Sitting Less May Reduce the Risk of Fibroids
By Alicia Armeli

SittingFibroids

 

According to a recent study1, adults spend an average of more than 7 hours of the waking day sedentary. The health community is starting to target this lack of movement as a main contributor to some of the chronic diseases we see today. If you think a trip to the gym is enough to make up for a day spent sitting, think again. Results from a range of studies show that, despite exercising, individuals who sit for prolonged periods of time are still at a higher risk for chronic disease.2

If exercise can’t cut it, what can? In a paper published by the European Heart Journal, researchers found that individuals who sit less—or take breaks to stand up and move around were at a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease.3 Could these promising results be applied to women and uterine fibroid growth?

Physical Activity & Fibroids

In Beijing, China, He et al.4 sought to examine whether lifestyle factors like physical activity influenced the risk of uterine fibroids in pre- and postmenopausal women. This case-control study screened 73 women with fibroids and 210 without. Using a questionnaire, women also self-reported details regarding behaviors surrounding health habits.

Premenopausal women who reported lifetime moderate occupational activity, or what the authors described as hours per day spent sitting or standing in relation to their work, had a significant reduced risk of fibroids—even more so than women who spent time participating in leisurely exercise. These results were not significant in postmenopausal women.

Why Sit Less?

Why did moderate occupational physical activity have protective effects? The reasons behind these findings aren’t fully understood. However, the authors did notice consistencies between their results and those associated with studies examining occupational physical activity and other hormone-related diseases. “Results from several studies suggest that higher levels of occupational physical activity may be associated with a reduction in risk of breast cancer,”4 the authors pointed out.

It’s believed that hormone-related diseases like uterine fibroids are driven in part by sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone.5 Staying physically active may regulate sex hormones and help to maintain a healthy body weight6—both of which may play a role in the prevention of hormonal conditions.

Longitudinal studies7 have found that women who sit for longer periods of time throughout the day tend to have higher body mass indices (BMI). This poses a problem because statistics show obese women are two to three times more likely to develop fibroids.8 Excess fat tissue may lead to hormone imbalance, which can trigger fibroid growth. “Obesity is associated with the development of fibroids,” He and his team of researchers explain. “Most likely through increasing endogenous hormone levels, decreasing serum hormone-binding globulin, and altering estrogen metabolism under premenopausal conditions.”4

Move More

As the research shows, sitting less doesn’t have to include running a marathon—it just involves moving more. It can include everyday activities like housework, walking the dog, gardening, or shopping. It can also include making small changes at work like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or investing in a standing desk.6 9 10

Other ways to sit less include9 10:

  • Standing up and moving around during TV commercial breaks
  • Walking around when talking on the phone
  • Playing with your children for 15-30 minutes per day
  • Standing and taking a break from your computer every 30 minutes (set a cell phone reminder if necessary!)
  • Getting on/off public transportation one stop early

Making small changes to your routine that incorporate more movement is the first step toward forming healthy habits that last a lifetime.

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. Wijndaele, K., Orrow, G., Ekelund, U., Sharp, S. J., Brage, S., Griffin, S. J., & Simmons, R. K. (2014). Increasing objectively measured sedentary time increases clustered cardiometabolic risk: a 6 year analysis of the ProActive study. Diabetologia, 57(2): 305-312. doi:10.1007/s00125-013-3102-y
  1. Biswas, A., Oh, P. I., Faulkner, G. E., Bajaj, R. R. Silver, M. A., Mitchell, M. S., & Alter, D. A. (2015). Sedentary time and its association with risk for disease incidence, mortality, and hospitalization in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine, 162(2): 123-132. doi:10.7326/M14-1651
  1. Healy, G. N., Matthews, C. E., Dunstan, D. W., Winkler, E. A., & Owen, N. (2011). Sedentary time and cardio-metabolic biomarkers in US adults: NHANES 2003-06. European Heart Journal, 32(5): 590-597. doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehq451
  1. He, Y., Zeng, Q., Dong, S., Qin, L., Li, G., & Wang, P. (2013). Associations between uterine fibroids and lifestyles including diet, physical activity, and stress: a case-control study in China. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 22(1): 109-117. doi:10.6133/apjcn.2013.22.1.07
  1. 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
  1. Kushi, L. H., Doyle, C., McCullough, M., Rock, C. L., Denmark-Wahnefried, W., Bandera, E. V., Gapstur, S., Patel, A. V., Andrew, K., Gansler, T., & The American Cancer Society 2010 Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee. (2012). American cancer society guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 62(1):30-67. doi:10.3322/caac.20140
  1. Uijtdewilligen, L., Twisk, J. W. R., Singh, A. S., Chinapaw, M. J. M., van Mechelen, W., & Brown, W. J. (2014). Biological, socio-demographic, work and lifestyle determinants of sitting in young adult women: a prospective cohort study. The International Journal of Behavior Nutrition and Physical Activity, 11: 7.doi:10.1186/1479-5868-11-7
  1. US Dept of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health. (2015). Uterine Fibroids Fact Sheet. Retrieved April 14, 2015, from http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/uterine-fibroids.html?from=AtoZ
  1. Heart Foundation. (2011). Sitting less for adults. Retrieved June 9, 2015, from http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/HW-PA-SittingLess-Adults.pdf
  1. Kravitz, L. (2011). American College of Sports Medicine. Reducing Sedentary Behaviors: Sitting Less and Moving More. Retrieved June 9, 2015, from https://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/reducing-sedentary-behaviors-sitting-less-and-moving-more.pdf

