Fibroids, Your Thyroid, and Food—What’s the Connection?
Alicia Armeli

thyroid

Thyroid disorders occur more frequently in women, with one in eight developing a thyroid disorder in her lifetime.1 Researchers at the Medical University of Vienna found that hypothyroidism, also known as underactive thyroid, could be linked to another common condition—uterine fibroids.

The Austrian retrospective study conducted by Walch et al. included 215 women who had undergone hysterectomy between January 2007 and January 2011.2 All uterine fibroids initially detected by ultrasound were verified during surgery.

Results published in the European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology found that 51 women (23.7%) were found to have fibroids.2  The authors noted that common factors like African American ethnicity and increasing age were associated with fibroid risk. But upon further analysis, they found an additional factor that hasn’t been so steadily researched—hypothyroidism.

Women with hypothyroidism were seen to be three times more likely to have fibroids, especially larger fibroids, in comparison to women without hypothyroidism.2  Given these findings, Walch and her team concluded that hypothyroidism could be linked to fibroids.

Uterine fibroids—a type of noncancerous tumor that grows in the uterine wall—are believed to affect most American women. According to some research, 70% of white women and 80% of black women have fibroids by the time they reach 50.3 In many women, fibroids are asymptomatic. But for others, they can be the cause of heavy painful periods, pelvic pressure, and infertility.

Factors that increase the risk of fibroids include African American ethnicity and age—as Walch and her team verified—as well as family history and obesity.4 Although factors like these may have a genetic component, some research points to controllable factors like dietary habits that could influence fibroid risk. It’s suggested that a diet heavy in green vegetables may protect women from developing fibroids.4

And yet, many of the same greens that are recommended to prevent fibroids are the same ones that can slow down thyroid function. For example, cruciferous vegetables—think broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, etc.—have naturally occurring substances called goitrin. Goitrin can interfere with the production of thyroid hormones, but is found mainly to be a concern only when paired with iodine deficiency.5

Should these healthy foods be avoided?

If you have hypothyroidism, cruciferous vegetables don’t need to be dismissed entirely from your favorite food list but may need to be limited and should be cooked before eaten. Cooking methods such as steaming or microwaving can partially neutralize goitrin, reducing its effects.5 Recruiting the help of your doctor and a dietitian can help you find the right balance and also make you more familiar with potential food-medication interactions.

Developing fibroids and hypothyroidism may be unavoidable. But learning more about your risk, as well as related health and lifestyle factors, can help you regain control.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR   Alicia Armeli is a Health Freelance Writer, 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.

REFERENCES

  1. American Thyroid Association. (2016). General Information/Press Room. Retrieved October 25, 2016, from http://www.thyroid.org/media-main/about-hypothyroidism/
  1. Ott, J., Kurz, C., Braun, R., Promberger, R., Seemann, R., Vytiska-Binstorfer, E., & Walch, K. (2014). Overt hypothyroidism is associated with the presence of uterine leiomyoma: a retrospective analysis. European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, 177: 19-22. doi: 10.1016/j.ejogrb.2014.03.003. http://www.ejog.org/article/S0301-2115(14)00135-3/abstract
  1. US Department of Health and Human Services. (2013). Uterine Fibroids. Retrieved October 26, 2016, from https://report.nih.gov/nihfactsheets/viewfactsheet.aspx?csid=50
  1. Office On Women’s Health, US Department of Health and Human Services. (2015). Uterine Fibroid Fact Sheet. Retrieved October 26, 2015, from https://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/uterine-fibroids.html
  1. Harris, C. (2012). Thyroid Disease and Diet—Nutrition Plays a Part in Maintaining Thyroid Health. Today’s Dietitian, 14(7): 40. Retrieved October 26, 2016, from http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/070112p40.shtml