Uterine fibroids (leiomyomata) are non-cancerous growths that develop in or just outside a woman’s uterus. Uterine fibroids develop from normal uterus muscle cells that start growing abnormally. As the cells grow, they create a benign tumor. Uterine fibroids are extremely common and in most women are usually too small to cause any problems, or even be noticed. The cause of uterine fibroids remains unknown, but their growth seems to be fueled by estrogen.
Uterine fibroids don’t develop until after puberty, and usually after age 30. Uterine fibroids shrink or disappear after menopause, when estrogen levels fall. African-American women tend to get uterine fibroids two to three times as often as white women, and also tend to have more symptoms from uterine fibroids.
Uterine fibroids can range in size, from microscopic to several inches across and weighing tens of pounds. Some experts believe that some uterine fibroids can occasionally interfere with fertility and pregnancy. Rarely, a uterine fibroid projecting into the uterus might either block an embryo from implanting there, or create problems with the pregnancy later.1
TYPES OF UTERINE FIBROIDS
All uterine fibroids are similar in that they are all comprised of abnormal uterine muscle cells growing in a mass. Uterine fibroids are sometimes classified by where they grow in the uterus:
- Myometrial: in the muscular wall.
- Submucosal:just under the interior surface
- Subserosal: on the outside wall
- Pedunculated: usually grow outside of the uterus 2
SYMPTOMS Uterine Fibroids
Most often, uterine fibroids cause no symptoms at all — When symptoms do occur, they can include:
- Prolonged menstrual periods (7 days or longer)
- Pain in the lower belly or pelvis
- Heavy bleeding during periods
- Bloating or fullness in the belly or pelvis
A diet that is mostly vegetarian (wild salmon is okay) will be the most beneficial. Use healthy fats such as olive oil, organic butter and coconut oil for cooking. Minimize or eliminate gluten which can produce an inflammatory response.
Dairy and Fibroids. According to Christiane Northrup, M.D., “Dairy products seem very much associated with menstrual cramps and heavy flow.” She also noted that many of her patients that had the most severe cases of endometriosis or fibroids were heavy consumers of pasteurized cow cheese, ice cream, or milk. Several of her patients had their fibroids shrink after they eliminated those foods.
Minimize xenoestrogens by going organic. We have too much estrogen in our modern environment. Our food and water supplies are overburdened with xenoestrogens from herbicides, pesticides and petrochemical residues from plastics. The Washington Post noted in its June 29, 1993 issue that “many toxins target women specifically.” The article shows that man-made chemicals can introduce estrogen-like hormones into the body, thereby increasing the size of the fibroid. John McLachlan, scientific director of Olden and National Institute of Environmental Health Science says that chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), organochlorines (DDT), dioxin and other industrial by-products all have estrogen-like activity.” And T. Colin Campbell reports findings from the Cornell-China Project that “The chemical industry must also take credit for upsetting the delicate balance of female hormones as pesticides and other poisons that enter the food chain or are otherwise ingested, lodge, particularly in fatty tissues, where they mimic estrogen.”
Target sites for estrogen, McLachlan said, include brain, liver, bones, cardiovascular system, skin, liver, vagina and uterus. Diseases related to estrogen include breast and uterine disease (and cancer) as well as fibroid tumors, endometriosis, premenstrual syndrome, and reproductive dysfunctions.
Many pesticides are another source of xenoestrogens, so buy organic whenever possible. Pesticides are fat-soluble and they accumulate in animal fat as they move up the food chain, resulting in reproductive problems in animals and humans alike. Meat, eggs and dairy foods can be a source of xenoestrogens; estrogens are fed to dairy cattle to encourage more milk production and to chickens to increase egg production. Animals that are raised organically are not fed estrogens. Avoid animal fat from non-organic animal foods as both xenoestrogens and other toxins tend to concentrate in the fat. 3
Estrogenic compounds are also found in plastics. Use stainless steel or glass to store food and water. Never microwave food in plastic containers (preferably, never microwave!).
Employ phytoestrogens to block xenoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are plant-based estrogen compounds that bind to the same estrogen receptor sites that xenoestrogens do. When a receptor site is already occupied by a phytoestrogen, xenoestrogens cannot attach to it. The weaker phytoestrogen effectively blocks the stronger xenoestrogen by stealing the xenoestrogen’s target, thereby protecting the body against too much estrogen stimulation.
Foods rich in phytoestrogens include many whole grains and dark green leafy vegetables and alfalfa. So, add more legumes, flaxseeds, lignans and dark greens to your diet.
Enhance liver detoxification. The liver is responsible for breaking down excess hormones, environmental toxins and other substances for elimination. Julia Chang’s website http://www.sensiblehealth.com describes the relationship the liver and gall bladder have to the body. The liver regulates hormones in men and women. Hormones are removed through bile via the intestines and through urine via the kidney-bladder. If they are not effectively flushed out of the body, abnormal growths can occur such as uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts and endometriosis. Excessive estrogen is also the most common cause of painful menstruation.4
Today’s liver is overworked and underpaid, not to mention malnourished! The liver and intestines, organs daily detoxifying and renewing the body, cannot do their job efficiently or at all when they are overworked or blocked with excessive toxins. The liver does not break down estrogen when unable to process and eliminate sufficiently. Estrogen, once released from the liver into the intestines, may be reabsorbed into the body if the intestines are not working optimally and the walls are compromised. In addition, if a woman is constipated or experiences a delayed transit time with her body waste, estrogen gathers in the intestines and is absorbed back into the blood stream. Therefore, higher levels of estrogen moving throughout the body may have an effect on fibroid development.5
You can help your liver rid your body of xenoestrogens and other toxins by supporting it with appropriate foods and supplements. Also, you will want to reduce or eliminate alcohol consumption, which further taxes the liver. Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower can reduce levels of xenoestrogens because they contain compounds like indole-3-carbynol, which aid the liver in breaking down excess estrogens in the system. Fiber binds toxins, including xenoestrogens, in the intestines and carries them out of the body.6
Cut back on caffeine. While caffeine doesn’t appear to cause cysts, in large quantities it can raise the levels of cortisol and other stress hormones in your system which may ultimately affect your reproductive hormones.
Exercise. Regular exercise is a great stress reliever and also helps elimate toxins; jumping on a rebounder for ten minutes a day is wonderful for keeping the lymph glands functioning at optimal levels.
A recent study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology investigated the role of exercise in uterine fibroids. Individuals were randomly chosen in the Washington DC area and were aged 35 to 49 years. This included 734 African-Americans and 455 Caucasians. Ultrasounds were used to document fibroid status while interview questions were used to note exercise status. The results showed that exercise was linked to tumor onset more strongly than tumor growth. The authors concluded that, “regular exercise might help women prevent fibroids.”6
3. Vitamin E
Assists with balancing hormones.
Works in concert with Omega-3’s
5. Black cohosh
Black cohosh has been found to have beneficial effects on uterine fibroids
1., 2., 3., 6. http://women.webmd.com/uterine-fibroids/uterine-fibroids
4., 5. Leebardt, Robin and Shea, Sheila, Uterine Fibroids , http://www.sheilashea.com/uterine.html
6. Baird DD, et al. Association of Physical Activity with Development of Uterine Leiomyoma. Am J Epidemiol. Jan 2007;165(2):157-63.