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
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.
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