So after a particularly stressful day at the office, I decided to do some writing and soul searching and (of course) research. In all of the books and articles I’ve read, there has been a comment or chapter stating that stress may worsen Endometriosis. But why?
How Stress Affects the Body:
Stress may trigger adrenal stress hormones, which may alter heart rates and blood flow. It may also impair our white blood cell count, which can lower the body’s chances of fighting infection, reduce inflammation or even prevent/limit scarring. Gals with Endo know that inflammation and scarring are two critical components of a painful Endo day. Stress may also cause or exacerbate problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, stroke, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.
In 2008, news reports state a study was conducted on seven female rats. A team of investigators concluded that higher stress levels may, “affect the severity of endometriosis. We think there is likely a connection with the immune system because of the observed levels of mast cells in the colon and the increased levels of inflammatory cells in the peritoneum of the affected rats, since this has also been observed in patients with endometriosis.” (Caroline B. Appleyard, Ph.D.). The study concludes with, “Endometriosis has been identified as a heterogeneous, complex disease, and it is highly plausible that the existence of ongoing stress may contribute to the development of this disease through disturbances created in the immune and neuroendocrine systems. As such, our results point to the importance of future research in this area to lead to a better understanding of this disease and the importance of the ‘brain–body–brain cross talk.’ This may help to establish psychological, behavioral, and stress-reduction interventions as part of multidisciplinary preventive and clinical management to better treat patients with this condition.” It appears the study was published in 2012, and can be read here.
Again in 2014, Dr. Appleyard and a team of investigators e-published (hard print is pending) another study regarding stress and Endometriosis. This time it was to investigate whether being able to control stress would affect Endometriosis’s progression. It concludes, “[i]n summary, the level of stress controllability appears to modulate the behavior and pathophysiology of endometriosis and offers evidence for evaluating therapeutic interventions.” An abstract of the study can be read here. Also, I have the entire study provided by Dr. Appleyard. Contact me if you’d like to read it…
I have since had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Appleyard and Dr. Flores Caldera. If you’d like to read them, you can click here.
An abstract from the 2016 Experimental Biology meeting references Dr. Appleyard’s recent efforts regarding stress and Endometriosis. She and a team studied the effects of stress on Vitamin D receptors and how they may influence Endometriosis. They found that “stress exacerbates development of cysts…suggesting an impact on the local inflammatory environment.”
In November of 2017, Dr. Appleyard co-authored another study on stress and Endometriosis. This one focused on stress and if it affected the actual growth of endometriosis lesions. They once again used rats in their study (so this is untested in human subjects, but the theory exists) and found that the stress had stimulated the Endometriosis cell growth and also caused an altered immune response which increased the inflammatory response of the peritoneum. As we all know (or should know by now), stress = inflammation = Endometriosis pain and flare-ups. A huge thank you to Dr. Appleyard for her continued efforts to better understand our illness and the relationship stress may have in its development and progression.
Techniques We Can Use to Alleviate Stress:
Breathing: Deep, focused breathing has been shown to reduce anxiety, and calm emotions and thoughts. There are several techniques for deep breathing, and I personally will begin using the 4-7-8 Technique (you can read more about it here).
Exercise: Physical exercise pumps up endorphins…the “feel goods.” It may also help us forget the stresses of the day, shedding calories and stress! A win-win!
Listen to Music: Soothing music can decrease heightened cortisol levels (aaaugh, STRESS!), which may lead to relaxation and less tension.
Massage: Massage has been known to relax muscles, increase endorphin production, ease tension, and relieve headaches. Massage also releases serotonin and dopamine into the body, which deepen a sense of relaxation and calm.
Meditation: A 5-minute meditation may quickly restore the peace you were feeling prior to the stressful environment. Just get away for a few minutes in a quiet place. Sit or lay down, close your eyes, take a deep breath, exhale slowly. Imagine yourself in one of your favorite places, feel the ground beneath your feet, imagine the scents and sounds around you. Steady your breathing and relax your tense muscles. Let it go, calm down, relax. Calm, collected, and ready to face what’s next.
Professional Help: If you so desire, seek the advice of a professional, such as a psychologist. Sometimes it helps to talk to someone, and sometimes it helps to talk to a neutral, unbiased party.
TARP Method: Tune into your body’s signals, triggers, and early warning signs to help realize when your stress levels are rising. Analyze the source of the stress. Respond by dealing with the cause of your stress, and helping calm its effects on your body (aka calm down). Prevent future stresses by developing an earlier response to stress, calming faster, and even cutting the cause of the out of your life.
Yoga: Yoga not only stretches and maintains a limber body, but also includes breathing exercises which further decrease heightened cortisol levels and helps bring a sense of peace and calm. However, yoga for women with Endometriosis can be tricky, based on the placement of adhesions inside the pelvic area or anywhere inside the body. Melissa Turner and Allannah Law have developed a yoga program that is intended to ease any adhesion-stress and help those who suffer from Endometriosis. You can view her page here.
After reading all about the ways stress can affect our bodies and Endometriosis, and all of the *simple* ways we can reduce stress, I am most certainly going to give my own stress relief (and avoidance) a grand effort this year. I’ve altered my diet, I’m taking medications, and now it’s time to help my body with stress relief. I can do this.
We can do this!
Resources (updated November 28, 2017):
The FASEB Journal – Experimental Biology 2016 Meeting abstract
~ Again, I am a layman. I do not hold any college degrees, nor mastery of knowledge. Please take what I say with a grain of salt. If curious, do your own research 😉 Validate my writings. Or challenge them. And ALWAYS feel free to consult with your physician. Always. Yours ~ Lisa