It’s National Endometriosis Week this March and it’s a time where we can all help to raise awareness about this painful and often unrecognised condition. Health expert, Dr Naomi Newman-Beinart (PhD), is here to tell you a bit about endometriosis and how a simple nutrient called “iodine” may be able to help you.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a chronic, inflammatory disorder that occurs in women when tissue similar to the lining of the womb, starts to grow in other places like the ovaries and fallopian tubes. This tissue acts like endometrial tissue and thickens, breaks down and bleeds with each menstrual cycle. But, unlike a normal period, this tissue has no way to exit the body, which can lead to cysts and scar tissue forming in the pelvic area.
How many women does it affect and what are the symptoms?
It is estimated that approximately 10% of women between 14 and 45 have endometriosis and it goes largely undiagnosed in younger years. Symptoms of endometriosis include heavy and painful periods and can make it difficult to get pregnant and this is why more women are diagnosed in the 30’s, when they are trying to figure out what might be causing issue with infertility. Over time, women with endometriosis can also suffer with chronic lower back and pelvic pain, pain during and after sex, an overactive bladder, intestinal pain, and painful bowel movements.
What causes it?
Research shows that endometriosis can be genetic and that it is more common in women with a healthy weight and those who started their periods at a young age. There is no way to completely prevent or get rid of it, but there is a lot you can do to make it easier to live with. Medical treatments for endometriosis include surgery, the contraceptive pill and painkillers. However, there is something else that women have found can help symptoms of endometriosis, and that is the essential nutrient, iodine.
Iodine deficiency in the UK:
Iodine is an essential nutrient that your body can’t make by itself, so we must depend on food or supplements to get what we need. Iodine plays an important role in the production of thyroid hormones, which are important for vital bodily processes such as metabolism. This is why low thyroid hormone levels often lead to problems such as fatigue, dry skin, feeling cold much of the time, cognitive problems, and weight gain.
Many countries, such as the US and Canada, add iodine to their table salt to reduce problems associated with iodine deficiency. However, we don’t do this in the UK and the World Health Organisation now classify the UK as seventh out of the ten most iodine deficient nations in the world. So it’s no surprise that studies have shown nearly 70% of school aged girls in the UK are lacking iodine (1).
How can iodine help women with endometriosis?
Scientists believe that low dietary iodine intake leads to higher oestrogen levels in women (2). High oestrogen is known to cause excess growth of endometrial tissue outside of the womb. It is believed that iodine can lower oestrogen in the receptor cells, which may help to normalise oestrogen metabolism, therefore reducing problems related to endometriosis.
Are you getting enough iodine in your diet?
Iodine can be found in seafood, white fish, and dairy products. But nowadays, with plant-based diets on the rise, more and more people are turning to seaweed to find a suitable source of iodine. But not all seaweed is created equal! Firstly, can you imagine eating seaweed daily to ensure that you have a daily intake of iodine? It’s lovely every now and again wrapped around some delicious sushi, but not something most people want to eat every day. Secondly, you can’t guarantee how much iodine you are consuming from packets of seaweed.
To make life easier, you may wish to consider supplementing with seaweed capsules that tell you how much iodine naturally occurs in each capsule. I love Doctor Seaweed’s vegan and organic Weed and Wonderful Hebridean Ascophyllum seaweed capsules. They contain only natural ingredients from food sources, providing natural nutrition in a much easier and more convenient way. Each capsule contains a similar amount of natural iodine as you would expect to find in a portion of white fish.
To find out more about Doctor Seaweed's range of nutritional supplements, click here. If you're unsure which product is best for you and your wider wellness goals, click here to take our brief Nutritionist-lead iodine test to find out!
To find out how Doctor Seaweed's Pure Seaweed Capsules have helped Claire manage her symptoms of endometriosis, click here for the full video testimonial.