Jennifer had been experiencing heavy menstrual bleeding for several years. She felt wiped out after her period, and a blood test showed that her iron level was low.
The diagnosis? Jennifer was suffering from uterine fibroids-the most common non-cancerous growth seen in the female reproductive tract. Jennifer's doctor at the time suggested she undergo a hysterectomy.
Estimates show that 20-25 percent of women are at risk of experiencing these slow-developing growths by the age of 40-and more than half of women are likely to have them by the time they reach menopause.
Many women are told that surgery is the only cure for fibroids. But that's not always the case. There are several effective natural therapies-including specific foods, herbs, and supplements-that can help you avoid an invasive procedure such as uterine fibroid surgery. These natural, hormone-balancing treatments worked for Jennifer-she didn't need a hysterectomy to find relief from fibroids.
Signs & Symptoms
Uterine fibroids are composed of connective tissue and muscle that develop on the inside or outside walls of the uterus. Often found in groups, fibroids can be round and firm, soft, and/or rock hard. And they vary in size from microscopic to quite large. It is common for a woman to have fibroids that are symptom-free. In fact, as many as 75 percent of women are unaware that they have fibroids. For those who experience symptoms, the most common include:
- Increased menstrual symptoms-pain, heavy bleeding, irregular periods,
- Iron deficiency due to increased blood loss
- Bloating, pressure, heaviness, or enlarged abdomen
- Back pain
- Excessive vaginal discharge
- Frequent urination or bladder irritation
- Pain or bleeding with intercourse
How Estrogen Dominance Promotes Fibroid Growth
Fibroid growth is stimulated by estrogen. Research has shown that fibroids have a significantly higher concentration of estrogen receptors than normal uterine muscle. Therefore, it's not surprising that fibroids typically develop in a woman's reproductive years and lessen considerably (or disappear completely) after menopause.
Many women with fibroids suffer from estrogen "dominance"-having higher levels of estrogen relative to progesterone. Certain medications, including birth control pills, fertility drugs, and hormone replacement therapy, can actually create a state of estrogen "dominance" in the body. Other factors that promote excess estrogen include liver congestion, bowel toxicity, inflammation, stress, hypothyroidism, low progesterone, and exposure to environmental estrogens (e.g., pesticides, BPA, and/or phthalates).
Why Reducing Exposure to Toxins Is So Important
Xenoestrogens, or "foreign estrogens," can wreak havoc on normal hormone balance by mimicking the body's natural estrogen, which in turn can lead to an imbalance of estrogen to progesterone. Fibroids can then develop as a result of this estrogen dominance.
It's important to reduce or avoid foods that promote excess estrogen-processed foods, dairy products, refined carbohydrates, and excess alcohol and caffeine.
Xenoestrogens are also found in personal care products, cosmetics, household cleaners, plastics, and pesticides. Please visit The Environmental Working Group website (ewg.org) for more information. There, you can look up household products and cosmetics to see how they rate on a toxicity scale.
A Healthy Liver Is Key
Healthy liver function is absolutely critical when it comes to managing uterine fibroids. The liver is responsible for eliminating harmful substances and environmental toxins from the body, and it also plays a key role in estrogen metabolism.
A healthy liver converts the strongest estrogen from estradiol to estrone to estriol, which is known as the "safe estrogen." Estriol has a very positive effect on the uterus. A sluggish liver that is congested, on the other hand, is likely to raise levels of circulating estrogens, particularly the harmful xenoestrogens. The following nutrients help support liver health and thereby improve estrogen metabolism:
- B-complex vitamins are essential for liver function and overall detoxification. B vitamins also support the body's response to stress and assist in the manufacturing of neurotransmitters.
- Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) is an active compound found in cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kale. I3C supports liver detoxification and healthy estrogen metabolism.
- Calcium-d-glucarate, a natural substance found in many fruits and vegetables (with the highest concentrations in oranges, apples, and grapefruit), helps clear harmful estrogens through the liver.
- Sulforaphane is another compound found in cruciferous vegetables. It contains naturally occurring phytochemicals (rich in sulfur) that help prevent DNA damage. Sulforaphane also is a natural antioxidant and supports healthy liver detoxification.
- Milk thistle is one of the world's best-researched herbs for liver health. Flavonoids in milk thistle bind to liver cells and help protect them from damage by foreign chemicals.
- Green tea extract, lycopene, curcumin, and rosemary extract are all potent antioxidants that help bind onto free radicals as the body rids itself of harmful substances. Look for antioxidant formulas that contain one or more of the nutrients mentioned above.
More Ways to Heal Fibroids
Chaste tree berry, also known as vitex, is an important herb for supporting hormonal balance in women. It works by increasing luteinizing hormone and favoring progesterone production. This action prevents excess estrogen from accumulating and leading to the growth of fibroids.
Enzymes, including pancreatic enzymes and the anti-inflammatory enzyme serrapeptase, are thought to help by "digesting" protein cell membranes surrounding abnormal growth and/or cells, including the fibrous material of a fibroid.
Castor oil packs can be an effective approach for fibroid support. When placed on the uterus, abdomen, or liver, castor oil packs help increase blood flow in the pelvic cavity and promote healing of tissues and organs. To make: Soak a piece of dry flannel in castor oil and place on your abdomen or over your liver. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap and then top the area with a hot water bottle or heating pad. Leave the castor oil pack in place for 20-30 minutes. Repeat this two to five times per week. Good circulation in the pelvic area is required for optimal elimination of toxins and waste.
Poor nutrition has a negative effect on the metabolism of xenoestrogens. Excess alcohol intake, in particular, slows down the body's metabolism of estrogen.
Fiber helps the body excrete xenoestrogens and other toxins. Try to get 35-40 grams of fiber daily.
On a final note, it's also important to have your thyroid checked, as many women who develop uterine fibroids also have low thyroid function. This often results in more estrogen and fewer thyroid hormones to support healthy metabolic processes in the body.
Fibroid Rx: Helpful supplements
Arthur Andrew MedicalFibrovera AHS is designed to promote healthy estrogen metabolism and contains serrapeptase, milk thistle, and other hormone balancers.
Gaia HerbsVitex Berry is a concentrated source of chaste tree berry extract. The liquid Phyto-Caps help ensure optimal absorption of the herb.
Jarrow FormulasDIM + CDG Enhanced Detoxification Formula is a blend of DIM (an indole from cruciferous vegetables related to I3C) and calcium d-glucarate.
Paradise HerbsORAC-Energy Greens is a green powder supplement that is packed with antioxidants, including green tea, milk thistle, and turmeric (rich in curcumin).
SolgarMilk Thistle Herb Extract capsules contain a standardized amount of the herb's active ingredient, as well as other components from the whole herb.
- Healthy liver function is absolutely critical when it comes to managing uterine fibroids. That's because the liver is responsible for eliminating harmful substances and also plays a key role in estrogen metabolism.
- Excess alcohol intake, in particular, slows down the body's metabolism of estrogen.