Eating more dairy may reduce your fibroid risk.1 If you’re a woman with uterine fibroids—a type of noncancerous growth found in the wall of the uterus—you may be familiar with this piece of medical advice. But before you add milk to your grocery list, there may be something standing between you and the dairy aisle: lactose intolerance.
If you’re lactose intolerant, your body has a hard time digesting lactose—a type of sugar naturally found in dairy products. Eating or drinking dairy products (or foods made with dairy) can lead to uncomfortable symptoms like stomach cramps, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and bouts of nausea.
Studies show that more than one out of five Caucasians, over half of the Hispanic population, 70-90% of individuals of African descent, and 80-100% of Asian people are lactose intolerant.2 For these women, eating dairy can seem impossible—even though these are groups who may need this fibroid-fighting food the most. Some data indicates that nearly 70% of White women and more than 80% of Black women will develop fibroids by the time they reach 50.3 Although findings differ, Asian women may have similar fibroid rates as White women.4 In comparison to White women, some research estimates Hispanic women to have over twice the fibroid risk, whereas other studies estimate lower.4,5 Not all women experience fibroid symptoms, but for those who do, heavy periods, pelvic pain and pressure, and urinary incontinence can encroach on everyday life.
Given the gravity of these statistics, it’s time for the conversation to change. In addition to encouraging women with fibroids to increase their dairy intake, we also need to talk about fibroid-friendly, healthy alternatives, so as to include a large number of women who are lactose intolerant.
Dairy is believed to be protective against fibroids, in part, because of its calcium content.1 Nut milks such as almond milk, macadamia milk, and pecan milk are healthy alternatives to cow’s milk because they’re fortified with calcium, often with a content much higher than dairy. Other plant milks such as hemp seed milk can be a great option, as it also contains omega-3 fatty acids, a natural anti-inflammatory agent.
Although still cow’s milk, lactose-free milk has an enzyme called lactase added to it while it’s processed, helping to breakdown lactose. Manufacturers then test for lactose content before products end up on store shelves. Keep in mind lactose-free labeling can’t guarantee that a product has no lactose.5 There aren’t federal regulations tracking lactose-free labeling, so manufacturers can set their own “lactose-free” thresholds.6
Some dairy foods may be easier to digest for people with lactose intolerance, and yogurt is one of them. But for those who can’t, plant yogurts are an exciting new group of dairy alternatives to try. Made from coconut to flax seed to pea protein, these yogurts are a girl’s best friend. Fortified with calcium, switching over to plant yogurts will still help you consume this essential mineral. Some plant yogurts also contain vitamin D—another nutrient believed to reduce fibroid risk.
Fruits and Vegetables
We know what you’re thinking. Fruits and vegetables as a dairy alternative? YES.
Milk fat contains butyric acid, a type of fatty acid found in dairy products like butter. Butyric acid is thought to slow the replication of tumor cells and may be protective against fibroids.1 Fortunate for lactose intolerant ladies, our bodies can produce butyric acid in our intestines, given we eat a balanced whole foods diet packed with probiotics (yogurt!) and fiber to help nourish our gut bacteria.7
Instead of butter, try sautéing your veggies with olive oil. Rich in monounsaturated fats, olive oil is a heart-healthy alternative to butter, which is important for women with fibroids. Studies show women with fibroids may be at an increased risk for heart disease, so making small changes like switching to healthier alternatives could help make a difference.
Summer is just around the corner, and if you live in the northern hemisphere that means sweltering heat that demands ice cream. Fruit sorbets can stand in as a cool treat. Store-bought sorbets may not be the best option, as they can be loaded with sugar and fake flavorings. But making your own at home can be fun, quick, and easy and will contain all that fruity fiber goodness as well as other beneficial nutrients.
Helpful Tips When Going Lactose-Free
1. Pass on soy (for now). Soy contains phytoestrogens, and it’s still unclear how soy impacts fibroid growth.
2. Steer clear of hidden sugars. Go for products that are labeled “unsweetened.” Try sweetening your yogurt naturally with fresh fruit.
3. Read ingredients. Make sure your lactose-free goodies are fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
4. Make your own plant milks and yogurts. These won’t offer the benefit of calcium and vitamin D fortification, so make sure you’re getting these nutrients in other ways.
5. Don’t give up! Not all lactose-free foods will please your palate. Try different products to see which ones you like best.
Dairy products can be a fibroid-friendly food—if you can digest it. For those who can’t, going lactose-free doesn’t have to mean giving up dairy’s potential fibroid-fighting benefits. Incorporating lactose-free foods as part of a well-balanced whole foods diet can help you get these nutrients and more—minus the digestive discomfort.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Alicia Armeli is a freelance writer and editor, 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. She is a paid consultant of Merit Medical.
1. Wise, L. A., Radin, R. G., Palmer, J. R., et al. (2010). A prospective study of dairy intake and risk of uterine leiomyomata. Am J Epidemiol, Jan 15;171(2):221-232.
2. ProCon. (2010, Feb 23). Lactose Intolerance by Ethnicity and Region. Retrieved from https://milk.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000661
3. Baird, D. D., Dunson, D. B., Hill, M. C., et al. (2003). High cumulative incidence of uterine leiomyoma in black and white women: Ultrasound evidence. Am J Obstet Gynecol, Jan;188(1):100-7.
4. Chibber, S., Mendoza, G., Cohen, L., et al. (2016). Racial and ethnic differences in uterine fibroid prevalence in a diverse cohort of young asymptomatic women. Fertil Steril, Sep;106(3):Supplement,e97.
5. Othman, E. E., & Al-Hendy, A. (2008). Molecular genetics and racial disparities of uterine leiomyomas. Best Pract Res Clin Obstet Gynaecol, Aug;22(4):589-601.
6. Organic Valley. (2018). How do we eliminate lactose from Organic Valley Lactose Free Milk and Organic Valley Lactose Free Half & Half. Retrieved from http://organicvalley.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/201/~/how-do-we-eliminate-lactose-from-organic-valley-lactose-free-milk-and-organic
7. Zaleski, A., Banaszkiewicz, A., & Walkowiak, J. (2013). Butyric acid in irritable bowel syndrome. Prz Gastroenterol, Dec 30;8(6):350-353.