Uterine fibroids (leiomyoma) are usually benign tumors that are in the smooth muscle tissue of the uterus (womb). Overall, these tumors are fairly common and occur in about 50% to 80% of women by the time they reach age 50. Uterine fibroids (UF) can be as small as a few millimeters (less than an inch) in diameter. They can also be very large (grapefruit-size or larger).
They can lead to excessive vaginal bleeding and iron-deficiency anemia. Leiomyomas can also increase the risk of urinary tract infections, infertility, and miscarriages. Uterine fibroids can cause significant fear and morbidity, and can compromise workplace performance.1 Rarely do fibroids grow exceedingly large, but when they do, they can press on vital organs and interfere with their function. Seldom do uterine fibroids turn cancerous. Fibroids usually shrink or disappear after menopause.
Common Possible Signs & Symptoms:
- Heavy, irregular, or prolonged menstrual bleeding
- Bloating or fullness in the abdomen
- Discomfort, pressure, or pain in the pelvic area
- Frequent urination, urinary tract infections, or difficulty in emptying the bladder
- Pain with intercourse
- Back pain
- Increase in abdomen size
The majority of women who have fibroids experience no symptoms.
Contributors & Risk Factors:
Genetic abnormalities, alterations in the activity of growth factors (proteins formed in the body that direct the rate and regulate the extent of cell proliferation), abnormalities in the vascular (blood vessel) system, and tissue response all contribute to the development of fibroids (UF) . An imbalance between estrogen and progesterone in which the body produces less progesterone than it should, may also be a factor. Risk factors include:
- Genetics: Family history is a key factor since there is often a history of fibroids in women of the same family.
- Race: Women of African descent are two to three times more likely to develop fibroids than women of other races. Women of African ancestry also develop fibroids at a younger age and may have symptoms in their 20’s. This is in sharp contrast to Caucasian women with fibroids in whom symptoms typically occur during the 30’s and 40’s. 2
- Pregnancy: Early pregnancy decreases the likelihood that fibroids will develop.
- Obesity: The risk of uterine fibroids is two to three times greater in women who are obese. 3
- Vitamin D insufficiency: Women who had sufficient amounts of vitamin D were 32 percent less likely to develop fibroids than women with insufficient vitamin D.4
- Consumption of alcohol 5
- Hypertension: Researchers in the second Nurses Heart study discovered that for each 10 points increase of the diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number), a woman’s risk for uterine fibroids increased by 8%.6
- Estrogen tends to stimulate the growth of fibroids in many cases. In general, fibroids tend to shrink after menopause, but postmenopausal hormone therapy may cause symptoms to persist. Elevated levels of testosterone may also increase one’s risk.7
Be Sure Vitamin D Levels are in Good Range.
As mentioned before, vitamin D deficiency substantially increases the risk of uterine fibroids. Studies have demonstrated that vitamin D deficiency plays a significant role in the development of uterine fibroids. Early evidence shows that treatment with vitamin D reduced the size of uterine fibroids in laboratory rats predisposed to developing benign tumors.8 Additional studies have shown that vitamin D3 reduces leiomyoma cell proliferation in vitro (test tube or culture dish) and leiomyoma tumor growth in animal models.9 We are not saying that vitamin D cures fibroids, but it is very important to know your levels and correct a deficiency. Elderly and dark skinned individuals are at serious risk for vitamin D deficiency.
Limit Exposure to Chemical Endocrine Disruptors (EDs).
EDs have also been linked to increased risk for fibroid tumors.10 What are EDs? They are chemicals found in plastic, canned foods, fire retardant materials, fragrances, cosmetics, dyes, paints, and pesticides that disrupt the normal functioning of hormones. Often they affect thyroid and reproductive hormones. EDs mimic, block, or distort the way hormones function.
So, when possible use glass instead of plastic to store your food. Eat organically grown food when feasible. Use only natural cosmetics minimally. Skip fragrant detergents or fabric softeners. Microbeads of plastic are found in bottled water and ordinary tap water. An efficient charcoal filter on the water spigot and shower head will help to reduce your exposure. Do not use non-stick cookware.
Enjoy an Anti-Inflammatory Diet.
