Endo diet: Mediterranean or FODMAP for the win?

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A healthy eating pattern can be therapeutic and good for our health overall, but it can be difficult to decide on what is best for our bodies. The process can involve a long time spent in trial and error to find what works for our individual body and its needs. When looking at studies on dietary interventions, we find that they are difficult to perform- often ending up with strong bias or high inconsistent rates with adherence (anyone else here ever cheat on a diet??). But they can give us some direction. For instance, a systematic analysis by Nirgianakis et al. (2021) looked at a few recent studies on diet’s effect on endometriosis symptoms. While, unfortunately, the data was not strong enough for any strong conclusions, it can give some clues for individuals with endometriosis (along with consultation with a healthcare provider).

Two of the diets looked at included the Mediterranean diet and a diet low in fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAP). Both showed promise for help with endometriosis symptoms, particularly gastrointestinal symptoms and pain.

Nirgianakis et al., (2021) explains:

“FODMAPs are poorly absorbed, short-chain carbohydrates that are readily fermentable by bacteria. Their osmotic actions and gas production may cause intestinal luminal distension inducing pain and bloating in patients with visceral hypersensitivity with secondary effects on gut motility….Diseases like irritable bowel syndrome and endometriosis come along with visceral hypersensitivity, implementing the hypothesis of symptom-reduction after sticking to a low-FODMAP diet. This is very important given the high prevalence of gastrointestinal-related symptoms and co-morbidities in patients with endometriosis. Interestingly, the low-FODMAP diet includes not only a low-Ni diet, but also a low-lactose and a low-gluten diet, thus covering the above-mentioned diets and a large spectrum of high-prevalence pathologies, such as lactose intolerance and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. It is therefore possible to obtain clinical benefits from a low-FODMAP diet, even if at the cost of probably not necessary dietary exclusions.”

The Mediterranean diet includes “fresh vegetables, fruit, white meat, fish rich in fat, soy products, whole meal products, foods rich in magnesium, and cold-pressed oils,” while avoiding “sugary drinks, red meat, sweets, and animal fats”. The review noted that “a significant relief of general pain, dysmenorrhea, dyspareunia, and dyschezia as well as an improvement in the general condition was found.” Moreover, the “Mediterranean diet has well-known antioxidant effects. However, the Mediterranean diet does not involve just the supplementation of certain antioxidants, but rather a collection of eating habits and may thus improve endometriosis-associated pain via additional mechanisms. Fish as well as extra virgin olive oils have been shown to exert anti-inflammatory effects. Specifically, extra virgin olive oil, which contains the substance oleocanthal, displays a similar structure to the molecule ibuprofen, and both take effect via the same mechanism, i.e., cyclooxygenase inhibition. Moreover, the increased amount of fibers provides a eupeptic effect while foods high in magnesium could prevent an increase in the intracellular calcium level and advance the relaxation of the uterus. Taking into account the lack of risks or side effects even after long-term lifetime adherence to this diet and the possible other general health benefits, clinicians may suggest this type of dietary intervention to patients with endometriosis who wish to change their nutritional habits.”

Finally, the authors looked at a qualitative study and found that “the participants experienced an increase in well-being and a decrease in symptoms following their dietary and lifestyle changes. They also felt that the dietary changes led to increased energy levels and a deeper understanding of how they could affect their health by listening to their body’s reactions.” So, taking control of your diet can help improve your general sense of well-being.

Again, there was not strong evidence from any of the studies reviewed, but it might prove helpful when discussing complementary therapies with your healthcare provider. You can find more information about diet and endometriosis here.  

Reference

Nirgianakis, K., Egger, K., Kalaitzopoulos, D. R., Lanz, S., Bally, L., & Mueller, M. D. (2021). Effectiveness of Dietary Interventions in the Treatment of Endometriosis: a Systematic Review. Reproductive Sciences, 1-17. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s43032-020-00418-w