Fending Off Fibroids
Natural Approaches Offer Relief
by Marlaina Donato
Optimal reproductive health is key to our vitality, which is why living with uterine fibroids can be debilitating. Studies indicate that as many as 80 percent of American women develop these non-cancerous growths during their childbearing years. Oftentimes, the condition is free of symptoms, but an estimated 26 million women currently suffer from associated effects like chronic pelvic and back pain, frequent urination, excessive menstrual bleeding and a swollen abdomen. Also called myomas, fibroids can often be a hidden cause of infertility, even in asymptomatic cases.
Asian women have a lower incidence of fibroids, while African American women are two to three times more likely to develop them than white women, particularly at a younger age. Genetics, obesity, estrogen-promoting foods and environmental toxins can fuel the fire of this condition, but a tailored, natural approach can minimize symptoms and for some, ward off the need for invasive surgery.
Happier Hormones Through Diet
While there is no definitively known cause of fibroids, the most accepted theory is a disruption in the ratio between estrogen and progesterone. Italian researchers that examined data from 1990 to 2020 reported in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health last year that diets deficient in fresh fruits, green vegetables and vitamin D increase the risk for the onset and formation of uterine fibroids.
“I do believe prevention is important by avoiding the use of toxic cosmetics and cookware with chemical components, and by choosing lower-inflammatory foods,” says Crystal Fedele, a doctor of Chinese medicine who treats patients with acupuncture and Chinese herbs at her clinic, Holistic Women and Families Natural Health Center, in Port Orange, Florida.
Conventionally farmed produce and farm-raised fish are treated with environmental estrogens to stimulate growth, which in turn contribute to estrogen dominance and an increased risk of fibroids in women that consume such foods. “It’s important to eliminate dairy and meat raised with synthetic hormones that can act like estrogen in the body,” advises Alisa Vitti, a New York City-based women’s hormone expert and author of In the FLO: Unlock Your Hormonal Advantage and Revolutionize Your Life. “While no diet can guarantee fibroid prevention, altering the food you eat may help slow fibroid growth. When it comes to food, your first step is to remove inflammatory foods.”
Vitti recommends opting for fiber-rich whole grains that aid in the elimination of excess estrogen, as well as nixing gluten and all dairy products unless they are made from organic goat or sheep milk. “High insulin levels from white, starchy stuff—which acts like sugar in the body—is a factor in making fibroids grow,” she says.
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale and bok choy are allies in the fight against fibroids by boosting detoxifying enzymes in the liver. Regular servings of sweet potatoes, carrots, apricots, pumpkin, spinach and other carotene-rich foods are also valuable.
Ancient Healing Modalities
Traditional Chinese Medicine offers promising benefits, but when using recommended herbs, it’s important to seek out qualified practitioners rather than self-treat, advises Fedele. “In Chinese medicine, each case is individual, so herbal formulations are often constructed to treat the whole health of the person and modified as we see improvements,” she says. “We also use a lot of supplements that can help regulate hormones—DIM (diindolylmethane) and broccoli seed extract being two that are commonly used for estrogen-related disorders.” Fedele also recommends acupuncture, but says it is most effective when combined with herbals, supplements and dietary therapies.
Susannah Neal, a licensed acupuncturist in Iowa City, Iowa, concurs, saying, “Chinese medicine is highly effective for rebalancing the flow or energy and breaking up old patterns of imbalances.” Neal, certified in the Arvigo Techniques of Maya Abdominal Therapy, attests to this gentle modality designed to invigorate the circulatory, lymphatic and nervous systems of the digestive and reproductive organs. “Fibroids may be a result of impaired blood flow in the uterus, and while many styles of massage use techniques to improve circulation, these techniques focus specifically on the reproductive and pelvic organs,” she says.
According to Neal, one benefit of the Arvigo technique is regulation of the menstrual cycle. When applied regularly, the massage may reduce the size and severity of fibroids. In cases of larger, chronic or more severe fibroids, she says that three to six months of treatment or longer may be required, and in some cases will be used only as adjunctive treatment along with therapies prescribed by a medical doctor.
No matter which alternative approach is taken, monitoring progress is key. Fedele says, “I usually suggest six months to a year of trying holistic options under the care of a licensed provider and then at that time re-evaluating the scenario.”
Marlaina Donato is an author and multimedia artist. Connect at WildflowerLady.com.
Foods to consume for achieving hormone balance
- Almonds and hazelnuts
- Cold-water, deep-sea fish: salmon, tuna, herring, halibut, mackerel, sardines
- Green tea
- Organic wheat germ
- Reishi mushrooms
- Vitamin E, vitamin B complex, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids
Strategies to Stave Off Fibroids
from hormone expert and author Alisa Vitti:
Eat to balance estrogen. Prioritize foods that help modulate and balance estrogen, like flax seeds, beans and whole grains. Pears and apples are liver-supporting foods that contain lots of fiber, along with a flavonoid named phloretin, which impairs tumor growth. Be mindful of alcohol and caffeine consumption. Just a couple of glasses of wine significantly raises estrogen levels. Coffee suppresses ovulation, thereby suppressing production of progesterone and increasing the likelihood of estrogen dominance. Organic, unprocessed soy in the form of tempeh and miso can be beneficial, with an anti-estrogenic effect on the uterus.
Balance the microbiome. The microbiome contains a colony of bacteria that helps metabolize estrogen. When the good and bad bugs in the microbiome are out of balance, the estrobolome can’t do its job efficiently, and estrogen builds up. Another key to building and maintaining a healthy microbiome is supplementing with a high-quality probiotic.
Cut out the chemicals. Many chemical-free options are less expensive than conventional products, especially when bought in bulk. Use baking soda and vinegar to clean around the house. Refrain from treating the lawn with chemicals. Replace plastic food storage containers with glass and stainless steel options which last a lifetime and don’t leach harmful agents into comestibles. Opt for a shower curtain made of less-toxic materials than plastic.
From acupuncturist Susannah Neal:
Fibroids that are smaller than two centimeters will respond more quickly to treatment and may only require the use of one or two modalities, such as monthly, professional, abdominal massage; self-care massage at home; and herbal medicine prescribed by a licensed herbalist for three months. Larger, more chronic and severe fibroids may require multiple modalities and a longer course of treatment in addition to these measures, including weekly acupuncture sessions and dietary recommendations. Three to six months of treatment may be required. Natural medicine understands and respects that each person’s ability and time required to heal is complex and must be individualized.