Since inflammation plays a part in the development and growth of uterine fibroids, it makes sense that consuming an anti-inflammatory diet of whole grains, legumes, fresh fruits, vegetables, olives, and nuts can help to quell the inflammation. This diet may retard the growth of fibroids.11 Green cruciferous vegetables are especially useful in quenching inflammation. Basil, oregano, ginger, and rosemary inhibit a major protein involved in the inflammation of fibroids, NF-kappa B.12 Meat, sugar, oils, and fruit juice can trigger inflammation. So go easy on these.
Regular consumption of fiber-rich foods can help to reduce excess estrogen from accumulating and can help the constipation that often accompanies fibroid presence.13 One epidemiological study showed that a high consumption of broccoli, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, tomatoes, and apples seems to be a protective factor for uterine fibroids.14 Even benign tumors generate compounds that cause the growth of new blood vessels around the tumor (tumor angiogenesis) or distort the anatomy and distribution of the blood vessels. Fibroid tumors do not appear to grow through tumor angiogenesis but by other mechanisms. Fibroid tumors do release angiogenic compounds that cause the small blood vessels in the smooth muscle tissue of the uterus to become very abnormal in appearance and distorted in function. Berries, cherries, red grapes, citrus, garlic, kale, and black beans have anti-angiogenesis compounds.15 that may prove useful for slowing down the growth of fibroids.
Lose Weight if Obese.
Fat cells act as little endocrine glands. Obesity increases the circulating levels of estrogen without the opposing action of progesterone.16 Obesity also produces changes in the manner in which estrogen is metabolized and actually disrupts the communication between cells in the uterine wall.17 A Chinese study revealed that weight loss from diet and exercise decreased estrone by 11.1% and estradiol level by 20.3% in post-menopausal women.18
Resveratrol has shown anti-proliferative and anti-fibrotic effects on leiomyoma cells.19,20 Grapes, blueberries, cranberries, peanuts, and pistachios contain this helpful phytochemical. Because phytochemicals in foods work together synergistically, we recommend eating the food instead of taking isolated phytochemicals. However, there are countries where these foods are not so available, so a resveratrol supplement taken at mealtime may possibly help.
Vitex (chasteberry) is often recommended for women’s health issues. I could not find any direct documentation to support its use in the treatment of fibroids in a pubmed search.
Consumption of green tea reduces uterine fibroid volume, fibroid-specific symptom severity, and promotes significant improvement in health-related quality of life in premenopausal women.21 Caffeine-free green tea might be worth the effort for some women. Two caveats: Green tea can interfere with iron absorption. So, consumption of green tea is contraindicated in iron-deficiency anemia or in women who are taking an iron supplement. Iron can turn green tea into a pro-oxidant drink instead of an anti-oxidant drink if taken simultaneously.
Curcumin from turmeric and ginger shows some promising effects. This phytochemical inhibits the proliferation of leiomyoma cells and their destruction.22 Curcumin is not easily absorbed and is destroyed by exposure to light. Curcumin with piperine or Phytosomal formulations are better absorbed. Always consult with your pharmacist before taking any supplement if you are taking medicine (including over-the-counter drugs) or have a medical condition.
Keep Iron Level in Good Range.
Fibroids increase the risk for iron-deficiency anemia. One does not want to take an iron supplement unless there is a genuine deficiency. Iron-deficiency is a common problem worldwide.
Adopt Heart-Healthful Lifestyle Program.
Women who have fibroids are at great risk for heart disease.23 They have thicker arteries and lower levels of HDL. We cannot say fibroids cause heart disease though, but there are common features involved in both atherosclerosis and leiomyomas; namely, damage to smooth muscle tissues and inflammation. What does a heart-healthful lifestyle include? Plant-based, fiber-rich, nutrient-dense diet, regular exercise, reduced intake of sugar, adequate sleep, and stress management. Please see the articles at wildwoodhealth.com/blog/category/blood-vessels-heart-health/ for more detailed information on a heart-healthful lifestyle.
Fibroids can become serious if they enlarge, cause bleeding, or pain. Although UFs are benign tumors, they can cause various symptoms such as severe abdominal and pelvic pain, severe uterine bleeding, bladder dysfunction, and more obstetric complications leading to sub-infertility, miscarriage, and other reproductive dysfunctions.24 Women with fibroids should regularly consult with their doctors to monitor their progress. Natural remedies may help if fibroids are small and asymptomatic, but if symptoms occur, see your doctor. Medical or surgical interventions are needed before serious complications arise.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is helpful and is educational. It is not the author’s or authors’ or Wildwood Health Institute’s intent to substitute the blog article for diagnosis, counseling, or treatment by a qualified health professional.
