Jessica Murnane suffers from stage four endometriosis , and was told at the age of 33 that she would need to undergo a hysterectomy .
“As a last-ditch effort to save my uterus, I decided to try a whole-foods plant-based diet,” Murnane writes in Tuesday’s Lenny Letter newsletter. “Aside from the fact that candy, cheese and fun were not on the approved list of foods, I think a lot of my resistance came from just being plain tired of trying.”
“Over the years, I had tried everything to feel better,” she continues. “I went through multiple surgeries, tried yoga, experimented with legal drugs and not-so-legal ones, and even went to therapy because of my depression caused by my pain. Nothing worked.”
Naturally, Murnane was skeptical that cutting out junk food and focusing on a plant-based diet would actually make a difference — but she says for her, it did.
“To my surprise (I’m still surprised), it actually worked,” she writes. “After weeks, my symptoms and pain started to fade. And after a couple of months, I felt better than I ever had. I never got the surgery. Six years later, I can’t imagine eating any other way. Good food changed my life.”
Gynecological surgeon Ceana Nezhat , MD, FACOG, FACS, fellowship director of the Atlanta Center for Minimally Invasive Surgery and Reproductive Medicine, says that improved diet can alleviate endometriosis symptoms for some women.
“Changing your lifestyle and certain eating habits has a significant, positive effect on severe endometriosis,” he tells PEOPLE. “A patient of mine had a similar situation and was offered a hysterectomy. She came to me, and not only did she not have surgery, helped her conceive as well.”
Cate Shanahan , MD, a Connecticut-based board certified family physician and author of Deep Nutrition, explains that there is indeed a link between diet and endometriosis symptoms.
“There is a relationship between diet and pretty much all chronic conditions and certainly hormonal issues,” Shanahan tells PEOPLE. “The link in all of this is the fact that omega-6 fats, which come from soy oil and canola oil and are also found in animal feed, are pro-inflammatory.”
She explains that by eliminating meat and processed foods, you are cutting back on omega-6 fats, which can help with endometriosis symptoms.
“There is definitely a direct reason why you would expect someone to be able to improve their endometriosis if they improve their diet,” she says. “One of my patients who suffers from endometriosis got better with diet change, so I have seen it happen.”
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Ken Sinervo, MD, MSc, FRCSC, ACGE, medical director of Atlanta’s Center for Endometriosis Care , says that while changing a diet can alleviate symptoms of endometriosis, it will not eliminate it.
“The disease is not going to go away with diet alone,” he tells PEOPLE. “The most effective way of treating endometriosis is with excision or cutting out the disease. That being said, we know that diet can affect many of the symptoms of endometriosis. There are a lot phytoestrogens in certain types of food, especially foods that have soy as their basis, which can result in inflammation. Sugars, carbohydrates and processed meats can also increase inflammation and make symptoms worse.”
Sinervo says that Murnane’s “situation is the exception rather than the rule.”
“There is a very strict endometriosis diet which eliminates most meat and is largely plant-based, but the diet is extremely limited,” he says. “I had one patient who did it for 10 years, and it did seem to help to her symptoms, but eventually her symptoms became worse again and she did need surgery.”
Rebecca Brightman , MD, FACOG, a board certified OBGYN in private practice in New York City and educational partner with the “ME in EndoMEtriosis” campaign , which encourages women to get educated about the disease, says it’s imperative for women to seek professional medical advice before trying to self-treat their endometriosis with diet.
“Everybody’s different, and no one really knows why some people have endometriosis and other people don’t,” Brightman tells PEOPLE. “There is some thought that eating natural foods and clean foods may actually help people feel better. There is also some data that suggests that people that avoid alcohol and caffeine may improve their symptoms. However, it depends on the severity of the symptoms. The care has to be individualized.”
“People need to talk to their health care providers,” she continues. “Traditional treatment is medical therapy, surgical treatment or a combination of the two. It would be really unfortunate for someone who can benefit from medical treatment to self-treat.”
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