Twenty-two year old Susan was deeply distressed by the thought she and her new husband would never be able to have a child. Having irregular periods since she was a teenager, and having no period at all for six months, she had 24/7 pelvic pain. Her doctor told her she had endometriosis that was too extensive to be treated by laser ablation, and that her only alternative was to have a hysterectomy.
Fortunately, the doctor ran a perfunctory pregnancy test before wheeling Susan into surgery. It turned out the "inoperable lump" in Susan's uterus was actually a fetus, in the fourth month of development. Susan delivery a healthy, happy, bouncing baby boy five months later.
Even in the twenty-first century doctors sometimes have extreme difficulty diagnosing endometriosis. This is an inflammatory condition in which the lining of the uterus that is shed each month during a woman's period, the endometrium, passes inward rather than outward. Adhesions of scar tissue and black, red, or clear cysts implant themelves in the uterus. Brown cysts may accumulate in the ovaries.
Epidemiologists who study endometriosis estimate that 10 to 15 per cent of all women in the reproductive years suffer endometriosis, and up to 50 per cent of all cases of female infertility have endometriosis as a contributing factor.
The underlying phenomenon that causes endometriosis, retrograde menstruation, occurs at one time or another in almost all women, but only about 15 per cent of women develop cysts. Cysts occur when women lack an enzyme for estrogen.
This enzyme, called 17-beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2, converts the cyst-inducing form of estrogen, 17-beta-estradiol, into a kinder, gentler kind of estrogen, called estrone. Without this enzyme cysts grow in the first half of the menstrual cycle, when estrogen levels are high. They cause tenderness, bleeding and pain, and then they stop growing when estrogen levels fall during the second half of the menstrual cycle.
Treating the hormonal imbalance that causes these cysts is difficult. Treating the inflammation that causes these cysts is easy. One of the best ways to alleviate inflammation is with fish oil.
The overwhelming advantage of fish oil is that its action does not depend on the presence of absence of estrogen. Most women notice relief the first or second month after they begin taking 1 to 3 capsules of fish oil every day.
It's also important to avoid the trans- fats found in bakery goods, especially donuts, and also those in most brands of margarine and cooking oil or shortening. (The trans- fatty acids in meat and eggs, interestingly, do not make endometrial inflammation worse).
Most women get a better response from a distilled fish oil product, and one with relatively high levels of DHA and EPA, at least 600 mg of DHA + EPA per capsule. When there's more DHA and EPA in the capsule, there's less room for anything that could cause stomach upset. And avoiding fried foods and especially fried dessert foods helps fish oil work faster.