Can The Sunshine Vitamin Help Fight Fibroids?
By Alicia Armeli

VitaminDHumans have an innate relationship with the sun. Ancient civilizations worshipped it.1 Our 365-day calendar was created around it.2 And when bare skin is exposed to its ultra violet rays, the human body produces an essential nutrient—vitamin  D.3

Decades of studies have shown how vitamin D receptors are found in almost every cell of the body, influencing different levels of tissue and organ function.4 And now, emerging research is pinpointing how vitamin D, and more specifically sunlight exposure, may offer protection from chronic conditions like uterine fibroids.

Vitamin D, Sun Exposure, and Fibroids

A recent study published in Epidemiology5 evaluated 620 African American women and 416 Caucasian women, ages 35-49, in the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Uterine Fibroid Study.

Researchers determined participant vitamin D status by analyzing 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels (the precursor to active vitamin D) from collected blood samples. Ultrasound examinations were performed to establish the presence or absence of uterine fibroids. Additionally, data from a survey on self-reported sun exposure was gathered. Utilizing each piece of the puzzle, the authors then investigated whether vitamin D levels were associated with fibroid status in women.

Results of the study showed that women who had sufficient serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels, deemed as 20ng/mL or higher, had a 32% reduced risk of having fibroids when compared to those who had lower levels.  Additionally, those who reported at least one hour per day of sun exposure also had a reduced risk.

Further investigation is needed, but these findings are consistent with results from previous in vitro studies and animal studies where treatment with active vitamin D metabolites slowed the growth of cultured uterine fibroid tissue. The authors concluded that “the consistency of [the current] findings provide evidence that sufficient vitamin D is associated with a reduced risk of uterine fibroids.”

How Much Sun Do I Need?

Exact recommendations are not easy to make. Individuals make vitamin D at different rates due to factors like skin pigment, age, season, and location in proximity to the equator. The Vitamin D Council suggests, “The best recommendation is to get half the sun exposure it takes for your skin to turn pink.”6

If you aren’t able to get enough sun or if you’re concerned about skin damage, a vitamin D supplement is another viable option. There are vitamin D food sources like fatty fish and egg yolks, but these foods probably won’t provide enough vitamin D. “Most foods that contain vitamin D only have small amounts,” the Vitamin D Council clarifies. “So it’s almost impossible to get what your body needs just from food.”6

The recommended daily allowance of vitamin D for adults 19-70 years of age is 600 IU. After 70, this amount increases to 800 IU.7 Although vitamin D shows promise and may naturally reduce the risk of fibroids, it’s still important to first discuss supplementation with your physician.

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. Encyclopædia Britannica. (2015). Aton, Egyptian God. Retrieved June 6, 2015, from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/41851/Aton
  1. Time and Date. (2015). The Gregorian Calendar. Retrieved June 5, 2015, from http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/gregorian-calendar.html
  1. Deluca, H. F. (2014). History of the discovery of vitamin D and its active metabolites. Bone Key Reports, 3(479). doi: 10.1038/bonekey.2013.213
  1. Pludowski, P., Holick, M. F., Pilz, S., Wagner, C. L., Hollis, B. W., Grant, W. B., Shoenfeld, Y., Lerchbaum, E., Llewellyn, D. J., Kienreich, K., & Soni, M. (2013). Vitamin D effects on musculoskeletal health, immunity, autoimmunity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, fertility, pregnancy, dementia and mortality—A review of recent evidence. Autoimmunity Reviews, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.autrev.2013.02.004
  1. Baird, D. D., Hill, M. C., Schectman, J. M., & Hollis, B. W. (2013). Vitamin d and the risk of uterine fibroids. Epidemiology, 24(3):447-53. doi:10.1097/EDE.0b013e31828acca0
  1. Vitamin D Council. (2015). How do I get the vitamin D my body needs? Retrieved June 8, 2015, from http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/about-vitamin-d/how-do-i-get-the-vitamin-d-my-body-needs/#
  1. National Institutes of Health. (2014). Vitamin D, Fact Sheet For Health Professionals. Retrieved June 8, 2015, from http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/
The Body’s Second Brain: How Your Gut Could Be Affecting Your Mood
By Alicia Armeli

