Research shows that by the age of 35 about 30% of all women have developed fibroids, and by the age of 50, about 70% of white women and more than 80% of black women in the United States will have developed fibroids. Fibroids are abnormal growths, so clearly something is going wrong on a large scale.
A fibroid is a benign (non-cancerous) tumor that grows in and/or around the uterine wall. They are made up of muscle and connective tissue. Typically, a fibroid will be pea to grapefruit sized. But sometimes they grow larger, reaching the size of a melon. You can develop more than one fibroid at the same time. Small fibroids often go unnoticed because they don’t cause any symptoms, but larger fibroids often bring discomfort and cause problems, impacting the health-related quality of life.
Evan Myers, from the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the Duke University School of Medicine, says
“When you look at the burden of disease, not only its impact on quality of life but also on women’s ability to work and take care of their kids, it’s really quite stunning,”
Fibroids are a major cause of taking sick days and are estimated to cost the United States billions of dollars each year in lost workdays and medical costs. The annual direct medical costs of fibroids exceed $2 billion dollars, with more than 200,000 hysterectomies carried out each year.
Fibroid Symptoms And Problems
Common problems caused by fibroids include
- heavy and painful periods
- excessive or abnormal uterine bleeding
- sharp pelvic pain
- obstructed urination
- frequent urination
- leg pain
- Anemia – due to heavy periods
- swelling in the lower abdomen
And unfortunately in some cases fibroids can cause difficulty in conceiving and infertility and affect the ability of a pregnancy to be carried to term.
The pain of fibroids can be so severe that it is utterly overwhelming and cause a woman to pass out.
As smaller fibroids often don’t cause symptoms they’re sometimes diagnosed by chance during a routine pelvic exam or scan.
Types Of Fibroid
There are different kinds of fibroids
- intramural fibroids – these are the most common type of fibroid, they develop in the muscle wall of the uterus.
- subserosal fibroids – fibroids that develop on the outside the wall of the uterus and grow into the pelvis, these can become very large.
- submucosal fibroids – fibroids that develop in the muscle layer beneath the wombs inner lining and grow into the uterine cavity.
Who Gets Fibroids?
Women in their 30’s – 50’s are the group most commonly affected. Although they can develop as early as the age of 16. They are also more common in overweight or obese women, with obese women likely to have two to three times the risk of developing fibroids than women with a healthy weight.
Women who’ve had children have a lowered risk of developing fibroids, and this risk decreases further the more children you have.
What Causes Fibroids?
There is no definitive cause, but fibroid development is strongly linked to estrogen levels. Estrogen is the reproductive hormone produced by the ovaries, and fibroids tend to shrink after the menopause when estrogen levels drop. Estrogen is balanced by progesterone, and when this balance is disrupted a condition known as estrogen dominance arises. And this is linked to fibroid development.
From the onset of puberty through to menopause, a woman’s body has estrogen and progesterone working together to regulate her monthly cycle.
The majority of estrogen is released during the first half of the monthly cycle and estrogen works to build the lining of a woman’s uterus to prepare it for egg implantation should fertilization occur.
The majority of progesterone is released during the second half of a healthy monthly cycle. During this time, progesterone maintains the lining of the uterus that estrogen helped to build up.
Should a fertilized egg successfully implant into the lining, the lining must be maintained, and progesterone is needed on a continuous basis to achieve this throughout the duration of pregnancy. This job of ongoing progesterone production is then handled by a healthy placenta.
If no egg implantation occurs, then progesterone production decreases and the uterine lining is shed as part of the monthly menstrual cycle.
This cycle repeats itself, usually once a month, with estrogen dominating during the first half of the cycle, and progesterone dominating during the second half. These cycles continue until a woman reaches menopause.
At least that’s how it should work. Unfortunately many women and girls have too much estrogen in their systems all of the time.
NIH researchers have discovered that fibroid cells depend on many kinds of growth factors, with reproductive hormones like estrogen appearing to stimulate cells to release these.
Fibroids are known to contain more receptors for estrogen and progesterone than normal uterine muscle cells, making them more likely to grow.
Research also shows that susceptibility to fibroids can be an inherited trait. In some families every generation of women has developed fibroids. In other families women on the maternal side of the family don’t get fibroids, while the female cousins and aunts on the father’s side of the family do.
Several studies have shown that diet contributes to the formation of fibroids. A study on 22,000 African American women found that
“Women who consumed milk, cheese, ice cream, or other dairy products at least once a day were less likely to develop fibroids than women who consumed dairy less frequently.” (Wise et al. 2010)
The study revealed that two components found in dairy products; butyric acid, a fatty acid found in high fat dairy foods, and the specific calcium-to-phosphate ratio in dairy were associated with a decreased risk for uterine fibroids.
Dairy’s protective effective, according to researchers, may be due to calcium’s ability to reduce fat induced cell proliferation, and to butyric acids antitumorigenic agent which may inhibit cell proliferation.
