Infertility is one of the most common complaints I come across as a practitioner focused on women’s health. Thankfully there are many natural remedies that help to reduce symptoms, including specific herbs for endometriosis.
While there are many potential causes of infertility, endometriosis is among the most common. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development conservatively estimated that 6%-11% of women of reproductive age have endometriosis (1). And The American Society for Reproductive Medicine estimates that the rates are between 24% and 50% in women struggling with infertility (2).
Endometriosis involves the presence and growth of endometrial tissue outside of the uterus. While this endometrial tissue can be found in more remote locations, it will most commonly grow within the pelvic area, appearing on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, peritoneum, colon, and bladder. Regardless of its location, all endometrial tissue will proliferate, shed, and bleed with cyclic hormonal changes. When this tissue resides outside of the uterus, it will irritate and inflame the local tissues, often leading to the pain generally associated with the condition.
WHAT CAUSES ENDOMETRIOSIS?
The cause of endometriosis is yet unknown, though several ideas and theories are under investigation. It is thought that retrograde menstruation may play a part in many cases. Retrograde menstruation involves the flow of blood, menstrual debris, and endometrial cells back through the fallopian tubes and into the pelvic cavity, and may be caused by heavy bleeding or structural anomalies. Surgeries, such as D&Cs and C-Sections, can also cause the displacement of endometrial tissue
While these topics are still under research and debate, some environmental factors do have a corollary relationship with endometriosis. These include endocrine disruption, especially those yielding elevations in levels of estrogens. There is also evidence that oxidative stress and immunologic factors contribute to the pathogenesis of endometriosis (3).
Additional risk factors include: beginning menstruating before the age of 12; having cycles that are shorter than 28 days; heavier or longer than average periods; poor diet; environmental toxins; and fewer pregnancies.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF ENDOMETRIOSIS?
Pain and discomfort are among the most troublesome symptoms of endometriosis. This can involve excessive pain during menstruation, during sexual intercourse, or at random times throughout the month. Sometimes the pain manifests as low-back pain; sometimes as irritable bowel pain; and sometimes as a general radiating pain throughout the pelvic region.
7 HERBS FOR ENDOMETRIOSIS
From the outset, I think it is important to be clear that herbs (and even pharmaceuticals) are unlikely to clear the body of endometriosis once it has been established. At this point, surgery is really the only way to remove the troublesome tissue. However, there are some herbs that may help to minimize the severity of the symptoms. As with all things, the severity of the condition and the goals of the individual need to be assessed when choosing interventions.
- Cramp Bark – This herb is commonly known (and named) for its use in reducing the severity of menstrual cramps. I can personally attest that this works! When I have menstrual cramps I put some loose herb into a tea-ball and sip on it throughout the day. While this herb is most commonly used for menstrual cramping, it can be used for any pain associated with endometriosis. It is considered to be a uterine tonic, an antispasmodic, and an analgesic herb (4,5). It also a nervine so may help temper the emotional swings that can arise with hormone disruption.
- Black Haw – This is a close relative of Cramp Bark and some herbalists contend that it is even more effective. It is more astringent than Cramp Bark and is a powerful antispasmodic with a particular affinity for the female reproductive system (4,5).
- Partridge Berry (aka Squaw Vine) – Known to help provide relief of dysmenorrhea, Partridge Berry can also help to relieve uterine congestion and acts as a general uterine tonic. This herb is more effective in combination with other herbs and herbalists will rarely recommend it in isolation. Traditional herbalists often combine Partridge Berry with Red Raspberry and Comfrey when creating tonics to help reduce symptoms associated with endometriosis (5).
- Vitex (aka Chaste Tree Berry) – This herb has a long history of use for supporting healthy levels of progesterone. Because elevated estrogens may be associated with endometriosis, it can be helpful to counter hyperestrogenism by helping the body produce sufficient levels of progesterone. Vitex is often used to correct irregular menstruation in women with endometriosis (5). Depending on the woman, Vitex may or may not be appropriate and/or beneficial. I always prefer to test the hormone levels before introducing herbs that can influence them.
- White Peony – As with Vitex, White Peony can alter hormone levels and may only be appropriate for some women with endometriosis. Once again, I always recommend hormone testing for all women dealing with infertility! White Peony has been shown to support healthy progesterone production, reduce excess androgens, and it can effectively modulate estrogen and prolactin (3).
- Milk Thistle – Milk Thistle is the premier herb for supporting the health of the liver. Since the liver is responsible for the conjugation and clearance of excess hormones (estrogens included), it is worth including this herb when dealing with conditions that may have a hormone-related component.
- Rehmannia – Rehmannia’s anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic properties may benefit women with endometriosis. Rehmannia has also been shown to help reduce the formation of free radicals. As such, it can help to prevent some of the oxidative stress that is thought to play a part in the aetiology of endometriosis. This herb is commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and is rarely used in isolation. When used for gynecologic conditions, it is often combined with Licorice Root, Dong Quai, and Peony (3).
Written by Ann Melin, CNC, CCMH, HHP, FDN-P
Ann is a Certified Clinical Master Herbalist, Holistic Health Practitioner, Nutritionist Consultant, and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner specializing in women’s health issues, particularly as they manifest in common dysfunctions related to the hormone, immune, digestion, detoxification, and neurotransmitter systems. She is also a Master of Science candidate in Marriage and Family Therapy with a specialization in Trauma and Crisis Counseling.
Ann’s passion for natural and holistic health began over 25 years ago when, as a teenager, she bought her first book on the healing properties of plants, attended her first yoga class, and participated in a series of mindfulness meditation classes.
Several years later, Ann suffered through several health challenges of her own. Those struggles deepened her interest in restoring health through the use of an integrated set of natural healing modalities.
Through her own healing process, she touched into a core value of wanting to share this work with others by helping to support them through their own personal health journeys.
Ann’s typical clients are women who have struggled with nagging health problems, have seen multiple practitioners, and have been unable to achieve lasting results.
Ann has spent over a decade learning how to achieve health and wellness using natural, non-toxic, and holistic approaches. Her current areas of interest and research are in the field of trauma, chronic stress, and their impact on chronic health problems. She is also intrigued by the ways that interaction with our natural resources can bring about healing on all levels.
You can find Ann over at The Women’s Wellness Collaborative, working with Bridgit Danner, and offering one on one coaching.
(1) Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (n.d.). “How many people are affected by or at risk for endometriosis.” Retrieved from https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/endometri/conditioninfo/Pages/at-risk.aspx
(2) American Society for Reproductive Medicine. (2012). “Endometriosis.” Retrieved from https://www.asrm.org/BOOKLET_Endometriosis/
(3) Romm, A. (2010). Botanical medicine for women’s health. St. Louis, MO: Churchill Livingstone.
(4) Tierra, M. (1998). The way of herbs. New York, NY: Pocket Books.
(5) Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical Herbalism: The science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.