Uterine fibroids are the most common benign tumours affecting thousands of Canadian women each year. Uterine fibroids can significantly impact a woman’s quality of life, with the most debilitating symptoms being heavy menstrual bleeding and pain. It is a common misconception that fibroids only affect older women. In reality, any woman in the reproductive age group is at risk of developing fibroids, including younger women.
What are Fibroids?
Fibroids, medically known as leiomyomas, are benign growth of uterine tissue. They are not fibrous but consist of muscle tissue. Uterine fibroids occur in 20-25% of women by age 40 and more than 50% of women overall(1). Because fibroids are made of muscle tissue they require a blood supply. Therefore, heavy bleeding is usually associated with fibroids in the endometrial cavity. Some of the risk factors for developing fibroids include being of African American descent, heredity, nulliparity (never having given birth), obesity, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), diabetes and hypertension(3).
What are the symptoms of having fibroids?
In 50-80% of women with fibroids, the fibroids are asymptomatic. However, in 30% of women with fibroids, heavy or abnormal bleeding during the menstrual period or between menstrual periods is one of the main symptoms.
Other symptoms include:
discomfort, pelvic pressure and/or congestion in the lower abdominal region bloating and constipation
pain with vaginal sexual activity
fatigue (due to anemia)
infertility may be an issue in 2-10% of cases
Be sure to work with a medical practitioner to rule out other serious causes such as an ovarian malignant tumour, abscess in the ovary/fallopian tube, diverticulitis, pelvic kidney, endometriosis, adenomyosis, congenital abnormalities and uterine sarcoma(1).
What causes fibroids?
The reason why fibroids develop in some women is not well understood. Since fibroids tend to arise during the reproductive phase of a woman’s life it is largely attributed to the sex hormones. Specifically, as fibroids tend to grow during pregnancy and regress during menopause, it suggests that estrogen plays a role in their development and growth(1). It is interesting to note that the concentration of estrogen receptors in fibroid tissue are higher than in the surrounding tissue, which provide further support for the role of estrogen in fibroid growth(1). A recent review suggests that metabolic, dietary, stress and environmental factors may also play a role in fibroid development(2).
What can women do to manage the symptoms of fibroids?
Natural treatments can be used to manage the symptoms of fibroids and may help to keep a fibroid from growing larger. However, these treatments likely will not reduce the size of fibroids. That is why a healthy diet and a balanced lifestyle are key preventative measures to reduce the occurrence of fibroids.
The following suggestions are recommended to reduce inflammation in the body and maintain a healthy hormonal balance:
Be sure to eat an anti-inflammatory diet by avoiding saturated fats, sugar, caffeine and alcohol. Make sure your diet includes lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and is high in fiber. A high fiber diet can help to eliminate estrogen from the body.
Taking a liver support supplement can help the liver metabolize excess estrogens
B vitamins are also crucial to support the liver in estrogen metabolism
Reduce exposure to xenoestrogens (i.e plastics, pesticides, herbicides, meat and dairy products, chemicals in creams/cosmetic products etc)
Increase exercise to help metabolize hormones
Manage stress through yoga, deep breathing and meditation
Consult with an naturopathic doctor to assess your hormone levels via lab testing and obtain a personalized treatment plan to help balance hormones.
In the past, the most common approach to treating severe cases of fibroids has been a hysterectomy. Fortunately today, many other less invasive approaches are now being considered. If you are at risk of developing fibroids, eating a healthy diet and living a balanced lifestyle are critical factors in reducing the risk of fibroid development.
For further support in hormone balancing and fibroid management, consult with a naturopathic doctor today.
1. Hudson, T. (2013). Chapter 212: Uterine Fibroids -Textbook of Natural Medicine, pg.1816.
2. Laughlin, S., Schroeder, J. and Baird, D. (2010). New Directions in the Epidemiology of Uterine
Fibroids. Seminars in Reproductive Medicine, 28(03), pp.204-217.
3. Okolo, S. (2008). Incidence, aetiology and epidemiology of uterine fibroids. Best Practice &
Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 22(4), pp.571-588.