Uterine fibroids (also called uterine leiomyomas) are extremely common. In fact, about 75 percent of women experience them at some point in their lives. (1) Ranging in size from a few millimeters, or about the size of a pea, to the size of a grapefruit, fibroids are “the most frequent indication for major gynecologic surgery,” according to a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine. (2) Every year more than 200,000 hysterectomies are performed due to severe uterine fibroids.
What are fibroids? They’re non-cancerous tumors found within the uterine walls, often resulting in a change in the size or shape of the uterus as well as several unpleasant symptoms. Because they normally develop within the uterine wall, they are also called “uterine fibroids.” While some women deal with pain, menstrual changes and other complications due to having fibroids, they can also be symptomless. Because it isn’t always obvious if you have fibroids, it’s a great idea for all women to take steps to naturally prevent these common uterine growths.
Studies have shown that preventing or treating high blood pressure helps to lower the risk of developing fibroids. According to research from the Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, there’s a strong and independent association between blood pressure and risk for fibroids in premenopausal women. (3)
Some risk factors for fibroids are out of your control, but there are many you can manage. These includes things like eating higher-quality meat (especially beef), adding more detoxifying foods such as leafy green vegetables into your diet, and drinking less alcohol. There are also a lot of steps you can take to help balance your hormones naturally, which is a key part of prevention and natural fibroid treatment.
8 Natural Treatments for Fibroids
1. Avoid Foods That Make Fibroids Worse
Foods to eliminate or limit in order to reduce your risk include:
- High-Fat, Processed Meats. High-fat, processed meats are some of the worst food choices for women when it comes to fibroids. Foods high in unhealthy fats, like non-organic/processed meats or trans-fats (think hamburgers and processed breakfast sausages), can increase inflammation levels. Processed foods also often contain chemical additives and other ingredients that promote inflammation. Limit the amount of meat you eat by also including plant-based protein in your diet. When you do eat beef, always try to opt for grass-fed beef.
- Conventional Dairy. Non-organic dairy can be high in steroids, hormones and other chemicals that may alter your hormones levels when eaten in high amounts, which encourages the development and growth of fibroids.
- Refined Sugar. Consuming a lot of refined sugar can promote inflammation and lead to weight gain. It may also increase pain and reduce immune function. There’s an association between weight gain and hormonal imbalance, and these two factors can encourage the development of fibroids. Studies have even shown that a high dietary glycemic index is associated with higher risk of uterine fibroids in some women. (4)
- Refined Carbohydrates. Managing hormones not only involves the elimination of sugars from the diet, but also refined carbohydrates. Refined carbs — like products made with white, bleached flour — cause insulin levels to spike and hormones to become out of whack. Consuming processed grains, like those in instant hot cereals and commercial breads, causes a sharp rise in insulin. These refined carbohydrates have been stripped of everything but starch, so they offer mostly empty calories and very little nutritional value.
- Alcohol. Over-consuming alcohol can definitely contribute to increased inflammation throughout the body. It also reduces immune function; can promote weight gain; and encourages hormonal imbalances. By reducing or eliminating alcohol, you can help to get your hormones back on track and hopefully help shrink existing fibroids.
- Caffeine. Too much caffeine is taxing on your body, especially your liver. When you give your liver more work to do than it can handle, it isn’t going to do as good of a job at keeping your hormones in check. The more you can keep your alcohol and caffeine consumption down, the easier it is for your liver to detoxify your body and keep your hormones in proper, fibroid-discouraging balance.
2. Eat Foods that Help Relieve Fibroids
What type of diet can help prevent or treat fibroids? The following foods should be included in your diet to keep them at bay:
- Organic Foods. Eating mostly organic foods may help to prevent and shrink fibroids because organic products are grown and made without the use of chemical presticides. Pesticides used in commercial/non-organic agriculture may impact estrogen levels and other hormones. Since hormonal balance is key to natural fibroid treatment, you want to reduce your pesticide intake as much as possible.
- Green Leafy Vegetables. Green leafy vegetables have many anti-inflammatory effects, so they may discourage the growth of fibroids in a woman’s body. These vegetables are also vitamin K-rich foods, which aid in blood clotting and help control menstrual bleeding.
- Cruciferous Vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables support detoxification of your liver and may help balance estrogen levels. Research has shown that high consumption of broccoli, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, tomato and apple seems to be a protective factor for uterine fibroids, potentially due to their high antioxidant and fiber content. Research has shown that a plant-based diet, including greater intake of cruciferous vegetables (and fresh fruits), is capable of reducing the incidence of uterine fibroids in women. (5)
- Beta Carotene-Rich Foods. Upon digestion, the human body turns beta carotene into vitamin A, which promotes the growth and repair of healthy tissues, which can be very helpful for treating fibroids. Some foods that are high in beta-carotene include carrots, sweet potatoes, kale and spinach.
