The diet against endometriosis: no to red meat, yes to oily fish and flaxseed

Foods that have estrogen-like action, such as soy-based foods, should be limited, while "anti-inflammatory" ones should be preferred

An anti-inflammatory diet could help women suffering from endometriosis, a very painful disease in which tissue similar to the lining of the endometrium (inside of the uterus) grows outside the uterus. That’s one of the new findings from a symposium organized by the Young Working Group of the Italian Society of Human Nutrition at its latest national congress in Arezzo. “Endometriosis is a chronic benign inflammation of the female genitalia and pelvic peritoneum. It affects 2 to 10 percent of women of childbearing age (15-49 years) worldwide, and about 30 to 50 percent of cases are symptomatic,” explains Cinzia Ferraris, a dietitian and researcher at the Department of Public Health, Experimental and Forensic Medicine at the University of Pavia.

The stimulus to inflammation

Inflammation occurs as the immune system’s response to tissue forming where it should not. The stimulus for the growth of this tissue is the female hormone estrogen. It is logical to think that foods known to affect estrogen production, such as soy-based foods are discouraged while others with anti-inflammatory action may have positive effects on symptoms. “General indications push for an anti-inflammatory diet although the evidence is mixed,” the expert continues.

Foods to avoid

“There is consensus on the association between red meat consumption (processed and unprocessed) and increased risk of endometriosis. One explanation could be in the possible effect on steroid hormones: for example, an increase in concentrations of estradiol, an estrogenic steroid hormone. Indeed, high estrogen levels are involved in inducing the inflammation typical of the disease. In addition, animal fats in meats, such as palmitic acid, appear to promote endogenous estrogen production and thus increase the risk of endometriosis. A further hypothesis concerns iron, in which meat is rich, associated with increased oxidative stress and inflammatory status.

Omega-3 acids

On the other hand, some evidence suggests a decrease in the risk of this disease with the intake of omega-3 fatty acids, typical, for example, of flaxseed and oily fish. No firm guidance can be given on which foods to consume and which to avoid. However, the European guidelines of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology report that despite the paucity of evidence in favor, it would be best to address a healthy lifestyle in the future that also includes adequate nutrition, limiting alcohol consumption and regular physical activity.”