Dairy intake is lower in African American women when compared to white women due to their higher rates of lactose intolerance. This study showed that dairy products including whole milk and cheese, reduced the risk of developing fibroids. Lactose intolerant women could benefit from low lactose dairy like cheese.
This information could lead one to point a finger in the direction of yet another health crime perpetrated on the public, by the now discredited low fat dietary advice that saw millions of women abandoning dairy foods altogether.
Research is also ongoing to determine whether exposure to pesticides or other chemicals interact with growth factors and stimulate fibroid growth. There are pesticides and other environmental toxins which have an estrogen like effect. These are known as Xenoestrogens. Xenoestrogens can take months or even years to be flushed out of the body.
Sources of Xenoestrogens include
- Birth control pills
- Hormone replacement drugs
- Plastic cookware
- Foaming agents in soaps and detergents
- Pesticides and herbicides
- Condom spermicides
- Conventional personal care products, including cosmetics
- Growth hormones found in factory-farmed animal products
- PCBs – polychlorinated biphenyls
Smoking is also a contributing factor in fibroid development.
Fibroids development may also be affected by the regular menstrual cycles made possible by access to contraception. For most of human history the majority of women spent their reproductive lives either pregnant or breastfeeding. One theory speculates that the constantly fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone each month may result in problems with the uterine tissue that leads to fibroid formation. With women having on average 13 menstrual cycles a year for 40 years, there are many opportunities for mistakes to take place in uterine tissues.
Another factor which should be considered is stress, and who isn’t stressed to some degree these days? It’s probably fair to say that even if you were relatively stress free before fibroids arrived to blight your life, you’re stressed now, through having to deal with them.
When you experience chronic stress, your body begins to convert progesterone into the stress hormone cortisol. Lower levels of progesterone create estrogen dominance and we’ve already seen why that is a bad thing.
So are there any steps that can you take to fix your fibroids at home? Yes! There are measures that you can take to slow and stop the growth of fibroids and possibly even shrink them without the need for pharmaceuticals or surgical intervention. These steps help to keep symptoms under control until the menopause hits and the natural fall in estrogen brings improvement to the condition.
Symptom Relief With A Good Diet
You really might not want to hear this, especially if you’re feeling plain lousy due to pain and heavy periods, but your diet can make a huge difference to your symptoms. I know how easy it is to take refuge in comfort foods and a glass or three of wine when you’re suffering, but the truth is you could be exacerbating your condition and suffering needlessly.
Improving your diet with foods and spices rich in bioflavonoids – like citrus fruits, berries, garlic and curcumin – can help to decrease heavy bleeding.
An improved diet also leads to a more efficient digestive system which helps to reduce gas and bloating removing additional uncomfortable pressure in the abdominal region, bringing some pain relief. An enlarged uterus and/ or large fibroids exerts pressure on the digestive organs, which leads to increased bloating and discomfort. Allowing your digestive system to work more effectively will result in a smaller build up of gas.
As we saw above, dairy appears to offer some degree of protection against fibroid development so if you don’t already consume wholesome dairy products, then you might want to think about including them in your diet.
Alcohol slows down the metabolism of estrogens in the liver. In addition to processing the foods that we eat on a daily basis the liver is the body’s detoxifier of harmful substances and it metabolizes and deactivates hormones.
The liver is responsible for metabolizing estrogen. It converts estrogen to estrone and then to estriol, which is a weak form of estrogen that has little ability to affect uterine tissue. If the liver is unable to effectively metabolize estrogen, this could be one mechanism which leads to the uterus becoming over estrogenized contributing to the development of fibroids.
A Japanese observational study found increased fibroid rates in women who drank alcohol.
Alcohol isn’t the only problematic substance for your liver’s health. Sugar, caffeine and junk foods also impact your liver’s ability to metabolize estrogen to estriol. Some of these foods are also lacking in B vitamins or they interfere with vitamin B metabolism. Vitamin B is necessary for the liver to carry out its metabolic processes and control estrogen levels.
Vitamin B is a family of closely related vitamins. Vitamin B complex as it is known comprises – B1 (Thiamin), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), B5 (Pantothenic Acid), B9 and B12. Food sources include, whole grains, eggs, avocado, pork, salmon, cheese, broccoli, sweet potato.
Junk foods high on the glycemic index – sugar, white bread, french fries, white rice, rice cakes, donuts etc increase the production of insulin like growth factor or IGF1. IGF1 is thought to promote tumor growth. In vitro (not animal or human) studies have shown that uterine fibroid cells increase rapidly in number in the presence of IGF1. Because of this researchers theorize that eating high glycemic index foods could encourage fibroid growth.
Vitamin D plays an important role in preventing fibroid development, with research showing that vitamin D inhibits fibroid cell growth. Given that we tend to use lots sunscreen on our exposed skin due to concerns about skin cancer and premature aging, our vitamin D factory, ie, our skin can’t produce as much as we need for good health. Therefore it may be wise to supplement with a good quality vitamin D3 supplement.
