Is endometriosis due to evolutionary maladaptation?


Reproductive BioMedicine Online, vol.48, no.2, 2024 (SCI-Expanded) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Review
  • Volume: 48 Issue: 2
  • Publication Date: 2024
  • Doi Number: 10.1016/j.rbmo.2023.103695
  • Journal Name: Reproductive BioMedicine Online
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED), Scopus, Academic Search Premier, MEDLINE
  • Keywords: Endometriosis, Evaluation, Maladaptation, Menstruation
  • Hacettepe University Affiliated: Yes


Similar to diabetes and unlike many pathogen-induced diseases, endometriosis is likely a result of maladaptation to the evolutionary heritage of humans. The objective of this article is to review the literature and improve understanding of the evolutionary factors behind endometriosis, leading to more effective prevention and treatment approaches. In primates, spontaneous decidualization of the endometrium evolved to ensure optimal implantation of a limited number of early embryos, unlike many non-primates which depend on early embryos to induce decidualization and subsequent pregnancy. Spontaneous decidualization results in menstrual bleeding when embryo implantation does not occur, and endometriosis is commonly believed to be caused by retrograde menstruation. Although direct evidence is lacking, it is likely that hunter–gatherer women experienced fewer menstrual periods due to pregnancy shortly after menarche, followed by repeated pregnancies and lactation. However, the mismatch between the evolved uterine physiology and rapid societal changes has led to modern women delaying pregnancy and experiencing numerous menstrual periods, potentially increasing the incidence of endometriosis. The symptoms of endometriosis are often managed by suppressing menstruation through systemic hormonal treatments, but these may have side effects. For patients with a family history of endometriosis or in the early stages of the disease, intrauterine devices releasing progesterone locally could prevent uterine bleeding and the development of endometriosis while preserving fertility and minimizing side effects.