Food and Fibroids: What’s the Connection?
By Alicia Armeli MSEd MSN RDN CHLC

Long before prescription drugs, food was one of the foremost methods of healing. Millennia ago, it was Hippocrates who stated “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”1

This approach is finally coming full circle as more research emerges within the field of nutrition. Proper nutrition has been linked to reducing the risk of chronic disease and uterine fibroids are no exception.

To understand this association, let’s rewind approximately 15 years. In 1999, a study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology showed that women with fibroids reported frequently eating red meat and ham as well as consuming less fruits and vegetables.2 Why these particular dietary trends may have influenced fibroid development remains unclear but supported theories do exist.

Let Food Be Thy Medicine

Although a panacea for fibroids doesn’t yet exist, there’s much to be said as to how diet can improve the severity of current symptoms and reduce the risk of developing this condition along with associated diseases.

Hold the meat, please.

Fibroids are believed to be a hormone-related disease.3 Therefore, consuming foods that impact hormone levels are thought to pose a risk. A diet high in meat, especially red meat, is naturally higher in saturated fat than a diet limiting these foods. Diets higher in saturated fat have been linked to higher estrogen levels, which could worsen existing fibroids.4

Diets high in meat were also seen to be low in fruits, vegetables and thus fiber. Although commonly associated only with healthy digestion, fiber aids in regulating hormone levels by carrying excess estrogen out of the body through bowel movements.4

This study provided a pivotal jumping off point. Building awareness of which foods to limit is important but discerning which foods to eat more of is also key. Since its publication, more information has surfaced helping to pinpoint which foods and nutrients are most beneficial.

Ditch the Junk Food

A balanced whole foods diet can help regulate hormones by providing your body the nutrients it needs to metabolize estrogen. Whole grains are a good source of B vitamins—a class of nutrients the liver needs to convert estrogen to its weaker form, estriol. Once converted, estriol has little affect on the uterus, which may help reduce the risk of fibroid development.4

Up Your Fiber Intake

Eating fiber-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will provide bulk to your stool and help ease bloating and constipation often associated with fibroids. It also supports the excretion of excess estrogen from the body.4

Vary Your Protein Sources

According to a 2014 study published in Public Health Nutrition, women who reported eating a semi-vegetarian diet had lower levels of circulating estrogen than those who reported eating more meat.5

When limiting meat, it’s essential to eat protein from other sources. Dairy is rich in protein and has been seen to reduce the risk of fibroids, primarily among African American women.6 Beans, lentils, quinoa, nuts, and seeds are also great sources rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Adding fatty fish like wild-caught Alaskan Salmon, Atlantic Mackerel, lake trout and sardines is helpful as they are full of protein, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D.7 Omega-3s and vitamin D have been shown to ease dysmenorrhea and reduce the risk of uterine fibroids respectively.8, 9

Phytoestrogens

Despite popular belief, phytoestrogens may actually help reduce the risk of fibroids and endometrial cancer.3,4 This is especially important because the risk of endometrial cancer increases with uterine fibroids.4

Phytoestrogens are weaker than human estrogen and can have antiestrogenic effects on the body, particularly the uterus. Foods rich in phytoestrogens such as flaxseeds, whole grains, and soy in addition to various fruits, vegetables, legumes, and herbs are associated with lower rates of uterine cancer.4

Decrease Caffeine and Alcohol

Caffeine and alcohol have been linked to uterine fibroids. A women’s health study showed that women who drink alcohol are at a higher risk than those who don’t. 3  Moreover, women who drink three or more cups of caffeinated coffee per day were also at an increased risk.3

You could instead start your morning routine with a soothing alternative such as warm water with lemon or decaffeinated green tea. During cocktail hour, reach for a mocktail instead or rotate alcoholic beverages with sparkling water.

Uterine Fibroid Relief

If you suffer from uterine fibroids or believe you are at risk, work with your doctor and a Registered Dietitian to create a treatment and nutrition plan that’s right for you. By eating a balanced nutrient-rich whole foods diet, relief could be yours—one bite at a time.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR   Alicia Armeli has a Master of Science in Nutrition and Whole Foods Dietetics (MSN/DPD) and is a registered dietitian nutritionist, a certified dietitian, and a holistic life coach. In addition to writing, she enjoys singing, traveling abroad and volunteering with her local animal shelter.