SecondBrainWhen was the last time you trusted your gut? Or just had that gut feeling about someone? Perhaps had butterflies in your stomach? Even before we had scientific proof of a link existing between the brain and gut, we had common sayings like these to express this phenomenon. With stressful situations becoming an accepted part of everyday life, we often don’t stop to ask: Could what’s happening in my gut be responsible for my mood?

The Brain-Gut Axis

The brain is responsible for communicating with every part of the body through an intricate network of neurons and nerve fibers. But when it comes to the gut, it’s a two-way street.

Comprised of 100 million neurons, 1 hormone-secreting cells, and neurotransmitter-releasing microbes, the gut is often referred to as the body’s second brain. “It has its own sensory system so it can detect what’s going on within the gut. It has a motor system to control how it functions and it has an integrative system to understand these signals and decide the most important thing to do,” explains Dr. Lisa Goehler PhD, Research Faculty at the University of Virginia School of Nursing. “This enables the gut to act independently of the brain.”

The gut is responsible for relaying primal messages to the brain such as pain signals as well as hunger and satiety cues, but it takes it a step further. Signals from the gut can communicate emotions as well. “The places where emotions are processed in the brain are the same places that process signals from the body, especially from the gut,” says Dr. Goehler.

Mood and the Gut

This bidirectional communication is crucial for digestion and mood balance but can be disrupted when the body is chronically stressed. When this occurs, the body can respond in ways such as anxiety and depression.2, 3 According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, nearly 40 million adults in the US are affected with anxiety and it’s common for those with anxiety to also experience depression.4

“When experiencing stress, especially chronic stress, the body knows something isn’t right. Reactions to stress can be anxiety or depression. The body responds by elevating stress hormones—like cortisol,” Dr. Goehler explains. “Cortisol has negative effects on gut tissues, especially the gut barrier, because it can downregulate the proteins that control gut barrier permeability—this can lead to ‘leaky gut.'”

Although still in its infancy, research regarding leaky gut may point to a problem in the small intestine where the majority of nutrients are absorbed through tiny openings in its lining. A healthy small intestine prides itself on having the “Goldilocks” of semi-permeability—it absorbs into the bloodstream what’s needed, like nutrients, while simultaneously blocking what’s not, like large undigested food particles. This results in a systemic “just-right” balance.

In leaky gut, the small intestine loses its semi-permeability thereby transferring unwanted particles into circulation. Particles passing through the gut lining can resemble the body’s own natural antigens and initiate a heightened immune reaction that can result in tissue damage.5 For this reason, some studies have linked leaky gut with conditions such as autoimmune diseases, joint pain, and digestive illnesses.6

New research may even connect leaky gut to mood disorders like depression. When intestinal lining loses its integrity, gut bacteria products like lipopolysaccaharides can enter into the bloodstream. In depression, heightened immune responses targeting bacterial lipopolysaccharides have been seen. This may be an important piece of the puzzle because certain bacterial products are capable of entering circulation and can have harmful effects on the nervous system.7 It’s important to remember, however, that correlation doesn’t imply causation. More studies are needed to confirm the existence of leaky gut as well as a direct link between this condition and mood disorders.

How brain and gut health are intertwined isn’t as simple as the proverbial chicken or egg question—which disorder, mood or gut, happened first and set the other into motion is still unclear. “It can go both ways,” says Dr. Goehler. “You can start out with general anxiety that causes inflammation in your gut that can then drive more anxiety. Or you can start with a ‘bottom-up stress’ like leaky gut that can cause dysbiosis [gut bacterial imbalance] and lead to unexplained anxiety.” Because of this, therapeutic options must involve care for both the gut and the mind.

Healing the Gut

Ensuring gut bacteria are healthy is a wise place to start. Gut bacteria not only have the ability to regulate gut permeability8 but also can activate the vagus nerve9—which could possibly be key in treatment. The vagus nerve serves as a channel between the brain and gut and studies show activating this pathway can reduce both inflammation and depression.10 Eating probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, miso, tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir can help boost levels of good bacteria, decrease inflammation and get the gut lining back on track.

Another type of available treatment is glutamine, or L-glutamine. Glutamine is a type of amino acid with antioxidant properties that serves as the preferred fuel source for cells lining the intestinal wall. In supplement form, it has been shown to increase gut barrier integrity and function11 and because of this, may start to heal the gut lining.

