Endometriosis is an often-painful condition that develops when tissue that looks and acts like the endometrium – the lining of the uterus – migrates outside the uterus. This tissue implants itself on the fallopian tubes, ovaries, the ligaments supporting the uterus, the area between the vagina and rectum, on the outer surface of the uterus, or on the lining of the pelvic cavity. It continues to act as if it were still in the uterus: every month, in response to hormonal signals, it thickens, breaks down and bleeds. With no route out of the body, the trapped blood causes irritation, inflammation, pain, scar tissue formation, and adhesions that can interfere with bowel function.
The most common symptoms of endometriosis are severe menstrual cramps during periods and pelvic pain at other times – during ovulation, intercourse, bowel movements, or urination. Between one-third and one-half of affected women have problems with infertility.
A study from Wayne State University in Detroit suggests that lycopene, a powerful antioxidant and the carotenoid pigment that makes tomatoes bright red, can help prevent the scarring that occurs with endometriosis. In a laboratory study, researchers found that it reduced the formation of a protein that causes scar tissue and adhesions to develop by 80 to 90 percent. And in presenting their results at a conference of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in November 2008, the researchers suggested that women who have endometriosis might be able to get this effect by increasing their intake of tomatoes or taking supplements of lycopene.
But please remember that this was a laboratory study. We have no evidence yet that lycopene actually does work to prevent scarring and adhesions in women with endometriosis, nor do we know the amount of tomatoes or lycopene women would have to consume to prevent scarring and adhesions. However, it certainly can’t hurt to eat more tomatoes. You also can try to manage endometriosis nutritionally with my anti-inflammatory diet. Because of the estrogenic hormones they contain, (naturally occurring as well as artificial), my colleague, Victoria Maizes, M.D., executive director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, also suggests a three-week trial of eliminating dairy foods entirely to see if it helps alleviate symptoms. Read labels carefully and avoid all foods containing cow's milk or milk products.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Find more information on endometriosis from Dr. Weil's Condition Care Guide.