Copyright through December 2023. All rights reserved by Wildwood Sanitarium, Inc.
- Mayo Clinic. “Uterine fibroids have significant impact on quality of life, workplace performance.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 October 2013. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131024085836.htm
- US Dept of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health. (2015). Uterine Fibroids Fact Sheet.
- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). “Vitamin D may reduce risk of uterine fibroids.” ScienceDaily., 15 April 2013. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130415094453.htm
- He Y. The association between subclinical atherosclerosis and uterine fibroids. PLoSOne. 8(2):e57089. Doi. 10.1371/journal.pone.0057089.
- The Endocrine Society. “Elevated testosterone levels may raise the risk of uterine fibroids: Hormone plays previously unrecognized role in common fertility problem.” ScienceDaily. 15 December 2015. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/12/151215160444.htm
- Halder SK. 1, 25-Dihydroxyvitamin D3 Treatment Shrinks Uterine Leiomyoma Tumors in the Eker Rat Model. Biology of Reproduction, 2012; DOI: 10.1095/biolreprod.111.098145.
- Brakta, Soumia et al. “Role of vitamin D in uterine fibroid biology.” Fertility and sterility vol. 104,3 (2015): 698-706. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2015.05.031
- Hunt P. Female Reproductive Disorders, Diseases & Costs of Exposure to Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals in the European Union. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 2016 DOI: 10.1210/jc.2015-2873.
- Islam MS. Molecular targets of dietary phytochemicals for possible prevention and therapy of uterine fibroids: Focus on fibrosis. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2017 Nov 22;57(17):3583-3600.
- Islam Md Soriful. Use of dietary phytochemicals to target inflammation, fibrosis, proliferation, and angiogenesis in uterine tissues: Promising options for prevention and treatment of uterine fibroids? Mol Nutr Food Res. 2014 Aug; 58(8): 1667–1684.
- He Y. Associations between uterine fibroids and lifestyles including diet, physical activity, and stress: a case-control study in China. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 22(1):109-117.
- Shen Y. Vegetarian diet and reduced uterine fibroids risk: A case-control study in Nanjing, China. J Obstet Gynaecol Res. 2016 Jan;42(1):87-94.
- Li William. Tumor Angiogenesis as a Target for Dietary Cancer Prevention. J Oncol. 2012; 2012: 87962.
- Van den Bosch, T., Coosemans, A., Morina, M., Timmerman, D., & Amant, F. (2012). Screening for uterine tumors. Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 26(2): 257-266.
- He, Y., Zeng, Q., Dong, S., Qin, L., Li, G., & Wang, P. (2013). Associations between uterine fibroids and lifestyles including diet, physical activity and stress: a case-control study in China. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 22(1): 109-117.
- Campbell, K. L., (2012). Reduced-calorie dietary weight loss, exercise, and sex hormones in postmenopausal women: randomized controlled trial. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 30(19): 2314-2326. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2011.37.9792.
- Proceedings from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development conference on the Uterine Fibroid Research Update Workshop.
- Christman GM. Counseling the Patient with Uterine Fibroids— Fibroids. Segars JH, editor. John Wiley & Sons; Oxford: 2012. pp. 134–144. [Ref list]
- Islam MS. Use of dietary phytochemicals to target inflammation, fibrosis, proliferation, and angiogenesis in uterine tissues: promising options for prevention and treatment of uterine fibroids? Mol Nutr Food Res. 2014 Aug; 58(8):1667-84.
- Malik M. Curcumin, a nutritional supplement with antineoplastic activity, enhances leiomyoma cell apoptosis and decreases fibronectin expression. Fertil Steril. 2009 May; 91(5 Suppl):2177-84.
- Aksoy Y. Carotid intima-media thickness: a new marker of patients with uterine leiomyoma. European Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, 175:54-57. doi:10.1016/j.ejogrb/2014.01.005.
- Elkafas, Hoda et al. “Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals and Vitamin D Deficiency in the Pathogenesis of Uterine Fibroids.” Journal of advanced pharmacy research vol. 5,2 (2021): 260-275. doi:10.21608/aprh.2021.66748.1124