REFERENCES

  1. Good Reads Inc. (2015). Hippocrates. Retrieved April 5, 2015, from http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/62262-let-food-be-thy-medicine-and-medicine-be-thy-food
  2. Chiaffarino, F., Parazzini, F., La Vecchia, C., Chatenoud, L., Di Cintio, E., & Marsico, S. (1999). Diet and uterine myomas. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 94(3): 395-398
  3. Khan, A. T., Shehmar, M., & Gupta, J. K. (2014). Uterine fibroids: current perspectives. International Journal of Women’s Health, 6: 95-114. doi: 10.2147/IJWH.S51083
  4. Pizzorno, J. E., & Murray, M. T. (2013). Textbook of natural medicine (4th). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone
  5. Harmon, B. E., Morimoto, Y., Beckford, F., Franke, A. A., Stanczyk, F. Z., & Maskarinec, G. (2014). Oestrogenlevels in serum and urine of premenopausal women eating low and high amounts of meat. Public Health Nutrition, 17(9): 2087-2093. doi: 10.1017/S1368980013002553
  6. Wise, L. A., Radin, R. G., Palmer, J. R., Kumanyika, S. K., & Rosenberg, L. (2010). Aprospective study of dairy intake and risk of uterine leiomyomata. American Journal of Epidemiology, 171(2): 221-32. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwp355
  7. American Heart Association. (2015). Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Retrieved April 5, 2015, from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyEating/Fish-and-Omega-3-Fatty-Acids_UCM_303248_Article.jsp
  8. Hunt, W., & McManus, A. (2014). Women’s health care: the potential of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Journal of Womens Health Care, 3(142). http://dx.doi.org/10.4172/2167-0420.1000142
  9. Segars, J. H., Parrott, E. C., Nagel, J. D., Guo, C., Gao, X., Birnbaum, L. S., Pinn, V. W., & Dixon, D. (2014). Proceedings from the Third National Institutes of Health International Congress on advances in uterine leiomyoma. Human Reproduction Update, 0(0): 1-25. doi:10.1093/humupd/dmt058
For Health’s Sake – Celebrate Earth Day
By Frieda Wiley

earthday2015

Earth Day was started 45 years ago in 1970 in an effort to focus attention on environmental concerns and to encourage people to join the green movement and help make a difference. And what better way to celebrate Mother Earth than by spending time outdoors and connecting with nature?

Getting outdoors makes us feel better and healthier. Why? One reason is because exposure to sunlight naturally increases your vitamin D levels. Dr. John Cannell, founder and executive director of the Vitamin D Council, says low vitamin D levels are linked to many diseases, including uterine fibroids.

Kathleen Rogers, president of the Earth Day Network, which aims to broaden the environmental movement through education, argues that spending time outside allows you to get sunlight, which your body uses to make vitamin D and that increases your endorphins (those feel-good chemicals that make you happy), so you feel better.

So, in honor of Earth Day, here are some suggestions for getting out and enjoying the great outdoors:

  • Plant somethinganything. Rogers states that, Whether youre in the city or country, gardening of any kind is one of the single most rewarding and peaceful things a person can do.
  • Sunbathe.Dr. Cannell stresses that people really should sunbathebut only for a few minutes each day. Although many people try to limit their exposure to sunlight for fear of sun damaged skin and a higher risk of skin cancer, the goal is to sunbathe for short periods of time when vitamin D rays are the strongestlike high noon. This allows your body to make the most vitamin D in the least amount of time without the risk of sunburn or skin damage. When your shadows longer than you are tall, the suns rays arent at the right angle for your body to make vitamin D, says Dr. Cannell.
  • Picnic.Enjoying food outside is a pastime with perks. Throughout history, outdoor activity has been embedded in every culture. It allows you to reconnect with nature, and that connection is so much fun! says Rogers.
  • Explore.Community parks, arboretums, zoos, museums and gardens are just a few places that offer organized outdoor opportunities such as nature walks, bird watching tours, and interactive trails to help connect those with the nature around them. Environment is what surrounds you, says Rogers. You must start with what surrounds you; its the little things that connect us to nature and make us a better person.
  • Get involved. While this may not get you outside immediately, becoming active in local environmental efforts can have a huge impact on protecting your environment, preserving what you love most about nature, and inspiring others to get involved.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Frieda Wiley is a freelance writer and pharmacist based out of the Piney Woods of East Texas.

Who Gets Uterine Fibroids?
By Alicia Armeli

UFE-3-generationsPart of being a woman is knowing your body. You want the right information so you can make informed decisions about your health. For many women, uterine fibroids are a common concern. But who actually gets uterine fibroids? This is a valid question and although many believe there’s a direct answer, it isn’t as cut and dry as we may think.

The truth is, women from all walks of life can get uterine fibroids. And if you already have them, you’re not alone. Uterine fibroids are exceedingly common. Current statistics show that 30% of women will develop fibroids by the time they are 35 years of age. This number increases to 70-80% by age 50.1

Despite the gravity of these statistics, there are definite risk factors associated with developing uterine fibroids.

Age

Uterine fibroids are most common among women during their reproductive years. According to the International Journal of Women’s Health,2 an estimated 20-40% of women in their reproductive years experience fibroids. Yet, the cause of fibroids is still not fully understood. Since fibroids are atypical before menarche and the incidence declines after menopause, it’s quite possible they’re hormone related.

