene story. Dozens of studies showed that people who ate more beta-carotene-rich foods, like greens and sweet potatoes, and therefore had more beta-carotene circulating in their system, had lower cancer risk. What about beta-carotene supplements instead of whole foods? Researchers tried giving beta-carotene pills to people. Not only did they not work, they may have even caused more cancer. I assumed the National Cancer Institute researcher who did this study would conclude the obvious: produce, not pills. But, no. Instead, the researcher questioned whether he should have tried lower dose pills, alpha-carotene pills, pills with other phytochemicals, or maybe multiple combinations. After all, he said, “[i]t is likely that neither the public nor the scientific community will be satisfied with recommendations concerned solely with foods…”


Check out my other videos on the can-lining chemical BPA, including:

Is fresh fruit really that healthy? See:

Is it possible to get too much of a good thing? See How Much Fruit Is Too Much?.

Now that there’s no more lead in the cans, are there any other ways we’re exposed to the toxic heavy metal? I did a whole series on lead, which you can watch. See also:

I close with yet another screed against reductionism. For more on that, see my videos Why Is Nutrition So Commercialized? and Reductionism and the Deficiency Mentality.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

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