Processed fried foods high in sugar and fat may play a role in producing elevated immune responses and inflammation in the gut.11 Switching them out for nutrient-rich anti-inflammatory foods such as coldwater fish rich in omega 3’s may help to keep systemic inflammation at bay. Research has shed light on particular phytonutrients such as quercetin—an antioxidant seen to boost gut integrity.8 Quercetin can be found in numerous fruits and vegetables like apples, berries and leafy greens. Spices like curcumin have been found to reduce gut inflammation.11 Trace minerals such as zinc may help maintain gut integrity8 and can be found in foods like seafood, seeds, and poultry.

Healing the Mind

Referring to stress in the mind as “top-down stress,” Dr. Goehler says eating a good diet is helpful but it can’t be the only form of treatment. “It’s important to treat the mind, too. Life is always going to have stress. If you don’t face it, it’s not going to go away and can lead to other chronic diseases.”

As mentioned, activating the vagus nerve can help. “Activating the vagus nerve rebalances things,” says Dr. Goehler—simply by doing something we do every day. What is she talking about? Breathing.

Particularly breathing deeply and slowly. According to Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, slowing breathing to about 5-6 breaths per minute triggers stretch receptors in the lungs that feed to the vagus nerve. This has been found to improve oxygen saturation, lower blood pressure, and reduce anxiety.12

Other techniques that encourage mind-body awareness are yoga and meditation. Often referred to as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) techniques, both yoga and meditation may incorporate deep breathing while also teaching individuals to observe situations and thoughts in a calm and accepting manner.  MBSR techniques have been shown to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety.13

Listen to Your Gut

“Really, it’s all about balance,” Dr. Goehler advises. “The body needs to be in a state where every tissue can do its job. The problem with chronic stress is sometimes it’s hard to just turn it off unless we start to focus on the things we can do consciously to release tension.” To regain whole mind-body balance, work with your physician and a registered dietitian to create an individualized treatment plan that works with your body’s natural healing process.

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. Carpenter, S. (2012). That gut feeling. American Psychological Association, 43(8): 50.
  2. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2015). Stress. Retrieved May 11, 2015, from http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/stress
  3. US National Library of Medicine. (2015). Stress. Retrieved May 11, 2015, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/stress.html
  4. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2015). Facts and Statistics. Retrieved May 10, 2015, from http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
  5. Grisanti, R. (2013). Leaky Gut, Food Intolerances, and Arthritis. The American Chiropractor, 35(11): 12-18.
  6. Odenwald, M. A., & Turner, J. R. (2013). Intestinal permeability defects: Is it time to treat? Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 11(9): 1075-1083. doi: 1016/j.cgh.2013.07.001
  7. Karakuła-Juchnowicz, H., Szachta, P., Opolska, A., Morylowska-Topolska, J., Gałe, M., Juchnowicz, D., Krukow, P., & Lasik, Z. (2015). The role of IgG hypersensitivity in the pathogenesis and therapy of depressive disorders. Nutritional Neuroscience, 0(0). doi:10.1179/1476830514Y.0000000158
  8. Ulluwishewa, D., Anderson, R. C., McNabb, W. C., Moughan, P. J., Wells, J. M., & Roy, N. C. (2011). Regulation of tight junction permeability by intestinal bacteria and dietary components. The Journal of Nutrition, 141(5): 769-776. doi: 10.3945/​jn.110.135657
  9. Forsythe, P., Bienenstock, J., & Kunze, W. A. (2014). Vagal pathways for microbiome-brain-gut axis communication. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, 817: 115-133. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4939-0897-4_5.
  10. Singh, J. P., Kandala, J., & Camm, A. J. (2014). Non-pharmacological modulation of the autonomic tone to treat heart failure. European Heart Journal, 35: 77–85. doi:10.1093/eurheartj/eht436
  11. Rapin, J. R., & Wiernsperger, N. (2010). Possible links between intestinal permeability and food processing: A potential therapeutic niche for glutamine. Clinics, 65(6): 635-643. doi:10.1590/S1807-59322010000600012
  12. Mason, H., Vandoni, M., deBarbieri, G., Codrons, E., Ugargol, V., & Bernardi, L. (2013). Cardiovascular and respiratory effect of yogic slow breathing in the yoga beginner: What is the best approach? Evidence-Based Complementary Alternative Medicine. 743504. doi: 1155/2013/743504
  13. Khoury, B., Sharma, M., Rush, S. E., & Fournier, C. (2015). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for healthy individuals: A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 78(6): 519-528. doi:1016/j.jpsychores.2015.03.009