Q: I am a 47-year-old woman with uterine fibroids. My doctor has suggested a surgical procedure, but I would rather avoid this if possible. What natural solutions do you suggest for addressing fibroids without drugs or surgery? -Leslie V., Kansas City, MO
The term "estrogen dominance" probably sounds familiar. Symptoms include heavy periods, thinning hair, and moody/aggressive-type PMS. One of the most troubling complications of estrogen dominance is uterine fibroids, the most common type of tumor of the uterus (which may or may not be cancerous).
These tumors can grow within the muscular wall or into the uterine cavity, like mushrooms on stalks. Uterine fibroids develop under the influence of both progesterone and estrogen. Although the conventional medical community remains "unsure" about the role of environmental toxins in endocrine-based health issues, many sources cite plastics, particularly BPA and phthalates, as major influences.
Larger uterine fibroids are more prevalent among African American women; obese women (hormones are fatty substances, and overweight people have higher hormone loads); and women who have never had a full-term pregnancy (during pregnancy, the monthly cycle of hormones is suspended temporarily, giving the endocrine system a break).
Consider Your Many Options for Treating Fibroids without Surgery
If you have unusually heavy or painful periods, trouble with continence, or pelvic pain, or have had trouble conceiving, a simple ultrasound is a good way to diagnose uterine fibroids. Most adept family doctors (NDs, ANPs, MDs, and DOs) who are comfortable with women's health can also feel fibroids with their hands.
If a fibroid is 4 cm in diameter (the size of a small lemon), natural treatments can be very effective. If the fibroid is between 4 and 8 cm, natural treatments can help, although they take longer to work. But if the fibroid is larger than 8 cm (grapefruit-sized), it generally cannot be treated naturally. My preferred recommendation at this point is uterine artery embolization, which cuts off the blood supply to the fibroid with a minimally invasive surgical procedure. Once shrunk, natural methods can be applied to keep the fibroid small enough to avoid complications, such as very heavy menstrual bleeding, difficulty with conception, bladder dysfunction (from pressure), and pelvic pain.
Aromatase inhibitor drugs are another common conventional therapy. They work by disrupting a process called aromatization, in which testosterone is converted to estrogen. Drugs such as Arimidex do this job effectively, but like most pharmaceuticals, they also create a host of unwanted side effects, including promoting ovarian cysts. They also do nothing to control heavy uterine bleeding.
There is a widely available herbal formula called Myomin, which is quite effective at both reducing fibroids and raising testosterone levels, without causing side effects. Incidentally, Myomin is one of my favorite "go-to" remedies for men with symptomatic low testosterone (verified through a blood test). For milder cases (of fibroids and "low T"),
saw palmetto, at a daily dose of 600 mg, is very effective when taken long term.
How Supplements Help You Treat Fibroids without Surgery
Fibroids are made of types I and III collagen, and some therapies have focused on reducing the proliferation of these types of collagen. For example, resveratrol, a pigment found in red grape skins, causes a potent "anti-fibrotic" effect by reducing type I and III collagen levels, as well as decreasing the proliferation of unhealthy cells and hastening the death of sick cells.
Herbs can be very helpful in dealing with fibroids. In Chinese medicine, Sparganium 12 is a well-known formula that is often used to help treat uterine fibroids. And in Western herbal tradition, a "biphasic" (or bimonthy) herbal approach has been very successful in regulating hormonal flow. Typically, the herb chasteberry is used along with estrogen-modulating herbs (such as Phytolacca, or poke root) for the first half of a woman's cycle. And during the second half of the cycle, herbs such as wild yam are used to help promote optimum progesterone levels-in healthy menstruating women, progesterone levels rise during the second phase of the menstrual cycle. Wild yam helps reestablish this normal hormonal pattern.
Fibroids are also susceptible to being dissolved by high-dose enzyme therapy. The enzyme serrapeptase is particularly effective for this purpose. Keep the bottle of enzymes by your bedside and take 250,000 SPU with a little water first thing in the morning and last thing at night, at least 2 hours after eating. The point is for the enzymes to digest the fibroids, not your food. [Editors' note: Try Arthur Andrew Medical Serretia Pure Serrapeptase.]
For smaller fibroids (8 cm or less), acupuncture can be very helpful for treating fibroids without surgery. Acupuncture is likely to slowly improve heavy bleeding, pelvic pain, and/or bladder pressure by shrinking fibroids; however, it generally only works when combined with a vegetarian-leaning diet and adequate intakes of vitamin D3 (5,000 IU daily) and vitamin A (or a high beta-carotene diet). Both vitamins A and D have been shown to reduce fibroid tumor growth.
Preventing Fibroids Is Possible
Finally, don't forget prevention-the single most important approach to maintaining excellent health. Eating less meat helps reduce your risks of having endocrine problems. According to a comprehensive analysis of fibroid therapies published last year in Human Reproduction Update, eating more fruits and vegetables is a way to reduce fibroid size and incidence. The study's researchers also favorably mention catechins in green tea, as they appear to help clear the body of excess hormones.
Whether or not you are concerned about fibroids, strive to reduce your use of plastic products, especially soft plastics. These chemical nightmares are causing worldwide hormonal problems with fish and sea mammals, sometimes changing their gender or making them sterile. So for your own health-not to mention the health of the planet-do whatever you can to reduce your plastic use. And do not cook/microwave anything in plastic, such as a frozen or prepackaged meal. Heat renders plastic even more toxic.
One last consideration: if you have estrogen dominance, you may very well have a thyroid problem. Classic symptoms of this (hypothyroidism) are heavy menses, constipation, lack of energy, and constantly feeling cold. Sometimes, simply adding ¼ tsp. of pulverized kelp to your daily diet is sufficient.
If you suspect a thyroid issue, consider seeing a naturopathic physician. He or she will take a comprehensive approach to endocrine malfunction and prescribe a tailored program that includes diet and exercise recommendations, as well as focused remedies. Visit naturopathic.org to find a naturopath in your area.