Fat, especially saturated fat, is the nutrient we seem to have a love-hate relationship with. Eating a high-fat diet has been linked to increased levels of estrogen within the body—which is then thought to influence the risk of uterine fibroids. But do all fats affect fibroids in the same way?
The results of a study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition1 may surprise you.
Wise and colleagues of the Slone Epidemiology Center at Boston University and the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine looked at food questionnaire data, particularly fat intake, from over 12,000 premenopausal women participating in the Black Women’s Health Study from 2001-2009.
After eight years, 2,695 women were diagnosed with fibroids. Among these women, fibroid risk wasn’t noticeably affected by overall fat intake but instead was affected by consumption of specific types of fats.
Surprisingly, small but statistically significant reductions in fibroid risk were seen when women ate saturated fat—but only certain types. Butyric acid, caproic acid, caprylic acid and myristic acid made the list of possibly protective saturated fats. Food sources of these fats include coconut oil and dairy products.
On the flipside, the authors found slight increases in fibroid risk when women ate high levels of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids like EPA and DHA found in fish. Omega-3s have the ability to change gene expression and cell signaling—which, the authors contend, could cause fibroid formation.
However, it was noted that the connection between omega-3 intake and fibroid risk may not entirely be due to the fat itself but instead to hormone-disrupting pollutants found in fish, like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
Of the monounsaturated fats, only erucic acid, often found in processed oils, was linked to a small increase in fibroid risk.
Due to conflicting evidence, the jury is still out when it comes to how fat intake actually affects fibroid risk in premenopausal women.
Epidemiologic studies show fat intake to be correlated with other hormone-driven illnesses like endometriosis, cancers of the endometrium, and ovarian. Given this information, it could be deduced that fibroids, another hormone-driven condition, would respond to fat intake in the same way. Yet, how dietary fat and fibroids are ultimately connected is still unclear and needs further investigation.
Until more data emerges, the guidelines listed below may be the first step to reducing your risk:
- Daily incorporate organic low-fat dairy foods2
Consuming dairy may lower fibroid risk due to its calcium and butyric acid content, which may inhibit abnormal cell growth and tumor activity respectively. Studies have shown that women who eat more dairy are at a reduced fibroid risk. Yogurt or milk enjoyed as part of a balanced meal or snack is a great way to get your daily intake.
- Swap out meat at meals
Earlier studies suggest women who eat more meat are at a heightened risk for fibroids.3 Get creative and try low-fat meatless meals like hearty bean chili or vegetarian lasagna.
- Fill your plate with fiber-rich fruits and veggies
Women who eat more fruits and vegetables are seen to have a decreased fibroid risk.4 Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and kale contain indole-3-carbinol, a phytochemical that may protect against estrogen-related conditions.5 Citrus fruits, like oranges, contain flavonoids that effectively prevent estrogen receptor activity and abnormal cell growth.4 Including a fruit and/or vegetable at every meal and snack is a surefire way to receive these powerful compounds.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Alicia Armeli is a Health Freelance Writer and Photographer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, and Certified Holistic Life Coach. She has master’s degrees in English Education and Nutrition. Through her writing, she empowers readers to live optimally by building awareness surrounding issues that impact health and wellbeing. In addition to writing, she enjoys singing, traveling abroad, and volunteering in her community.
1. Wise, L. A., Radin, R. G., Kumanyika, S. K., Ruiz-Narváez, E. A., Palmer, J. R., & Rosenberg, L. (2014). Prospective study of dietary fat and risk of uterine leiomyomata. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 99(5): 1105-1116. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.073635
2. Wise, L. A., Radin, R. G., Palmer, J. R., Kumanyika, S. K., & Rosenberg, L. (2010). A prospective study of dairy intake and risk of uterine leiomyomata. American Journal of Epidemiology, 171(2): 221-232. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwp355
3. 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.
4. Wise, L. A., Radin, R. G., Palmer, J. R., Kumanyika, S. K., Boggs, D. A., & Rosenberg, L. (2011). Intake of fruit, vegetables, and carotenoids in relation to risk of uterine leiomyomata. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 94(6): 1620-1631. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.016600
5. Parajuli, B., Shin, S., Kwon, S., Cha, S., Lee, H., Bae, I., & Cho, C. (2013). The synergistic apoptotic interaction of indole-3-carbinol and genistein with TRAIL on endometrial cancer cells. Journal of Korean Medical Science, 28(4): 527-533. doi: 10.3346/jkms.2013.28.4.527