Managing Endometriosis Using Nutritional Therapy: Graduate Story with Molly Roberson Graduate Story We chat to Molly Roberson, nutritional therapist and ION graduate, about her struggles with endometriosis, and how her studies helped her to manage the painful condition What is endometriosis and what are the symptoms? “Endometriosis is a painful condition where cells like those that line the uterus, grow outside of the uterus. It is most commonly found in the reproductive system and on the bladder or bowel, although endometriosis has been found in other areas of the body like the lungs and diaphragm. “The cells respond to the changes in our monthly hormones (like the lining of the uterus does), thickening in preparation for potential pregnancy, and then shedding if we don’t become pregnant. The problem is, unlike our uterine lining, the blood from the endometrial lesions has no way out of the body. This causes inflammation and scar tissue, as the body attempts to heal itself. As this process happens month after month, adhesions begin to form, which can result in organs sticking together like a cobweb. “As a result, endometriosis can cause symptoms of moderate to severe period pain (pain may begin a few days before the period), nausea, pelvic pain or lower back pain, fatigue, IBS-type symptoms (particularly around the period), bloating, heavy bleeding, pain going to the toilet, anxiety, depression, and pain with sex.” What is your history with endometriosis? “I always suffered with really severe period pain as soon as my periods started aged 11, but I didn’t know any different and thought it was normal. I missed school and social events, and would spend my days in bed with a hot water bottle held to my stomach. I finally went to my GP aged 14, but there was no conversation about my symptoms, except to say that period pain was common, so I was put on the pill. “Fast forward a few years, I had to come off the pill to undergo spinal surgery, and after a really stressful few years my symptoms were getting progressively worse. I was experiencing excruciating period pain, severe nausea, cold sweats and erratic cycles, but also month-long symptoms like pelvic pain. I couldn’t make plans too far in advance because I didn’t want to risk them falling on my period, I couldn’t walk for more than 20 minutes, and I felt like a burden on my family. “I went back to the GP and after months of tests for things like UTIs and cervical cancer, she finally referred me to a gynecologist for suspected endometriosis. When I saw him he said that, considering my symptoms, he was 99% sure if I had investigative laparoscopic surgery, they would find endometriosis. The options I was given were to have the surgery, to go back on the pill, or to get pregnant! At that time, none of those options felt right, and I was already studying nutritional therapy, so I went back to my books, did my research and came up with a plan for myself. “After about a year of trial and error, I finally found the right combination of diet and lifestyle practices, and my pelvic pain cleared up completely. Gradually my period symptoms reduced to the point that I literally got my life back. No more sweats or nausea, and only a one or two on the endometriosis pain scale, without painkillers! Now I run my nutritional therapy business, I’m studying for a Master’s degree, I’m able to socialise and exercise - I can do whatever I want without having to think about whether I’m going to be on my period!” What made you decide to study nutritional therapy? “After I had spinal surgery for scoliosis, my health rapidly deteriorated. I had constant brain fog, headaches, nausea and fatigue. I went to see a nutritional therapist, who supported me back to full health with simple dietary changes and inspired me to do further reading. Then I was totally hooked! “Instead of going off to Birmingham University to study Philosophy, I took a leap of faith and enrolled on the Nutritional Therapy Science Access Course. It was the best decision I ever made. If I hadn’t learnt about how nutrition and lifestyle impacts our health, I wouldn’t have been able to take control of my endometriosis in the way I did when I got the diagnosis three years into my four year Nutritional Therapy course.” How has nutritional therapy impacted your endometriosis? “The results I have achieved by applying nutritional therapy practices to my endometriosis have been amazing. With a condition as debilitating as endometriosis, I think people have a hard time believing that food can make much of an impact, but without the changes I made to my diet and lifestyle, I don’t doubt that my endometriosis would have progressively worsened. “We now know that endometriosis is an inflammatory, immune and hormone related condition and so it responds very well to nutrition and lifestyle medicine. When I understood that food is more than just energy, it was a huge revelation. My nutritional therapy management for endometriosis centres on foods that help lower inflammation, support immune function and support healthy blood sugar balance.” What are your plans for the future? “My plans include growing my online practice to reach more endometriosis sufferers in need of nutrition and lifestyle guidance, working with GP surgeries to support patients going through treatment, and running menstrual education talks at schools throughout the UK to raise awareness of endometriosis and spread the word that period pain might be common, but it’s not normal!” Visit Molly's website or follow her on Instagram @the_endo_expert ION is a leading provider of accredited nutritional therapy training, established in 1984. ION’s BSc (Hons) Nutritional Therapy is validated by the University of Portsmouth. Be part of a growing community of nutritional therapists and build a rewarding, flexible career helping others to make positive lifestyle changes. Start your journey today and find out more about studying nutritional therapy here.