Uterine fibroids, (also know as myoma or leiomyoma) are solid, benign tumours found in the smooth muscle layer of the uterus wall. Most women over the age of 40 years will have some evidence of fibroids. Fibroids can vary in size from a few millimetres to the size of a grapefruit (or bigger) and can weigh several kilograms if left untreated and continue to grow. Malignant uterine fibroids are not common however rapidly growing fibroids may be indicative of more serious pathology and should be thoroughly investigated. 

Fibroids are classified according to where they are situated in the uterus, and are measured according to how their size relates to the size of a fetus during pregnancy, or even likened to the size of fruit/vegetables such as pea, lemon, grapefruit etc. Many women with fibroids are unaware they have them as they bear no signs or symptoms. For others their symptoms can range from mild to severe and include pelvic pain, painful sex, heavy blood flow during menstruation, bowel or bladder disturbance due to pressure of the fibroid, and fatigue often associated with anaemia due to excessive blood loss.  

Leiomyomas are hormone dependent fibroids and therefore develop during the hormonally active years. Factors that may promote fibroid development include increased estrogen exposure including both environmental (plastics, pesticides, hormones in animal products) and medical (HRT – hormone replacement therapy). Hypertension, obesity and poor estrogen clearance are also associated with the incidence of fibroids. From a dietary perspective, studies indicate that women with fibroids tend to have a diet lower in green vegetables, fresh fruit and fish, and have an increased intake of red meat and pork. 

If fibroids are large enough, they can be felt via pressing on the abdominal/pelvic cavity. They are otherwise confirmed and the size monitored via an ultrasound. Orthodox medical treatment options often include pharmaceuticals to reduce growth of the fibroid, surgery to remove the fibroid or hysterectomy to remove the uterus. Surgery may be best reserved for suspected malignancies or women who have not responded to any other form of treatment. Obviously women of childbearing age need to consider surgery carefully, however if the fibroid size/position is interfering with conception and maintaining a pregnancy, surgery may be required. Due to fibroid growth being stimulated by hormones, fibroids often shrink post menopause with the natural decline in estrogen. Therefore many women who are nearing menopause with fibroids, may be able to avoid surgery by managing the symptoms either with pharmaceuticals or a naturopathic approach implementing diet, lifestyle and herbal medicine support.

The naturopathic approach to treating women with fibroids is another option instead of pharmaceutical or surgical intervention and may be a good place to start. This approach to treatment is aimed at reducing the symptoms and controlling the size of fibroids until the natural decline of estrogen occurs post menopause. Wholistic treatment aims to maintain healthy body weight, reduce estrogen exposure (dietary and lifestyle) and support excess estrogen elimination. If present, nutrient deficiencies such as low iron need to be addressed, as well as treating other symptoms such as pain and heavy bleeding. 

Dietary advice will include increasing nutrient dense, high antioxidant, anti inflammatory foods such as vegetables, fruit, fish and whole foods, while reducing red meat, excess dairy products and nutrient deplete processed foods. Food high in dietary fibre is important to include to support the elimination of estrogen. Flax seeds contain lignans which have been shown to increase SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin), a hormone which binds to estrogen therefore reducing the amount of available active estrogen. Broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage are high in indole glucosinates which can encourage the body to metabolise estrogen down a healthier non-inflammatory pathway. These vegetables high in these nutrients have been shown to exhibit protective qualities towards estrogen sensitive tissue. 

Exercise provides many benefits including supporting regular bowel motions to assist with estrogen clearance, weight loss, stress management as well as improving uterine circulation and tone. Certain yoga poses and dance can also be useful to support circulation to the uterus and increase muscle tone. 

Fibroids may not be entirely eliminated however an effective treatment plan should result in an overall reduction in symptoms within 2-3 menstrual cycles and a reduction in growth of the fibroid/s within 3-6 months. For some women this may be enough to reduce the need for pharmaceutical or surgical intervention until a natural decline in estrogen occurs with menopause.   

For further information or to make an appointment please contact Diana Arundell at Avoca Naturopath on 0410 465 900.