- High-Iron Foods. Fibroids sometimes cause some women to lose more blood during their monthly menstruation. This can lead to anemia. To replace the excessive loss of iron due to increased bleeding, include high-iron foods like grass-fed beef and legumes in your diet.
- Flaxseeds. Flaxseeds can help balance estrogen levels in the body, which can in turn work to shrink fibroids. You should aim for at least 2 tablespoons per day if you already have fibroids. You can sprinkle flaxseeds on oatmeal, in your smoothies or simply eat the seeds by themselves.
- Whole Grains. Instead of eating refined grains, opt for healthier whole grains like millet, spelt, brown rice, buckwheat, rye and oats. These are higher in fiber, contain more minerals and tend to be much less processed.
3. Try Supplements That Aid in Fibroid Reduction
Be sure to check with your doctor before introducing new supplements. Discuss if any of these supplements below, which have a strong reputation for creating better hormone balance, might be helpful for you:
- Vitex (400 milligrams, 2 times daily). Vitex or chasteberry reduces estrogen levels by promoting the production of progesterone. For best results, vitex should be taken for at least six months.
- Fish Oil (1,000 milligrams daily) or Flaxseed Oil (1 tablespoon daily). The essential fatty acids found in fish oil and flaxseed oil can help reduce inflammation in your body, which may play a part in fibroid growth.
- B-complex (50 milligrams daily). If B vitamins are lacking in the diet, the liver is missing some of the raw materials it needs to carry out its metabolic processes and regulate estrogen levels.
- Progesterone Cream (1/4 teaspoon, days 6–26 of cycle). Applying progesterone cream topically can help balance out low progesterone. When treating fibroids, it’s important to work with a doctor who has tested your hormone levels so you can be best advised if natural progesterone cream is the right option for your body.
- Milk Thistle (150 milligrams, 2 times daily). Aids body in liver detoxification, which can balance hormones.
4. Turn to Essential Oils
Thyme, clary sage and frankincense are the best essential oils for natural fibroid treatment. They all have the ability to help balance hormones naturally. Clary sage oil has also been shown by researchers to significantly lower cortisol levels as well as to have antidepressant effects. This is just one of several studies that show clary sage oil’s ability to benefit a woman’s hormones. (6)
To use these essential oils you can rub 2 drops of each oil over your lower abdomen two times daily (combine with a carrier oil like coconut oil if you have sensitive skin). You might also try putting 2 drops of frankincense oil on the roof of your mouth two times daily.
5. Sip on Herbal Teas
Herbal teas may help soothe symptoms by decreasing inflammation and rebalancing certain hormones. Teas made with chasteberry, milk thistle, yellow dock, dandelion root, nettle and red raspberry all have systemic benefits for the uterus and reproductive system.
6. Try Castor Oil Packs
By applying a castor oil pack to your abdomen, you increase circulation in the lymphatic and circulatory systems and also increase lymphocytes — white blood cells that eliminate disease-causing toxins from the body. Many holistic practitioners believe a buildup of toxins plays an important role in fibroid development.
Castor oil contains an anti-inflammatory compound called ricinoleic acid. While there hasn’t been any scientific research to date that directly studies the impact of castor oil packs on uterine fibroids, it makes sense that castor oil packs could be helpful. A 2011 study did show that castor oil packs can help improve detoxification and decrease symptoms associated with constipation. (7)
7. Avoid Exposure to Environmental Toxins
Stay clear of the following chemicals to improve your hormonal health, as well as your general health: pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, bleach, food preservatives, harmful cleaners (even certain eco-cleaners) and food dyes. You’ll also want to opt for natural, unbleached feminine care products as well as organic body care products and makeup.
Getting regular exercise can actually help to prevent fibroids before they start! According to one study, the more a woman exercises, the less likely she is to get uterine fibroids. (8) Exercise has many anti-inflammatory effects, may help control blood pressure, can help improve insulin sensitivity, is beneficial for weight management, and may contribute to hormonal balance.
Symptoms of Fibroids
Can fibroids cause bleeding, back pain or other unusual symptoms? It’s possible, but not every woman who has them experiences any noticeable symptoms at all. About 70 percent to 80 percent of women experience fibroids by the age of 50, but many will remain unaware that they have them. (9) It’s common for a woman to find out that she has them only during a routine exam or when she becomes pregnant and has ultrasounds performed.
