Nearly 35% of all US adults have metabolic syndrome, also known as syndrome X—a condition made up of different cardiovascular disease risk factors that collectively increase the likelihood of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.1 And according to a recent British and Finnish study, metabolic syndrome could also increase the risk of uterine fibroids.2
Fibroids are common noncancerous tumors that grow in the wall of the uterus. Exceedingly common, they affect up to 80 percent of women by age 50 and can cause heavy painful periods, pelvic pressure, frequent urination, and infertility.3
To better understand underlying causes of fibroids, researchers at the University of Oxford and the University of Oulu, used health data from over 3000 women who participated in The Northern Finland Birth Cohort—a population-based prospective study that included all individuals born in 1966 in the Northern Finland area. All women included in the study underwent extensive clinical health exams at age 46 and completed health questionnaires by mail.
The results were presented earlier this year at the 32nd Annual European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Helsinki, Finland, and showed that as triglyceride and LDL cholesterol (often referred to as the “bad” cholesterol”) levels rose, so did the risk of fibroids. The authors also noticed that fibroid risk climbed with each centimeter of expanding waistline. High triglyceride levels and a large waistline are both recognized criteria of metabolic syndrome.
Other signs of metabolic syndrome include high blood pressure, high fasting blood sugar levels, and low HDL cholesterol (often referred to as the “good” cholesterol). A person must have at least three co-occurring risk factors to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.
Although LDL cholesterol isn’t listed as a sign of metabolic syndrome, in this study it was connected to fibroid risk. It’s also linked to heart disease. LDL cholesterol contributes to the plaque that sticks to and hardens artery walls—a condition known as atherosclerosis that disproportionately affects women with fibroids.4,5
Studies have shown that—in comparison to women who are fibroid-free—women with fibroids have thicker arteries and low HDL cholesterol levels.5 HDL cholesterol helps remove LDL cholesterol from arteries. In addition to changes in artery thickness, low HDL cholesterol levels increase the risk of atherosclerosis.5
Uncontrollable factors like age and genetics impact cholesterol levels and can contribute to developing metabolic syndrome.6,7 However, we also know these conditions are tightly associated with being overweight and physical inactivity—factors that are also linked with an increased risk of uterine fibroids.3,6,8,9
New findings in the field of fibroids and metabolic disease offer researchers a unique reciprocity of valuable information. In hopes of finding a cure, data surrounding metabolic risk factors can be used to better understand the underlying causes of fibroids. At the same time, these risk factors can be used as a tool to detect and prevent chronic conditions, like heart disease, among high-risk populations.
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.
- American Medical Association. (2015). Study Finds High Prevalence of Metabolic Syndrome in U.S. Retrieved September 25, 2016, from http://media.jamanetwork.com/news-item/study-finds-high-prevalence-of-metabolic-syndrome-in-u-s/
- Unavadis. (2016). Lipids and metabolic syndrome associated with increased risk of uterine fibroids—European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology Conference Essentials. Retrieved September 25, 2016, from http://www.univadis.com/viewarticle/lipids-and-metabolic-syndrome-associated-with-increased-risk-of-uterine-fibroids-eshre-421519
- Office on Women’s Health, US Department of Health and Human Services. (2015). Uterine Fibroids Fact Sheet. Retrieved September 26, 2016, from http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/uterine-fibroids.html
- American Heart Association. (2014). Good vs. Bad Cholesterol. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/AboutCholesterol/Good-vs-Bad-Cholesterol_UCM_305561_Article.jsp#.V-qYnccuL0g
- Aksoy, Y., Sivri, N., Karaoz, B., Sayin, C., & Yetkin, E. (2014). Carotid intima-media thickness: a new marker of patients with uterine leiomyoma. European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, 175: 54-57. doi:10.1016/j.ejogrb.2014.01.005
- National Institutes of Health—Medline Plus. (2012). Cholesterol Levels: What You Need to Know. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from https://medlineplus.gov/magazine/issues/summer12/articles/summer12pg6-7.html
- Mayo Clinic. (2016). Metabolic Syndrome: Symptoms and Causes. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/metabolic-syndrome/symptoms-causes/dxc-20197520
- US Department of Health and Human Services, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2016). What Is Metabolic Syndrome? http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/ms
- 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