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Brigham and Women’s Hospital

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Study Finds Link Between Diet and Risk of Endometriosis

Researchers at BWH have observed that women whose diets are rich in Omega-3 oils may be less likely to develop endometriosis, while those whose diets are heavily laden with trans fats might be more likely to develop the condition.

Boston, MA, April 16, 2010 --( It is estimated that endometriosis occurs in 10 to 15 percent of women, yet little is known about the causes of this condition or modifiable risk factors that may help prevent its occurrence. In the largest study investigating the link between diet and endometriosis, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) have observed that women whose diets are rich in Omega-3 oils may be less likely to develop endometriosis, while those whose diets are heavily laden with trans fats might be more likely to develop the condition. The findings are published in the journal Human Reproduction.

“We found that the total amount of fat in the diet is not related to risk of developing endometriosis, rather the type of fat is,” said lead study author Stacey Missmer, ScD, of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and the Channing Laboratory at BWH. The study showed women who ate the most trans fats had a 48 percent increased risk, compared with those who ate the least, and those who ate the highest amount of long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids were 22 percent less likely to be diagnosed with endometriosis than those who ate the least. “This further bolsters the case for eliminating trans fats from the food supply,” added Missmer.

Researchers collected information from 70,709 women in the Nurses’ Health Study II. They used three food-frequency questionnaires spaced at four-year intervals to record the women’s usual dietary habits over the preceding year. They categorized consumption of the various types of dietary fat into five levels and related that information to later confirmed diagnoses of endometriosis. A total of 1,199 women were diagnosed with the disease by the end of the study. The results were adjusted to eliminate influence on the findings from factors such as total calorie intake, body mass index, number of children borne and race.

“Millions of women worldwide suffer from endometriosis. Many women have been searching for something they can actually do to reduce the risk of developing the disease, and these findings suggest that dietary changes may be something they can do,” said. Missmer. Endometriosis occurs when pieces of the womb lining, or endometrium, are found outside the womb. Some women experience no symptoms, but for many it is very incapacitating, causing severe pain or affecting fertility. Missmer explains, the cause is poorly understood and there is no cure. Symptoms are traditionally treated with pain medication, hormone drugs or surgery.

Besides confirming the findings, a next step could be to investigate whether dietary intervention that reduces trans fats and increases Omega-3 oils can alleviate symptoms in women who already have endometriosis.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) is a 777-bed nonprofit teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School and a founding member of Partners HealthCare, an integrated health care delivery network. In July of 2008, the hospital opened the Carl J. and Ruth Shapiro Cardiovascular Center, the most advanced center of its kind. BWH is committed to excellence in patient care with expertise in virtually every specialty of medicine and surgery. The BWH medical preeminence dates back to 1832, and today that rich history in clinical care is coupled with its national leadership in quality improvement and patient safety initiatives and its dedication to educating and training the next generation of health care professionals. Through investigation and discovery conducted at its Biomedical Research Institute (BRI), BWH is an international leader in basic, clinical and translational research on human diseases, involving more than 860 physician-investigators and renowned biomedical scientists and faculty supported by more than $416 M in funding. BWH is also home to major landmark epidemiologic population studies, including the Nurses' and Physicians' Health Studies and the Women's Health Initiative. For more information about BWH, please visit

Contact Information
Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Suzanne Benz
(617) 534-1604
75 Francis Street
Boston, MA 02115 USA

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