Part of being a woman is knowing your body. You want the right information so you can make informed decisions about your health. For many women, uterine fibroids are a common concern. But who actually gets uterine fibroids? This is a valid question and although many believe there’s a direct answer, it isn’t as cut and dry as we may think.
The truth is, women from all walks of life can get uterine fibroids. And if you already have them, you’re not alone. Uterine fibroids are exceedingly common. Current statistics show that 30% of women will develop fibroids by the time they are 35 years of age. This number increases to 70-80% by age 50.1
Despite the gravity of these statistics, there are definite risk factors associated with developing uterine fibroids.
Uterine fibroids are most common among women during their reproductive years. According to the International Journal of Women’s Health,2 an estimated 20-40% of women in their reproductive years experience fibroids. Yet, the cause of fibroids is still not fully understood. Since fibroids are atypical before menarche and the incidence declines after menopause, it’s quite possible they’re hormone related.
In the case of uterine fibroids, there’s no denying our genes. A hereditary component does exist as fibroids are commonly seen to “run in the family.” First-degree relatives (i.e., mothers, daughters, and siblings) of women with uterine fibroids are approximately two times more at risk for developing them as well.3
To date, one predisposing hereditary genetic factor has been pinpointed—a DNA mutation that codes for the enzyme fumarate hydratase.3,4 If you observe uterine fibroids to be a common occurrence in your family, it’s important to talk to your doctor about the possibility of genetic screening to rule out other health complications.
As a risk factor, the matter of ethnicity has given the medical community pause. African American women are found to have a much higher prevalence and severity as well as an earlier onset of the disease in comparison to other ethnicities. Several studies have shown that African American women are three times more likely to have uterine fibroids in comparison to Caucasian women.5
More than one-third of adults in the United States are obese.6 Although not broadcasted as frequently as other obesity-related conditions, uterine fibroids do seem to be linked to obesity.
Last year, a study published in the Journal of Women’s Health analyzed the health records of 826 Chinese women to see if any relationship existed between uterine fibroids, body size, and fat distribution. At the end of the study, results showed that as women carried excess weight, particularly in the mid-section, the incidence of uterine fibroids increased.7 This suggests that a relationship does in fact exist and that achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight may help to decrease the risk of uterine fibroids.
Nutrition & Eating Habits
A crucial component of reaching and maintaining a healthy body weight is indeed nutrition. However, it may do more than help your waistline. It can also reduce your risk of uterine fibroids.
Nutritional factors, such as vitamin deficiencies, have been linked to uterine fibroids. For example, lower Vitamin D levels correlate to an increased risk. That being said, this may be a promising opportunity in the realm of natural treatment options. Studies have shown that black and white women with sufficient Vitamin D levels showed a reduced incidence of fibroids by 30%.8
On the other hand, eating a varied healthy diet full of whole foods can prove beneficial. Dietary trends such as consuming four or more dairy products per day and increasing fruit and vegetable intake have been associated with a decreased risk.8 Some research shows that eating whole soy foods tend to have anti-estrogenic effects when estrogen levels are too high. Thus, intake is thought to possibly reduce fibroid risk.2
Living with Fibroids
Sometimes uterine fibroids are asymptomatic. Therefore, it’s important to get routine exams. If you suffer from or believe you may have uterine fibroids, work with your doctor and a Registered Dietitian to create a treatment plan that is tailored for you and your body. Although some of the risk factors discussed are out of our control, others are right within our reach.
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.
- National Women’s Health Network. (2013). Uterine Fibroids Fact Sheets. Retrieved March 30, 2015, from https://nwhn.org/fibroids
- 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
- Tolvanen, J., Uimari, O., Ryynanen, M., Aaltonen, L. A., & Vahteristo, P. (2012). Strong family history of uterine leiomyomatosis warrants fumarate hydratase mutation screening. Human Reproduction, 27(6): 1865-1869. doi: 10.1093/humrep/des105
- Collgros, H., Iglesias-Sancho, M., Tribo-Boixareu, M. J., Creus-Vila, L., Umbert-Millet, P., & Salleras-Redonnet, M. (2015). Multiple Cutaneous and Uterine Leiomyomatosis or Reed Syndrome: A Retrospective Study of 13 Cases. Actas Dermo-Sifiliograficas, 106(2): 117-125. doi: 10.1016/j.ad.2014.08.005
- Richard-Davis, G. (2013). Uterine fibroid: the burden borne by African American women. Journal of Women’s Health, 22(10): 793-794. DOI: 10.1089/jwh.2013.4597
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Adult Obesity Facts. Retrieved March 30, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html
- Yang, Y., Yuan, H., Qiang, Z., & Shuzhang, L. (2014). Association of body size and body fat distribution with uterine fibroids among Chinese women. Journal of Women’s Health, 23(7): 619-626. doi:10.1089/jwh.2013.4690
- Segars, J. H., Parrott, E. C., Nagel, J. D., Guo, C., Gao, X., Birnbaum, L. S., Pinn, V. W., & Dixon, D. (2014). Proceedings from the Third National Institutes of Health International Congress on advances in uterine leiomyoma. Human Reproduction Update, 0(0): 1-25. doi:10.1093/humupd/dmt058