Herbal Enemas Help Ease Endometriosis Pain
If you’re not getting sufficient relief from conventional treatments for endometriosis, you might want to look into other methods of healing.
By Meryl Davids Landau
Medically Reviewed by Kacy Church, MD
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Conventional treatments for endometriosis, a condition in which tissue similar to the lining of the inside of the uterus — called the endometrium — grows outside the uterus, include oral medication like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) and birth control pills (hormone therapy). If you’ve been diagnosed with endometriosis and treated but still have symptoms, you may have also considered less conventional medical approaches that can complement your current treatment plan.
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One such system is traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Long used in Asia, this ancient system of medicine is perhaps best known for its use of acupuncture. But TCM also relies heavily on herbal remedies, some of which have been found in research to assist with endometriosis.
“When I worked in private practice, I saw a lot of patients who had endometriosis, and every one of them found the herbs helpful — with many becoming asymptomatic,” says Glenda Harris, PhD, now a senior acupuncturist at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine in Florida.
TCM Approach to Health and Wellness
Western medicine sees the body as a series of mechanical, chemical, and electrical circuits. Chinese medicine views the body more holistically, with a healthy body being one where all parts are in harmony. Practitioners of TCM believe that a vital energy, known as "qi," flows throughout the body, and this energy is what is largely responsible for health.
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All aspects of TCM spring from this outlook. In acupuncture, the needles aim to remove blockages in the qi.
Herbs are also viewed in this light. They are considered important for impacting the body’s energy systems, rather than as something that targets one specific biological function, like in Western medicine.
Research on Chinese Herbs for Endometriosis Symptoms
The majority of studies of Chinese herbal medicine have been done in China, where the method is routinely used to treat endometriosis.
One included the results from two small Chinese studies. In one, women taking the herbs both orally and via an enema (it is believed to be more fully absorb through the intestinal mucosa) had both less pain and more shrunken masses than those treated with a steroid. In the other, women who took an oral Chinese herbal preparation following laparoscopic surgery had as much symptom relief as women taking the synthetic steroid Dimetriose (gestrinone).
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Another review published in 2014 inEvidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, concluded that TCM treatments, including herbs (oral and enemas), acupuncture, and microwave physiotherapy “are effective at relieving dysmenorrhoea, shrinking adnexal masses, and promoting pregnancy, with less unpleasant side effects when compared with hormonal and surgical treatments.”
How Chinese Medicines Are Dispensed for Use in Treatment
Chinese herbal remedies are typically combinations of herbs that have been understood over time to help with specific conditions. These combinations can be taken in many forms, including liquids, syrups, powders, granules, teas, and capsules.
One of the most common ways the herbs are manufactured are in tiny, round, black pills known as tea pills. Here, the herbs are cooked, extracted, and then condensed into the pills, making them easier to swallow.
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Herbs taken by enema are considered especially helpful for endometriosis, the review articles note. By remaining in the rectum for several hours, this method allows the herbs to be slowly absorbed into the pelvis.
In one small , which was summarized in the 2014 report, half the women receiving an enema composed of several Chinese herbs — common burreed tuber, aeruginous turmeric rhizome, sargentodoxa cuneata, Chinese honeylocust spine, honeycomb, red peony root, and peach seed — were able to get pregnant after nine months of periodic treatments.
Most Popular Chinese Herbal Preparations for Endometriosis
According to the 2014 report, several combinations of herbs known by their Chinese names are most commonly used to treat endometriosis in China.
- Xuefu zhuyu decoction (XZD)
- Xiaochaihu decoction (XCHD)
- Qu yi kang (QYK)
- Yi wei ning (YWN)
- Yi wei san (YWS)
- Huoxue xiaoyi decoction (HXD)
Other prescribed herbs are better known to Westerners. Curcumin, for instance, extracted from turmeric, is a Chinese herbal medicine known in the West to be a potent anti-inflammatory agent. Green tea, revered for its antioxidant abilities, is the basis for the Chinese extraction green tea epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG).
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Potential Problems With Chinese Herbs
The that while some Chinese herbal products are safe, others may not be. The institute notes that there have been reports of some products being contaminated with drugs, toxins, or heavy metals, or not containing the listed ingredients.
These problems have been widely publicized, so experienced TCM practitioners should be well-versed in where the herbs they dispense are sourced. You should ask your practitioner if they have researched the companies they buy from, and whether they are confident each company has an excellent reputation.
Some Chinese herbs are now manufactured by American companies. Dr. Harris says that while she thinks reputable Chinese companies are fine to buy from, she prefers to get her herbs from U.S.-based firms.
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How to Find the Special Herbs Shown to Help Endometriosis
While you can walk into a health food or vitamin store, or even many pharmacies, and buy Western herbs, you won’t typically find these Chinese herbal preparations sold there.
Instead, you have to get these herbs directly from a TCM practitioner. Not all acupuncturists are trained in herbal medicine, but many are.
Acupuncturists who prescribe herbs typically say so on their website, or you can simply ask when you call them, Harris says.
Find a TCM Practitioner for Endometriosis Treatment
If you want to try these Chinese herbal remedies, you will want a professional who is certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).
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