Women's Health | October 4, 2017 | Author: Naturopath
Otherwise known as leiomyomas, uterine fibroids are tumours that grow in the wall of the uterus. They are almost always benign, that is non-cancerous, and are common in women in their reproductive years. According to research, 1 in 4 women have uterine fibroids but due to many women displaying no symptoms it is estimated that it is much more likely to affect 1 in every 2 women. For those who do display symptoms, they can be severe enough to be treated surgically. In Australia 21.7% of hysterectomies are performed due to uterine fibroids.
Fibroids are muscular tumours that grow within the uterine wall. The uterus is a hollow muscular organ of the female reproductive system that provides space for a baby to grow during pregnancy. The uterus is approximately the size of a pear, connecting to the fallopian tubes at the top and funnelling to the cervix and vagina at the bottom. Fibroids can be as small as an apple seed or as large as a grapefruit.
Age. Women over the age of 40 are at increased risk of developing fibroids. During menopause, because of the drop in certain hormones, fibroids tend to shrink.
Ethnicity. Uterine fibroids are more common in black populations compared to white populations.
Family history. Having a history of fibroids in your family increases your risk. If your mum has had them, your risk increases 3-fold.
Nulliparity. Women who have never given birth and who have undergone termination of pregnancy are at increased risk of fibroids. The relative risk decreases with an increasing number of term pregnancies.
Obesity. Women weighing 70kg or more have a threefold risk of developing fibroids compared to women who weigh less than 50kg.
Diet. The overconsumption of red meat and ham have been linked to an increased risk in uterine fibroids. Eating green vegetables has been shown to decrease the risk.
The exact cause of fibroids is not known but what we do know is that the growth of uterine fibroids is influenced by progesterone, oestrogen and insulin-like growth factor. Fibroids contain more oestrogen and progesterone receptors than normal uterine muscle cells. Researchers believe that uterine fibroids develop from a single cell which then divides repeatedly to form a firm, muscular mass in the uterine wall.
A naturopath will focus on promoting oestrogen balance and the clearance of excess oestrogen through liver detox pathways. Natural therapies aim to provide symptomatic relief of period pain, heavy bleeding and other feelings of discomfort in the abdomen. While there is no magic pill to shrink fibroids, certain nutrients and a change in diet can arrest their growth and in some cases allow women to avoid invasive surgical procedures.
Include fresh, organic wholefoods such as fruits, vegetables, oily fish, cold-pressed oils, nuts and seeds.
Avoid excessive intake of red meat (especially deli meats), refined carbohydrates, processed foods, sugar, starchy foods, dairy, caffeine, alcohol, saturated fats and anything deep-fried.
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Foods that contain phytoestrogens can be helpful to reduce the effects of endogenous oestrogens in the body.
This is because they bind to the same receptor but only have a mild action, thereby opposing the effect of oestrogen. One study found that genistein (a phytoestrogen derived from soy), inhibited oestrogen-induced uterine fibroid growth.
Other sources of phytoestrogens include linseeds, flaxseed oil, whole soybeans, tempeh, alfalfa and sesame seeds.
Several B vitamins are needed for healthy liver function, including the healthy elimination of oestrogen. B vitamins are needed to support a healthy nervous system and can help with the emotional distress and physical changes associated with uterine fibroids. Anaemia is common in women with fibroids because of excessive bleeding. B vitamins can help with red blood cell production and reduces the risk of anaemia.
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Excessive and prolonged menstrual bleeding is a common feature of uterine fibroids which can then lead to complications such as iron deficiency. It is important for women who have fibroids to get their iron levels tested through their doctor at regular intervals. If there is deficiency or even for women within normal range but on the lower end iron supplementation is crucial.
Essential fatty acids can help to reduce inflammation and therefore ease the pain associated with uterine fibroids. Omega-3 can be supplemented with a formula from a reputable company and is found in foods such as ground linseeds, walnuts, grass-fed meat, soy and seafood.
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Vitamin E, zinc and selenium are all nutrients that act as antioxidants in the body, especially to protect hyper responsive fibroid and uterine tissue. Vitamin E has been successfully used to treat fibroids in pregnant women and decreased levels have been observed in patients with fibroids. Zinc is needed for hormonal balancing and a healthy reproductive system. Selenium is an antioxidant trace mineral essential for thyroid and immune system health.
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Hechtman L (2014). Clinical Naturopathic Medicine. Churchill Livingstone, Australia
Castro L, et al. A high concentration of genistein induces cell death in human uterine leiomyoma cells by autophagy. Expert Opin Environ Biol. 2016;5(Suppl 1)
He Y, et al. Associations between uterine fibroids and lifestyles including diet, physical activity and stress: a case-control study in China. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2013;22(1):109-17
Poliakova VA, et al. Evaluation of the rate of lipid peroxidation and antioxidant defence in blood during gynaecological laparoscopic operations. Klin Lab Diagn. 2009 Jun;(6):37-9