My gynaecologist was the first to suggest I consider reducing/eliminating red meat as part of a treatment plan for my endometriosis. I followed up the recommendation with some of my own research and decided I may as well give it a bash. As I was never the world’s biggest meat-eater to begin with, this was a pretty appealing prospect: low cost in terms of life changes and potentially high rewards for pain management.
For the last two-ish years, I have eliminated all meat from my diet… bar fish. So yes, I am in fact not a vegetarian but rather a pescatarian. I decided to remove white meats as well as red meats because… well, why not? I was never a huge meat-eater, as I say, so it just seemed like an added ethical bonus if you will. I decided to stick with fish in order to maintain a healthy intake of inflammation-reducing omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins D and B2, calcium and iron. I will likely try to remove fish from my diet in due course, once I research and source alternatives. If you have any suggestions for this I am beyond all ears!
Before I continue on with the who, what, why behind the red-meat-free endo diet theory, I really do need to say: these are just my opinions, and whilst they are usually based on something slightly fact-based, they are just that. Opinions. So please don’t think I’m preaching or claiming in any way that going meat-free is a solution for everyone and that you’re endo warrior trash if you don’t make this change too.
The idea behind a meat-free diet for endometriosis is this: the blood in red meat contains oestrogen. Endometriosis is ‘an oestrogen-dependent disease’. The increased consumption of oestrogen, and resulting introduction of more oestrogen into the blood, may promote and irritate endometriosis. Whilst studies have found a link between red meat consumption and increased inflammation, other studies have found no such connection, and so this theory is far from conclusive as it stands (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24284436).
I do believe that there have been certain noticeable changes since I cut red and white meats from my diet. The main pro in my eyes: less bloating/inflammation. Whilst I do still have serious bouts of the bloat – mostly around my period – the instances are fewer and further between. That’s not to say it’s not still an ugly time when it does happen, but at least it’s less regular. I am very willing to accept that there may be other factors at play in this improvement also: I have changed medicines frequently in last few years and have reduced several other foods and drinks from my diet simultaneously (I’ll get onto those in later posts).
I’ve also discovered one added benefit to going meat-free that I never even considered when making the decision. Since removing meat from my diet, I have been exposed to so many foods that I’d never tried or, in some cases, that I’d never even heard of. The increased versatility in my diet has allowed me to broaden my intake of vitamins and nutrients.
I would say that I’ve experienced two major ‘cons’ (or rather ‘not ideals’) in my switch to a largely veggie diet.
Firstly, I had to learn the hard way that losing the vitamin B12 and iron that naturally occurs in red meat is pretty crappy for anyone but especially for those with anaemia like myself. If you don’t know, to be anaemic is to have too few red blood cells (haemoglobin). Red blood cells carry oxygen around the body. Perhaps not surprisingly, if your body is starved of oxygen, unpleasant symptoms often occur, including dizziness and nausea amongst other things. I was diagnosed as anaemic when I was 14 and to this day I often feel weak and faint (particularly around my period). So I knew I’d have to stay on top of things when I removed a reliable source of (already limited) haemoglobin. I take iron supplements routinely to attempt to combat this.
Secondly, I have to be mindful not to overindulge in soy-based meat alternatives. Given that most meat substitutes are made from soy protein, this is not an easy thing to reduce. If you consider that soy also forms the base for one of the most popular types of non-dairy milk, the stuff just becomes harder and harder to avoid. Whilst soy is abundant in nutrients and vitamins including iron, magnesium, potassium and vitamins B6, there may also be risks associated with overconsumption. Soy contains phytoestrogen (plant based oestrogen), which mimics human oestrogen in the body. As mentioned above, excess oestrogen is a no-go for endometriosis and can often induce flare-ups. This may potentially be combatted through the use of Milk Thistle or other oestrogen-eliminating supplements. I also have to say that, for me personally, overindulgence in soy has immediate, unwelcome effects on my gut health and bowel movements (sorry, no such thing as TMI). Just something to consider: it’s a very unwanted addition to an already crappy endo day. So, if you’re going veggie (or even just making a move in that direction), eat soy in moderation – don’t go crazy.
So, there we have it, a brief look at the basis for the endometriosis diet recommendation of ‘no red meat’. I hope my personal insights may be of some use. I’d love to hear from any and all of you who have made, or are thinking of making, this dietary change. Thanks for reading. For now, it’s endo and out.