(NaturalNews) Chinese herbs may work better and have fewer side effects for endometriosis treatment than conventional drug therapies, according to a new review of previous studies, carried out at Southampton University in the UK and Beijing University of Chinese Medicine.
Researchers re-examined two studies in which more than 130 women suffering from endometriosis participated. In the first study, sufferers were given the hormonal treatment gestrione, or herbal therapies, for three months following surgery to remove endometrial patches. In the second study, Chinese herbal treatment was compared with another hormone drug, danazol, for three months with no surgery.
Chinese herbs were found to relieve post-surgical symptoms more effectively than the conventional hormone-based drug therapies, with a nearly 96% success rate of complete symptom relief, as compared to only 10% with danazol. The herbs caused virtually no side effects, while a significant number taking hormone medication suffered increased period pain and irregular periods, acne, fatigue, weight gain and evidence of liver damage.
Women taking the Chinese herbal treatments were also 10% more likely to become pregnant following surgery than those taking prescription medication.
The original studies were carried out in Chinese hospitals, where the use of herbal treatment for endometriosis is routine. The review was headed by Dr Andrew Flower and published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.
"These findings suggest that Chinese herbs may be just as effective as certain conventional drug treatments for women suffering from endometriosis", said Dr Flower.
"This may mean that Chinese herbal medicine is more suitable for long-term use." 
Conventional treatments for endometriosis include anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers, as well as hormonal manipulation therapies and oral contraceptives. However, hormonal treatments are known to increase the risk of breast cancer, while surgery carries the risk of bowel perforation.
The current study is not the first in which natural therapies have shown themselves to be effective in the treatment of the condition. A 2007 study using the bark of the French maritime pine tree, known as Pcynogenol, was found to decrease symptoms of endometriosis by 33% when used for nearly a year after surgery. In the study, patients took 30 mg capsules of Pycnogel twice daily for 48 weeks immediately after morning and evening meals. The treatment was found to have reduced all symptoms from severe to moderate within four weeks. 
Vitamin combinations have also been shown to be an effective therapy for endometriosis. Also in 2007, Italian researchers enrolled 234 women to assess the effectiveness of nutrition versus drug treatment for six months after surgery.
Both the nutritional treatment, which included vitamins (B6, A, C and E), minerals (calcium, magnesium, selenium, zinc and iron), omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, as well as probiotic bacteria preparations, and the drug treatment were found to be effective in reducing menstrual pain, pelvic pain and pain during sexual intercourse. However, only the drug treatment was found to increase the risk of bone thinning and menopausal symptoms. 
 Flower A et al. Chinese herbal medicine for endometriosis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2009; Issue 3.  Kohama et al. Effect of French maritime pine bark extract on endometriosis as compared with leuprorelin acetate. J Reprod Med. 2007 Aug;52(8):703-8.  Sesti et al. Hormonal suppression treatment or dietary therapy versus placebo in the control of painful symptoms after conservative surgery for endometriosis stage III-IV. A randomized comparative trial. Fertil Steril. 2007 Dec;88(6):1541-7.
About the author
Michael Jolliffe is a freelance writer based in Oxford, UK.