Family History

In the case of uterine fibroids, there’s no denying our genes. A hereditary component does exist as fibroids are commonly seen to “run in the family.”  First-degree relatives (i.e., mothers, daughters, and siblings) of women with uterine fibroids are approximately two times more at risk for developing them as well.3

To date, one predisposing hereditary genetic factor has been pinpointed—a DNA mutation that codes for the enzyme fumarate hydratase.3,4 If you observe uterine fibroids to be a common occurrence in your family, it’s important to talk to your doctor about the possibility of genetic screening to rule out other health complications.

Ethnicity

As a risk factor, the matter of ethnicity has given the medical community pause. African American women are found to have a much higher prevalence and severity as well as an earlier onset of the disease in comparison to other ethnicities. Several studies have shown that African American women are three times more likely to have uterine fibroids in comparison to Caucasian women.5

Obesity

More than one-third of adults in the United States are obese.6 Although not broadcasted as frequently as other obesity-related conditions, uterine fibroids do seem to be linked to obesity.

Last year, a study published in the Journal of Women’s Health analyzed the health records of 826 Chinese women to see if any relationship existed between uterine fibroids, body size, and fat distribution. At the end of the study, results showed that as women carried excess weight, particularly in the mid-section, the incidence of uterine fibroids increased.7 This suggests that a relationship does in fact exist and that achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight may help to decrease the risk of uterine fibroids.

Nutrition & Eating Habits

A crucial component of reaching and maintaining a healthy body weight is indeed nutrition. However, it may do more than help your waistline. It can also reduce your risk of uterine fibroids.

Nutritional factors, such as vitamin deficiencies, have been linked to uterine fibroids. For example, lower Vitamin D levels correlate to an increased risk. That being said, this may be a promising opportunity in the realm of natural treatment options. Studies have shown that black and white women with sufficient Vitamin D levels showed a reduced incidence of fibroids by 30%.8

On the other hand, eating a varied healthy diet full of whole foods can prove beneficial. Dietary trends such as consuming four or more dairy products per day and increasing fruit and vegetable intake have been associated with a decreased risk.8 Some research shows that eating whole soy foods tend to have anti-estrogenic effects when estrogen levels are too high. Thus, intake is thought to possibly reduce fibroid risk.2

Living with Fibroids

Sometimes uterine fibroids are asymptomatic. Therefore, it’s important to get routine exams. If you suffer from or believe you may have uterine fibroids, work with your doctor and a Registered Dietitian to create a treatment plan that is tailored for you and your body. Although some of the risk factors discussed are out of our control, others are right within our reach.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR  Alicia Armeli has a Master of Science in Nutrition and Whole Foods Dietetics (MSN/DPD) and is a registered dietitian nutritionist, a certified dietitian, and a holistic life coach. In addition to writing, she enjoys singing, traveling abroad and volunteering with her local animal shelter.

REFERENCES

  1. National Women’s Health Network. (2013). Uterine Fibroids Fact Sheets. Retrieved March 30, 2015, from https://nwhn.org/fibroids
  2. Khan, A. T., Shehmar, M., & Gupta, J. K. (2014). Uterine fibroids: current perspectives. International Journal of Women’s Health, 6: 95-114. doi: 10.2147/IJWH.S51083
  3. Tolvanen, J., Uimari, O., Ryynanen, M., Aaltonen, L. A., & Vahteristo, P. (2012). Strong family history of uterine leiomyomatosis warrants fumarate hydratase mutation screening. Human Reproduction, 27(6): 1865-1869. doi: 10.1093/humrep/des105
  4. Collgros, H., Iglesias-Sancho, M., Tribo-Boixareu, M. J., Creus-Vila, L., Umbert-Millet, P., & Salleras-Redonnet, M. (2015). Multiple Cutaneous and Uterine Leiomyomatosis or Reed Syndrome: A Retrospective Study of 13 Cases. Actas Dermo-Sifiliograficas, 106(2): 117-125. doi: 10.1016/j.ad.2014.08.005
  5. Richard-Davis, G. (2013). Uterine fibroid: the burden borne by African American women. Journal of Women’s Health, 22(10): 793-794. DOI: 10.1089/jwh.2013.4597
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Adult Obesity Facts. Retrieved March 30, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html
  7. Yang, Y., Yuan, H., Qiang, Z., & Shuzhang, L. (2014). Association of body size and body fat distribution with uterine fibroids among Chinese women. Journal of Women’s Health, 23(7): 619-626. doi:10.1089/jwh.2013.4690
  8. Segars, J. H., Parrott, E. C., Nagel, J. D., Guo, C., Gao, X., Birnbaum, L. S., Pinn, V. W., & Dixon, D. (2014). Proceedings from the Third National Institutes of Health International Congress on advances in uterine leiomyoma. Human Reproduction Update, 0(0): 1-25. doi:10.1093/humupd/dmt058