The Science Behind Five Alternative Treatments for Uterine Fibroids
Pelvic pressure, heavy bleeding, frequent urination… sounds like the world’s worst party! But for the millions of women who have uterine fibroids it can often be just par for the course. Fibroids, also called leiomyomas, are non-cancerous growths that occur within or just outside a woman’s uterus. They develop when normal uterine cells begin to multiply abnormally. The increased number of cells forms a benign tumor. Experts estimate that as many as 1 in 4 women of childbearing age will develop uterine fibroids.
Surgery is just one of the many treatment options that can help women address the symptoms of uterine fibroids, which can range from mildly annoying to life altering. However, surgery isn’t always the best course of action, and increasingly women are turning to the alternative health community for advice on how to manage these pesky uterine protrusions.
A 2014 study compared the outcomes of traditional western (non-surgical), surgical, and complementary treatments for women with uterine fibroids. The study found that while surgery can be an effective treatment, many women reported significant symptom improvement without surgical intervention by employing the following five strategies.
We all know we should exercise. The key is finding the right type for your lifestyle, personality and specific health needs.
Aerobic exercise is great for everything from mood improvement to weight loss, which as it turns out can be beneficial if you have fibroids. A higher body mass index (BMI) is associated with higher levels of estrogen production, and estrogen is like gasoline to a fibroid that has places to grow. A 2015 study made a positive link between adiposity (obesity) and fibroid formation, irrespective of other factors.
Weight training builds muscle, and increased muscle mass aids in fat loss. Weight training will also tone and strengthen the deep core muscles which can help support a heavier uterus and provide pain relief.
Yoga’s benefits are numerous and well-documented. While yoga has not been shown to prevent or decrease the incidence of uterine fibroids, certain poses can help with symptoms. Twists in particular create space in the abdominal cavity which can bring relief to some sufferers.
Certain foods can play a crucial role in your anti-fibroid plan, and it won’t be any surprise that the majority of beneficial food choices fall into the fruits and vegetable category. Whenever possible opt for organic produce to avoid exposure to environmental estrogens (xenoestrogens) which are a component of many pesticides used on conventionally grown crops.
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and kale, to name just a few, are great for liver detoxification and can maximize the body’s ability to flush out extra estrogens. One tip: Don’t overcook these types of vegetables. Not only will it affect the flavor, this cooking practice can result in vital nutrient loss.
Blood detoxifying vegetables such as garlic, carrots and artichokes are beneficial as well as delicious. Be sure to drink lots of water to help with the detox process!
Vegetables and fruits containing natural carotenes such as sweet potatoes, spinach, cantaloupe and pumpkin have antioxidant properties which can help the body address inflammation.
Green tea contains polyphenol, a powerful antioxidant which has been shown to combat the negative effects of estrogen. A 2013 study studied the effects of green tea extract on the quality of life for women experiencing uterine fibroids. The study determined that green tea extract was both safe and effective in relieving symptoms and lauded the remedy for being inexpensive and easy to administer. Time to put the kettle on!
For thousands of years our ancestors have utilized herbal remedies for many a medical affliction, and fibroids are no exception. Herbal remedies are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so consumers need to do their own research and proceed with caution in terms of drug interactions, dosage and frequency of use.
- Chaste Berry (Vitex agnus-castus) can help regulate hormone production, which has an impact on fibroid growth. A review of scientific literature in 2005 supported the use of Chaste Berry in having a positive impact on premenstrual symptoms.
- Raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus) may be the most commonly known herb used for symptoms related to the female reproductive system. There isn’t currently enough scientific research to either support or negate these claims, but the fact remains that raspberry leaf is high in magnesium, potassium, iron and B-vitamins. All of these compounds are beneficial in treating women’s health issues. In addition, raspberry leaf contains the alkaloid fragrine, which some herbalists claim can aid in toning pelvic muscles.
As is the case with herbal remedies there isn’t conclusive scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of acupuncture in regards to treatment of uterine fibroids. However, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) website states that research supports the role of acupuncture in pain reduction in many chronic conditions. The bottom line is that the jury is still out. If you decide to try acupuncture to treat your fibroid related pain and symptoms, be sure to find a reputable practitioner. Do your research and find a provider who is ‘licensed’ as opposed to just ‘certified’ which requires significantly fewer hours of training.
Physical therapy, while not specifically indicated for treatment of uterine fibroids, can be implemented to address many other pelvic floor dysfunctions. In addition, physical therapy can be instrumental in managing pain in a variety of conditions and can also provide vital instruction on strengthening certain muscles and muscular systems. There are many different treatment modalities available through a trained physical therapist.
External therapies such as myofascial and trigger point release can help with pain management, improve range of motion and aid in stress relief.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) therapy – using low voltage electrical current to affect pain reception – can help the body manage discomfort by blocking pain messages to the brain.
Heat and Ice application – an experienced physical therapist will be able to provide guidelines about when to use each. In general, heat warms muscles which increases range of motion and ice reduces inflammation.
No matter which treatment option or options you choose, it is important to remain in contact with your health care professional. Uterine fibroids can be difficult to deal with and possibly impossible to completely eradicate without surgical intervention. Thankfully there is a wide range of alternative treatment options that can help women manage the symptoms associated with the all-too-common occurrence of uterine fibroids.
Vanessa L Jacoby, MD, MAS, et al., “Use of medical, surgical and complementary treatment among women with fibroids.” Our J Obstet Gynecol Retrod Biol. 2014 Nov: 182: 220-225, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4630000/
Eva M. Sommer, et al., “Effects of obesity and hormone therapy on surgically-confirmed fibroids in postmenopausal women” Eur J Epidemiol. 2015: 30(6): 493-499. Published online 2015 Mar 18. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4485678/
Eman Roshdy, et al., “Treatment of symptomatic uterine fibroids with green tea extract: a pilot randomized controlled clinical study” Int J Womens Health. 2013; 5: 477–486. Published online 2013 Aug 7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3742155/
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Keville, Kathi, and Robert Rountree, MD. “Q & A: Herbs for Uterine Fibroids.” www.motherearthliving.com. Ogden Publications, Inc., May-June 2002. Web. 24 Nov. 2015. http://www.motherearthliving.com/health-and-wellness/herbs-for-uterine-fibroids.aspx
Roemheld-Hamm B. “Chasteberry” Am Fam Physician. 2005 Sep 1;72(5):821-4. Review. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16156340
“Acupuncture: What You Need To Know.” NCCIH. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Dec. 2007. Web. 24 Nov. 2015. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/acupuncture/introduction