For optimum health, daily intake of 5,000iu to 10,000iu is often recommended. To ensure proper function of vitamin D3 you should also take vitamin K2. Some supplements come with vitamin K2 included in the correct ratio, but if you purchase a separate supplement, you should ensure an intake of 100 mcg of vitamin K2 for every 5,000 -10,000iu of D3.
You’ll also get plenty of the best form of vitamin K2 if you include dairy in your diet.
Women with fibroids should increase their intake of cruciferous vegetables – broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, bok-choy and kale. Cruciferous vegetables contain indole-3-carbinol which, according to research may prevent estrogen driven tumors due to its effect on estrogen metabolism.
Another potent mechanism by which a healthy diet will reduce estrogen levels is that it will lower your weight. And we already know that being overweight or obese brings an increased risk of fibroids due to the increased estrogen which is associated with these conditions.
Many plants have been used in traditional remedies in an attempt to treat fibroids.
One of the most commonly used herbal formulations in traditional medicine is the Turska formula. It is a tincture of gelsemium, poke root, aconite and bryonia. These are toxic herbs if used incorrectly. And I don’t recommend that you try to make this yourself. The tincture is available from Gaia Herbs.
Black cohosh extract is widely used and has been thoroughly studied. It has been shown to be useful in relieving uterine fibroids. In one study black cohosh was administered for 12 weeks and resulted in an average 30% reduction in the volume of the fibroids. The placebo group in the study, experienced an average 24% increase in the volume of their fibroids! The women taking black cohosh extract also experienced significant reduction in the severity of the symptoms associated with fibroids
Green tea extract has also shown a 30% reduction in fibroid size over a 16 week period in clinical studies. The green tea extract used contained 95% polyphenols and 45% EGCG
Let’s turn our attention to things that can be done to deal with the stress in your life and prevent your body from turning your progesterone into cortisol.
The first thing to do is to make a list. Write down all of the things that annoy you, upset you and keep you awake at night. Get them all down, even the little things that you might feel bad about getting wound up over.
Now that they’re there in front of you, out in the real world instead of tucked away in the corners of your mind, you can start to deal with them.
And I want to give you one piece of wisdom that I’ve learned over the years. Nothing is ever as bad as you think it is. We’re resilient and adaptable creatures and we get through even the most wrenching experiences.
Most of the things that keep us awake at night are ultimately down to one thing. FEAR. We fear losing our jobs, our homes, our relationships, our health, our loved ones, our reputations. Well guess what? Whatever is going to happen, is going to happen whether you toss and turn all night or not. Worrying doesn’t change one single thing for the better. NOT EVER.
If you’re a worrier then you need a mindset overhaul and a good way to get that started is to take a few life coaching sessions.
It’s always good to be proactive and make plans to overcome obstacles and put support systems in place in difficult times, but that is very different to worrying. Worrying robs you of precious sleep which puts you under even more stress and what does stress lead to? That’s right, it leads to less progesterone and more havoc from estrogen.
Look at your list, what can you change? What can you eliminate? Even when you can’t change something you can 100% change the way that you feel about that something. Mindset is so important.
Another step to take to reduce your stress levels is to let your emotions out. Bottled up emotions contribute to chronic stress. A study by experts at Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Rochester shows that the risk of premature death from all causes increases by about 35 per cent among those who bottle up their emotions.
So if you’re angry about something, get it off your chest. If you’re upset cry.
Stress doesn’t just wreak havoc on your hormones, it sends you straight into the arms of all of foods and drinks that we discussed earlier.
Meditation is a great stress buster. When you empty your mind, you give yourself a stress break and meditation also helps you to get perspective on things and just be a lot more chilled out overall.
It’s fairly tricky to get the hang of though, so you’ll need to persevere and start with short sessions to begin with. Using a mantra is a good way to overcome the difficulties of keeping your thoughts quiet when you’re starting out. And you can play the mantra in the background to help create the right atmosphere.
My favorite mantra is the Gayatri Mantra and Deva Premal has an amazingly peaceful version you can find on youtube.
This is the mantra
om bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ
tát savitúr váreṇ(i)yaṃ
bhárgo devásya dhīmahi
dhíyo yó naḥ prachodayāt
You’ll get the hang of the pronunciations once you’ve listened to the mantra a few times.
Find a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed, light a candle and burn some uplifting incense. Sit comfortably on a chair with your back straight and your feet flat on the floor. Relax, stare at the flame and begin the mantra. You may feel that you want to close your eyes, that’s fine. And you may feel that you want to cry and that’s fine too. Let out those emotions, get a hug from someone, or go hug your dog and then try again.
I hope that the advice here helps you to bring you relief from the discomfort of fibroids. Good luck!