Almost 75% of women in the U.S have uterine fibroids which can cause pain, fatigue and even infertility. Options for treatment usually rely on invasive procedures, such as hysterectomies. Natural medicine, however, offers excellent strategies to manage and even reduce symptoms.
What Are Uterine Fibroids?
Uterine fibroids are benign growths made up of smooth muscle cells and connective tissue that occur in the wall of the uterus. Fibroids commonly occur during the reproductive years and naturally reduce in size with menopause. Though they can be solitary, fibroids are typically found in multiple sites within the uterus and vary in size from microscopic to the size of a melon, or larger. Uterine fibroids are classified by their location. This means that they can grow within the uterine cavity, within the uterine wall, on the outside edge of the uterine wall, or outside of the uterus attached by a stem-like structure (Shape mag).
The cause of uterine fibroids remains poorly understood. However, it is known that their growth is stimulated by estrogen since they present during the reproductive years, grow during pregnancy and shrink during the menopausal years (Hudson, 2008).
Risk factors for fibroids include:
- A family history of uterine fibroids
- The onset of menstruation at an early age
- Use of birth control
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Having a diet higher in red meat and lower in green vegetables
Symptoms vary based on the size of the fibroid, location, and the number of fibroids present. Some women are asymptomatic while others experience symptoms. Approximately 50-80% of fibroids are asymptomatic and are discovered on a routine pelvic exam or ultrasound (Pizzorno, Joseph et al, 2008). The most commonly occurring symptoms include heavy menstrual bleeding, menstrual periods lasting more than one week, pelvic pressure or pain, frequent urination, difficulty emptying the bladder, constipation, back ache, and leg pains. Women may also experience painful intercourse, increased abdominal girth, fatigue secondary to anemia, and infertility in 2-10% of infertility cases.
Natural Medicine’s Role
Because fibroids are stimulated by estrogen, the main goal of natural medicine is to reduce estrogen levels by supporting healthy estrogen metabolism. Dietary habits play a huge role in this strategy.
- Follow a diet that consists of a high consumption of fruits and vegetables and a low intake of red meat. Studies suggest that women who suffered from fibroids were more likely to have an increased intake of red meat and low intake of fruits and vegetables (Hudson, 2008).
- Whole grains, i.e. brown rice, oats, buckwheat, millet, rye, provide B vitamins which are necessary in helping the liver to metabolize estrogens and other metabolic processes. The fiber component in whole grains helps the body excrete estrogens through the bowel. A high-fiber diet also helps to relieve bloating and constipation, which can occur as a result of having fibroids.
- Keep foods with a high glycemic index to a minimum, i.e. instant white rice, white bread, rice cakes, French fries, donuts, scones. Increased intake of these foods can potentially stimulate the growth of uterine fibroid cells by increasing insulin-like growth factor.
- Saturated fat, sugar, caffeine, alcohol and junk food should be kept to a minimum. These foods have been associated with elevated blood levels of estrogen and can inhibit the liver’s ability to properly break down and excrete estrogen.
- Lipotropic factors, mainly choline and inositol, support liver function by promoting the removal of fat from the liver, detoxifying wastes and metabolizing and excreting estrogens.
- Bioflavonoids, plant pigments and antioxidants that abundantly occur in fruits and vegetables, have the ability to reduce menstrual bleeding by strengthening the vessel walls of capillaries. They also display an anti-estrogen effect on the uterus by reducing estrogen activity.
- Ginger is well known for supporting digestive function. Its main constituents, shagaol and gingerol, have an anti-inflammatory effect as well which may be effective in reducing heavy menstrual flow. Ginger also contains anti-spasmodic compounds that can help to reduce pelvic pain.
- Omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), also help to reduce inflammation and pain.
- Chaste tree is one of the most commonly used herbs to treat fibroids. It is considered a hormone balancing herb and helps to increase progesterone and reduce estrogen levels.
- Astringent herbs can be effective in reducing blood flow from the body. The herbs, yarrow, shepherd’s purse and cinnamon can be helpful in reducing heavy menstrual flow.
Natural medicine can be effective in helping to control fibroid growth and reduce the symptoms associated with fibroids. Before initiating any treatment it is important to communicate with a trained healthcare practitioner.
Written by By Dr. Aminah Keats, ND, FABNO
Crawford, Amanda: Herbal Remedies for Women. Roseville, 1997, Prima Publishing.
Hudson, Tori: Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. New York, 2008, McGraw Hill.
Pizzorno, Joseph et al.: The Clinician’s Handbook of Natural Medicine. St Louis, 2008, Churchill Livingstone.