Chronic inflammatory disease is the scourge of modern medicine – the present day equivalent of smallpox or tuberculosis. With stress and poor diet being the main contributors to inflammation in the the body, it is not surprising that conditions like arthritis, Crohn’s disease and psoriasis are increasingly becoming an issue – an issue that remains difficult to resolve using conventional medication due to its focus on symptoms rather than the underlying cause.
Many chronic inflammatory conditions have an autoimmune element to them – a wider disturbance of the immune system where the body creates antibodies to its own cells, attacking its own tissue and causing inflammation. Here I cover endometriosis as a newly-discovered autoimmune condition that was once thought to be purely hormonal. Rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis coming soon.
This complex condition, now thought to be an autoimmune issue rather than a hormonal one, is a great example where the subtle, corrective nature of herbal medicine can provide real benefits alongside appropriate dietary changes and, in more serious cases, surgery.
Endometriosis happens when the inner lining of the womb (the endometrium) displaces and grows in areas where it shouldn’t. This can happen in the ovaries, pelvic ligaments and Fallopian tubes, or outside the uterus in the bowels or bladder. The displaced tissue responds to fluctuations in oestrogen levels, growing at its location and causing pain and heavy bleeding, and can form cysts, rupturing and causing inflammation and scarring.
Treatment of endometriosis therefore involves two main approaches – reducing oestrogen overload, and rebalancing the immune system in order to dampen down inflammation.
Having too much oestrogen in the body is very common, as many environmental toxins and foods contain oestrogen-like molecules, including many types of plastics and pesticides. Avoiding these by eating mainly organic vegetables and not keeping food in clingfilm or tupperware boxes is one step towards reducing oestrogen in the body. Another is by using herbs such as Vitex agnus castus along with uterine tonics like black cohosh and Don Quai.
Herbs like Echinacea, Astragalus and poke root can help enhance the immune-system and resolve endometrial cysts, and spices like turmeric and ginger help to reduce inflammation and promote good pelvic circulation. Avoiding A1 cow’s milk dairy products in sensitive individuals (ie. those with chronic sinus problems, a history of tonsillitis and ear infections in childhood, and period pain) will also help reduce inflammation long-term.
Gut and liver function also need to be addressed, as inefficient clearance of oestrogen from the body via the digestive system can cause it to build up and cause imbalance. Herbs like dandelion root, milk thistle, Schisandra and turmeric are very useful here, and avoiding gluten where necessary will help repair the intestinal wall and reduce permeability of the gut.
Due to the personal and varying nature of endometriosis, like all autoimmune diseases, it is always recommended to seek professional advice before treating yourself. Get a proper diagnosis, consult a good doctor and herbalist and involve them both in your treatment.
An example prescription for endometriosis is as follows.
Vitex agnus castus 1:1 25
Angelica sinensis 1:1 20
Centella asiatica 1:1 20
Taraxacum officinalis (rad) 1:1 20
Achillea millefolium 1:3 15
Phytolacca decandra 1:3 3
(5mls three times a day before meals)