Uterine fibroids, non-cancerous tumors that grow in the uterus, are among the most talked-about health complaints of women in their late reproductive years. Though not life-threatening, fibroids can cause abdominal pain, bloating, digestive and urinary symptoms, abnormal or heavy bleeding (menorrhagia), miscarriage and infertility.
While there are now a number of minimally invasive treatments available for dealing with fibroids once they occur, some doctors think prevention may be possible by eliminating foods that may increase women’s risk factors for fibroids.
Patients who wish to modify their diet do not necessarily need to become nutritional geniuses overnight; sometimes very simple modifications can change how the body responds to diet. One already proven risk factor for fibroids is obesity. One research study, conducted by Lynn Marshall, M.D., and published in a 1998 issue of Epidemiology, showed that women with a body mass index of 30 or more were 23 percent more likely to develop fibroid tumors. These findings suggest that maintaining a healthy weight can go a long way when it comes to reducing the likelihood that fibroids will develop.
Patients who eat a lot of meat, saturated fat, dairy products, alcohol, sugar, caffeine, salt or chocolate may also be at higher risk. Diets that include a high proportion of saturated fats from meats and dairy, as well as sugar and alcohol, can put extra stress on the liver, making it less effective in its other work, which includes breaking down hormones in the body so that their levels do not become dangerous. One of the hormones the liver is responsible for breaking down is estrogen, and an excess of estrogen in the body can trigger the growth of fibroid tumors.
Some health professionals and nutritionists believe that foods containing phytoestrogens, a weak estrogen source found in nature, can actually protect the body from the effects of excess estrogen. They recommend eating whole grains, including buckwheat, oats, millet and brown rice; foods with essential fatty acids, such as fish, nuts, flax seeds, fruits and vegetables are also good helpers; soy and non-dairy milk provide calcium, which can also be helpful.
Of course, maintaining a body mass index below 30 and practicing healthy eating habits—which includes limiting intake of saturated fats, sugars, and alcohol—can decrease patients’ risk factors for a wide variety of medical problems, from high blood pressure to heart disease to diabetes. So by practicing healthy eating habits, patients can not only lower their likelihood of developing fibroids, but also decrease health risks across the board and increase their likelihood of living long, healthy lives.
For women who already suffer from fibroids, increasing consumption of foods high in iron—such as kale, spinach, molasses, nuts and seeds, as well as some types of bran and yeast—may be helpful, especially if bleeding caused by fibroids has led to anemia. Vitamin A, found in egg yolk, milk, and fortified dairy or dairy substitute products; vitamin C, found in citrus fruits and leafy vegetables; and vitamin E, found in vegetable oils, seeds, and nuts, are often recommended for fibroid sufferers.
A diet that helps patients to reduce stress can also help in reducing troubling symptoms. Limiting foods containing caffeine, sugar and alcohol, and practicing generally good nutrition can all go a long way to making the body strong and better able to deal with illness.
While dietary modification can go a long way to improving health, it is important to consult with a doctor or qualified health care professional before making any major changes in diet; for those who are fibroid sufferers, consultation with a medical care giver can clarify what options for treatment—whether small changes in lifestyle or diet, by drug therapy, by minimally invasive procedures, or by surgery—is best for each individual.