When symptoms due to uterine fibroids do occur, here are some of the most common:
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
- Menstrual period lasting seven days or longer
- Bloating or fullness in the stomach/pelvic region
- Pelvic pressure or pain
- Frequent urination
- Difficulty emptying your bladder
- Pain with intercourse
- Backache or leg pains
- Reproductive issues, including infertility and miscarriages
Uterine Fibroids During Pregnancy:
When a woman has fibroids during pregnancy, what are some signs to look for or symptoms that might occur? Sometimes fibroids can cause complications during pregnancy and labor, including leading to to a six-time greater risk of needing a cesarean section. (10) They may also contribute to infertility if they are severe. It may be harder for an egg to become fertilized and then implant on the lining of the uterus when a large fibroid is present.
A woman’s OB-GYN might recommend that she take medications prior to becoming pregnant in order to help shrink fibroids. In severe cases surgery might also be performed before pregnancy, but it cannot be performed once a woman is already pregnant because this can lead to blood loss and pre-term labor. It’s long been thought that fibroids increased the risk of miscarriage during the first and second trimester. However, a new meta-analysis showed no significant increase in spontaneous miscarriage risk among women with leiomyomas (fibroids) compared to those without.
It is possible that fibroids may increase risk for pre-term labor or complications during delivery including obstruction of the birth canal. However, not every woman with fibroids who becomes pregnant will experience any serious complications or symptoms.
Fibroids can increase in size during pregnancy due to increased levels of estrogen. Bleeding and abdominal pain might also occur during pregnancy if the fibroid begins to lose its blood supply. A woman’s doctor will likely recommend that she have more ultrasounds performed during pregnancy than normal in order to monitor her fibroids.
Types of Fibroids
The medical term for fibroids is leiomyoma or myoma. The location, size and number of fibroids influences the severity of symptoms that a woman will experience. It is possible to have more than one type of fibroid at the same time if they develop in different parts of the reproductive system.
The main types of fibroids that can grow in a woman’s body include:
Intramural fibroids — Intramural fibroids are the most common type of fibroid. They grow within the muscular uterine wall. If they’re large enough, they can actually distort and stretch the uterus or womb. They can also cause prolonged, heavy periods along with pressure and pain in the pelvic region.
Subserosal fibroids — Fibroids that grow outside the walls of the uterus sometimes press on the bladder, causing urinary symptoms like difficulty emptying your bladder. This type may also sometimes cause backaches. Backaches may occur when subserosal fibroids bulge from the back of your uterus and press on your spinal nerves, causing pressure in your back.
Penducluated fibroids — These fibroids grow on small stalks inside or outside of the uterus.
Submucosal fibroids — These grow just underneath the uterine lining. This type of fibroid is more likely to cause heavy, prolonged menstrual bleeding. They can also sometimes cause problems for women trying to get pregnant. Submucosal tumors are not as common as other types.
Cervical fibroids — These grow in the cervical tissue, but they are rare compared to the other types of fibroids.
Risk Factors & Root Causes of Fibroids
What are the root causes of fibroids? The following factors can raise a woman’s risk for developing fibroids:
- Heredity: A woman with a mother or sister who had/has fibroids is more likely to develop them herself.
- Age: Fibroids tend to appear when a woman is in her 30s and 40s.
- Race: African-American women are two to three times more likely to develop fibroids than women of other races or ethnicities. Black women tend to have them at younger ages, and have more that are larger.
- Diet: Eating a lot of poor quality beef and any type of pork is linked to higher fibroid risk.
- Obesity: Women who are overweight or obese are more likely to develop fibroids compared to women who maintain a healthy weight.
- High Blood Pressure: High blood pressure or hypertension seems to increase a woman’s risk of fibroids.
- Hypothyroidism: Overt hypothyroidism has been associated with the presence of uterine leiomyomas (fibroids).
- Early menstruation: Women who begin menstruation prior to the age of 10 are at a higher risk for fibroids than women who started menstruating after the age of 10.
- Birth control: Taking birth control pills can make fibroids grow more quickly because of the increased estrogen level in the body. Foods that are high in estrogen, and hormone-disrupting chemicals that mimic estrogen, may also play a role in the development of fibroids.
Doctors aren’t exactly sure what causes fibroids, but research and clinical experience point to a few likely factors. (11) Fibroids seem to grow from a single smooth muscle cell but then continue expanding where they shouldn’t. Since fibroids run in families, they appear to be genetic to some extent. For example, identical twins are more likely to both have them than nonidentical twins. Many fibroids also contain changes in genes that are different from the genes in normal uterine muscle cells.
