As if we need one more reason to eat healthy, a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition1 found that long-term high glycemic diets might put women at greater risk for developing uterine fibroids.
Using questionnaires, Rose G. Radin, PhD, MPH, and a team of researchers from the Slone Epidemiology Center at Boston University in Boston, Mass. and the Department of Biostatistics & Epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia, Pa. gathered information from over 21,000 premenopausal women between 1997 and 2007 who were enrolled in the Black Women’s Health Study.
During the follow-up, the authors of the study found 5,800 cases of physician-diagnosed uterine fibroids. It was further discovered that women who had higher glycemic diets were more likely to be at risk for fibroids—particularly college-educated women and those younger than 35.
To accomplish this, Radin and her team used glycemic index and glycemic load—both dietary tools that help measure the potential effect carb-containing foods have on raising blood sugar.
Foods with a higher glycemic index or glycemic load (i.e., white rice, white bread, processed cereals, soda pop and sugary desserts) are common sources of simple carbs that the body quickly absorbs, resulting in a spike in blood sugar.
When this happens, the body releases insulin to help absorb the sugar, causing blood sugar levels to fall. Frequently eating these foods over time, however, could result in prolonged high blood sugar and insulin levels—as seen with insulin resistance. In this state, the body “resists” insulin and no longer responds to its effects.
What does this have to do with fibroids?
When this occurs, Radin and her team explained, increased levels of insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I), a type of growth protein in the body found circulating in the blood, could encourage fibroid cells to multiply, as seen in laboratory studies. IGF-I genes have also been seen expressed at higher levels in fibroid cells in comparison to normal cells found in the uterine wall.
High insulin also correlates with increased levels of circulating estrogen sex hormones, the authors mentioned. Heightened sex hormone levels could affect hormone-driven tumors like fibroids.
Whether high glycemic diets are truly connected to fibroid risk is still unclear. Since this is the first and only study so far that focuses on this facet of women’s health, more research is needed to confirm these findings.
Regardless of existing fibroid-related theories, studies2 show that lower glycemic diets could have other health benefits like fighting inflammation that leads to chronic disease.
Lower glycemic foods include:3,4
- Dried beans and legumes
- Non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens
- Some starchy vegetables like yams
- Unsweetened dairy products
- Most fruits
- Various whole grains like pearled barley and quinoa
- Meats and fats aren’t significant sources of carbs and therefore don’t have glycemic values to consider.
Until more literature is published in this area, focusing on a lower glycemic diet could be worth a try and might help in long-term fibroid prevention.
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.
- Radin, R. G., Palmer, J. R., Rosenberg, L., Kumanyika, S. K., & Wise, L. A. (2010). Dietary glycemic index and load in relation to risk of uterine leiomyomata in the Black Women’s Health Study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 91(5): 1281-1288. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.28698
- Goletzke, J., Buyken, A. E., Joslowski, G., Bolzenius, K., Remer, T., Carstensen, M., Egert, S., Nothlings, U., Rathmann, W., Roden, M., & Herder, C. (2014). Increased intake of carbohydrates from sources with a higher glycemic index and lower consumption of whole grains during puberty are prospectively associated with higher IL-6 concentrations in younger adulthood among healthy individuals. Journal of Nutrition, 144(10): 1586-1593. doi: 10.3945/jn.114.193391
- Harvard Medical School. (2015). Harvard Health Publications: Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load for 100+ Foods. Retrieved May 2, 2016, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/glycemic_index_and_glycemic_load_for_100_foods
- American Diabetes Association. (2014). Glycemic Index and Diabetes. Retrieved May 2, 2016, from http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/understanding-carbohydrates/glycemic-index-and-diabetes.html