Uterine Fibroids: Natural Treatments That Really Work
By Stefanie Trowell, ND
Uterine fibroids are a little different than some other pelvic health concerns. They vary in size, shape, number and location within the uterus. And while they’re incredibly common during a woman’s reproductive years, (some studies say more than 80% of women will develop them by age 50), only a small percentage of the time cause us problems (about 25%). But for those who are affected by fibroids, the impact on their lives and wellbeing cannot be overstated.
Main symptoms include:
- Heavy (soaking 1-2 pads/tampons in 1-2 hours) or prolonged periods (8+ days)
- Bleeding between periods or short cycles (<24days between first days of flow)
- Pelvic pain (including chronic pain, pain during intercourse and painful urination)
What is a Fibroid?
Benign growths in your uterus that are found on ultrasound and get named by where they grow:
- Subserosal fibroids: One of the most common types of fibroid that can extend into the pelvis. Because of this, they tend to be associated with pelvic pain and pressure, but do not tend to impact your endometrial lining or fertility unless they are causing an obstruction (e.g. blocking the fallopian tube).
- Intramural fibroids: Another common type of fibroid that develops in the muscular wall of the uterus. They can cause excessive menstrual bleeding, prolonged periods, clots in your menstrual blood and pelvic pain. They can also cause decreased fertility and increased pregnancy loss.
- Submucosal fibroids: This type of fibroid is uncommon (thank goodness). They are the cause of very heavy, excessive menstrual bleeding and prolonged periods. As a result, women with one or more submucosal fibroids are at greater risk for anemia and low hemoglobin. These fibroids can also contribute to implantation issues when it comes to fertility, reduced pregnancy rates as well as reduced chance of carrying to term.
Risk Factors of Developing Fibroids
- Early onset of first period, which highlights that hormones (estrogen and progesterone) are a key factor in fibroid development and growth
- One outstanding statistic is that women of African descent are 2-3 times more likely to develop fibroids. This may be due to known risk factors such as genetics and Vitamin D deficiency, or possibly due to exposure to toxins found in products such as hair relaxant.
We still have a lot to learn about uterine fibroids, but there is some really interesting research coming out for natural and less invasive therapies.
Treatment varies depending on the size and location of the fibroids, your age and symptoms as well as whether you are trying to conceive. Some of the most common options include:
- Hormonal medications: To reduce the size of the fibroid and prevent new lesions from developing. This may include progestin oral contraceptives or IUDs, gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists or anti-progesterones.
- Non-hormonal medications: NSAIDs or Tranexamic acid are often used for symptom management ie: to reduce blood loss.
- Surgical excision: Myomectomy is an option for a woman wishing to preserve their fertility or uterus. Other women may opt for getting rid of the entire uterus (hysterectomy).
The following natural treatments work because they improve hormonal balance and reduce inflammation. They can be tried on their own, but sometimes they are not enough on their own and may work best as adjunctive or complementary treatment.
- Diet: An important factor that may contribute to fibroid development. In general, a whole foods diet is going to be a great choice. But specifically for fibroids, diets high in red meat or alcohol are associated with increased risk and a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is associated with a reduced risk. Berries, specifically strawberries, are of recent interest in fibroid research for their potential fibroid-shrinking effect. This research is still in its early phases, but consuming a serving of berries once a day is a safe and potentially very fruitful option for reducing or preventing growth of fibroids.
- Stress: From major life events is associated with fibroid development. Interestingly stress is a common cause of Qi stagnation, and according to traditional Chinese medical theory, the formation and growth of uterine fibroids is due to an accumulation of stagnated Qi and blood in the pelvic area.
- Physical activity: Has the potential not as just a weight management strategy to reduce risk, but this study found that higher amounts of exercise was associated with reduced likelihood of developing fibroids – independent of BMI and weight. What does this translate into for us non-study participants? The most benefit was seen in groups that did 1 hour of vigorous activity at least 4 times per week, but walking for 1 hour on 5 days or more per week also showed a protective effect.
- Vitamin D: Was hinted at earlier as a preventative measure, but it can also help reduce growth of fibroids. Once again the health benefits of this sunshine vitamin are being touted.
- Combination therapy: Vitamin D, Epigallocatechin Gallate (EgCG) and Vitamin B6 was shown to reduce fibroid size by over 30% after 4 months of treatment. The two studies were small and the fibroids had to be less than 10cm to be included in the study, but I still was very interested in their outcomes.
There are many other natural options to consider, such as the traditional Chinese herbal formula Gui Zhi Fu Ling Tang. Other herbal treatments are effective at reducing menstrual bleeding and amount of flow, so that you get back to feeling more like yourself a little bit faster. It’s the combination of taking care of your mind and body that will help prevent fibroid development and growth.
Book a complimentary 15-minute discovery call with me to learn more about how I can help you balance your hormones, support your periods or optimize your fertility.
Stefanie is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor in the College of Naturopaths of Ontario (CONO). She incorporates the best available evidence with traditional methods to enhance each patient’s health and deliver the highest quality of care. She is passionate about chronic disease management, with a special interest in women’s health, fertility and hormonal balance.