Hormone imbalances are another root cause of fibroids. Estrogen and progesterone hormones are responsible for stimulating the growth of the uterine lining each month in preparation for a possible pregnancy. Estrogen and progesterone also appear to promote the growth of fibroids, which contain more estrogen and progesterone receptors than normal uterine muscle cells. Another reason this hormone theory makes sense is the fact that they tend to shrink after a woman goes through menopause. Menopause coincides with a decline in a woman’s hormone levels.
Fibroids vs. Polyps
The uterus contains two types of tissue. The inner lining or endometrium is the tissue that sheds monthly during menstruation. However, most of the uterus is made up of muscle tissue, or myometrium. Both the endometrium and myometrium are capable of producing benign “tumors.” An overgrowth of the endometrium causes uterine polyps, while an overgrowth of the myometrium causes myomas or fibroids.
- Fibroids are made up of hard muscle tissue that grow within the myometrium lining of the uterus.
- Polyps are made of endometrial tissue and are malleable, stemming from the inner lining of the uterus.
Size of polyps:
- Polyps are typically very small, ranging from a few millimeters to centimeters.
- Fibroids are usually larger than polyps, ranging in size from millimeters to the size of watermelons.
Potential for cancer:
- Polyps can develop into cancer, although this is rare.
- Fibroids are benign growths and not linked to higher cancer risk.
- Fibroids can cause pain, pressure, menstrual changes and discomfort.
- Polyps generally do not cause any pain and often go unnoticed.
When Is Surgery for Uterine Fibroids Needed?
Fibroid surgery might be recommended for women with severe symptoms, those dealing with infertility, or those who are at an increased risk of dealing with complications during pregnancy or labor. Fibroid surgery is performed before a woman conceives (not during pregnancy), since it can lead to bleeding and other symptoms that would interfere with pregnancy. Uterine fibroid surgery can be performed to remove fibroids only (this is called a myomectomy) or to remove a woman’s entire uterus (called a hysterectomy). (12) A hysterectomy is only appropriate if a woman doesn’t plan to become pregnant in the future, since it completely removes her uterus.
Before surgery is performed a woman’s doctor will likely try less invasive treatment approaches, such as using birth control pills or hormone replacement drugs to control fibroid symptoms. Surgery is done through either a small incision using laparoscopy, through the vagina, or through a larger incision into the abdominal region. The treatment option called uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) is a minimally-invasive procedure that uses embolic agents to block the arteries that provide blood to the fibroids, causing them to shrink. UFE doesn’t work for every type of fibroid and may also contribute to poor outcomes following the surgery.
Recently an investigation involving 135,000 women was carried out to evaluate the outcomes of different approaches to treating fibroids. Women who were included in the investigation had undergone either hysterectomy, myomectomy, uterine artery embolization, or magnetic resonance-guided, focused ultrasound surgery. Results suggest that myomectomy is the preferred surgical approach to treating fibroids, although UAE is a “reasonable alternative” for some women who turn down other types of surgery.
Some clinicians have reported that that UAE should be avoided by women seeking to preserve fertility since it’s been correlated with low pregnancy rates and adverse events during or after pregnancy. In terms of preventing the need for hysterectomy, women who had myomectomies seemed to have a reduced risk for subsequent hysterectomy compared to those who had UAE. However, more women in the myomectomy group underwent at least one subsequent surgical procedure. After having a myomectomy, about 18 percent of women became pregnant compared with just 2 percent following UAE. Unfortunately, about 64 percent all women from both groups (myomectomy and UAE) were found to have a “high overall rate of adverse maternal and perinatal outcomes.”
Key Points about Fibroids
- Fibroids are more common in women than polyps, and typically develop in the later reproductive years.
- Fibroids are most often found in women over age 30 and are rarely seen in women under 20; they tend to shrink after menopause.
- Intramural fibroids are the most common type. They grow inside the wall of the uterus.
- Any type of fibroid can impact reproductive function and may cause infertility or miscarriage.
- Some women with fibroids who experience unusually heavy bleeding during their periods may become anemic due to increased iron loss.
- See your doctor as soon as possible if you have severe vaginal bleeding or sharp pelvic pain that comes on suddenly. Large fibroids can be detected with a physical examination. Smaller ones can be seen with an ultrasound, CT scan or MRI.
8 Natural Treatments for Fibroids
- Avoid foods that make fibroids worse.
- Eat foods that help relieve fibroids.
- Try supplements that aid in fibroid reduction.
- Turn to essential oils.
- Sip on herbal teas.
- Try castor oil packs.
- Avoid exposure to environmental toxins.