THURSDAY, July 15, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Endometriosis, a painful condition that can torment young women, may be prevented by eating fruits and vegetables and avoiding red meat and ham, Italian researchers suggest.
Among women who ate a diet rich in fresh fruit and green vegetables, the risk for endometriosis was reduced by 40 percent, the researchers report. However, among women who ate a lot of beef, other red meat and ham, the risk of developing endometriosis increased 80 percent to 100 percent.
The report appears in the July 15 issue of Human Reproduction.
Endometriosis occurs when endometrial tissue develops outside the uterus and attaches to ligaments and organs in the abdominal cavity. Normally, endometrial tissue is found only in the lining of the womb.
During menstrual cycles, the misplaced tissue acts as if it were still inside the uterus. Endometriosis can result in bleeding, pain, inflammation, scarring and infertility. In the United States, endometriosis affects about 10 percent to 20 percent of young women.
The research team, led by Dr. Fabio Parazzini from the Gynecologic Clinic of the University of Milan, interviewed 500 women with endometriosis and 500 women with no history of the disease.
The researchers asked the women about their medical and reproductive history, lifestyle and diet.
The women were also asked about their diet in the year before the interview. The researchers asked how many times a week the women ate fruits and vegetables -- foods that are major sources of antioxidants called retinoids and carotenoids. The researchers also asked the women how much alcohol and coffee they drank.
While there was a significant link between endometriosis and eating fruits and vegetables, there was no significant link between the condition and consuming liver, carrots, cheese, fish, whole-grain foods, coffee, alcohol, milk, butter, margarine or oil.
According to Parazzini, eating a diet rich in fresh fruit and green vegetables could prevent about 10,000 new cases of endometriosis a year in Italy alone.
"Our study does suggest that there is some link between diet and risk of endometriosis and indicates that we now need a proper prospective interventional investigation to study these factors," Parazzini said in a statement.
"Endometriosis is a distressing condition that affects the quality of life for many women, and if there are adjustments that can be made in the diet to lower the risk it is vital that we gain really firm evidence about which foods protect and which foods increase risk," he added.
Dr. Ken Levey, director of the Pelvic Pain Center at New York University Medical Center, said, "The association between diet and endometriosis has the potential to exist."
There is a link between diet and other hormone-related conditions, such as fibroids, Levey said. "So to stretch that and think that there is something related to endometriosis is not farfetched."
"However, diet doesn't answer the big question of who is at risk for endometriosis and why does it occur in certain people and not in others," Levey added.
Levey explained that endometriosis results from a combination of things such as genetic and immune system factors, which play a large role in determining who is likely to develop the condition. "Diet probably plays a role, but it's not the whole story," he said.
Levey said the results of this study aren't conclusive enough to change his clinical practice. "I certainly wouldn't go out and tell patients that if they want to decrease their endometriosis risk they should cut out foods that these researchers suggested cause increased risk of endometriosis, such as meats."
While the findings are interesting, Levey said he believes they should be interpreted cautiously, and that more research is needed to give a definitive answer to the role of diet in endometriosis. "I wouldn't hang my hat on the results of this study," he added.
The Endometriosis Association can tell you about endometriosis .