Self-help Strategies for Women with Uterine Fibroids
Jan was a 35 year old woman who came to see me because her periods were so heavy that she had been diagnosed with anemia. Carla was a 45 year old woman whose abdomen protruded so much that her friend had mistakenly thought she was pregnant. Lauren was a 39 year old woman who was having difficulty conceiving. What all these women had in common were uterine fibroids which are benign tumors of the uterus which can cause pelvic pain, abdominal swelling, abnormal uterine bleeding and infertility.
They are made of smooth muscle and fibrous tissue. They can be located either outside or inside the uterus. They range in size from a pea to a melon, but they are usually between the size of an orange and a grapefruit.
In my practice I see them very regularly which is not surprising as an estimated 20 – 30% of women aged between 35 and 50 suffer from fibroids making them the most common structural abnormality of the uterus. Some women have them and never know but for many women, such as the one’s described above, they do cause problems.
Herbs and acupuncture can help reduce the size of fibroids but in my experience are unlikely to make them magically disappear altogether. With this in mind its important to consult your GYN and use Chinese medicine as an adjunct to what she recommends. That having been said, I have had very good results using Chinese herbal formulas such as Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan to reduce the size and unpleasant side effects of uterine fibroids.
Fibroids grow in response to excess estrogen in the system which means that you need to reduce your exposure to external sources of estrogen and support your liver whose job it is to process estrogen for you. In Chinese medicine fibroids are related to blood stagnation and so promoting the circulation of blood in the pelvic area is recommended. There is often an emotional element to fibroids and it can be helpful to explore and address that. So when developing your self-help regimen you should focus on these areas.
- Limiting your exposure to eternal estrogens
- Supporting your liver
- Moving blood in the pelvic area.
- Exploring the emotions associated with your fibroids
Limiting Your Exposure to Exogenous Estrogens
Controlling how much estrogen you take in is difficult in our estrogen-laden environment. The problem is that chemical estrogens have ways of entering our food and water supply. Agricultural chemicals and pesticides mimic the activity of estrogen, provoking heightened estrogen receptivity on estrogen receptor sites. Urine, contaminated with high levels of residual estrogen from birth control pills, can seep back into water supplies through inadequate sewage treatment procedures. Plastic wrap can leach estrogen-like compounds into our food. Obviously, estrogen replacement therapy at menopause or the contraceptive pill can worsen uterine fibroids due to increased levels of circulating estrogen.
What to do:
- Many women find that adopting a low fat, high fiber, mostly vegetarian diet is helpful.
- If you are overweight, lose a few pounds – excess fat increases the amount of estrogen in your system.
- Avoid hormonally treated meat and dairy
- Eat as much organic produce as you can
- Avoid refined and hydrogenated oils
- Eat cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflour, kale and brussels sprouts. These contain a phytonutrient called diindolylmethane (DIM) which supports the activity of enzymes that improve estrogen metabolism. Scientific research shows diindolylmethane increases the level of “good” estrogens (2-hydroxyestrogen) while reducing the level of “bad” estrogens (16-hydroxyestrogen).
- Soy and soy products are a controversial issue. Many alternative practitioners suggest that phytoestrogens (from plants) bond with receptor sites in the body and stop the uptake of more harmful xeonestrogen (from chemicals). This theory makes sense intuitively but over the years I have seen enough women whose fibroids have grown under the influence of phytoestrogens in herbs and foods to suggest avoiding these foods especially processed soy products. Flax seeds, which are also phytoestrogens, seem to be much gentler and I have never seen them produce an adverse effect
2. Supporting your liver
One of your liver’s many jobs is to break down estrogens. It has a much harder time doing this if it is detoxifying all the other substances that it is expected to tackle on a daily basis.
What to do:
- Avoid alcohol.
- Avoid coffee.
- To stimulate the liver you can use lemon juice, and put bitter greens such as dandelion greens, endive and raddichio in your salad.
- You can take liver-supporting herbs including dandelion root, milk thistle, burdock, artichoke and turmeric.
- B vitamins also aid the liver and are recommended. They can be added in the form of whole foods (such as lentils, rice bran, and blackstrap molasses) or supplements. Vitamin B6, in particular, enhances the breakdown and removal of estrogen from the body.
- At the YinOva Center we sell a month long herbal detox made by Blessed Herbs which we find to be very helpful as part of a detoxification strategy .
- Flax seed oil improves liver function and although it contains phytoestrogens does not seem to cause the same problems as processed soy products.
3. Moving blood in the pelvic area.
In Chinese medicine impeded blood circulation in the pelvic area over time can lead to denser and denser tissue eventually resulting in fibroids.
What to do:
- Make sure to include omega 3 fatty acids in your diet which prevent abnormal blood clotting. You can do this by eating fatty fish and if you want to learn more about beneficial fats please see my blog entry on the subject.
- Apply a caster oil pack to the lower abdomen during the 5 days before your period and during the period itself. The only exception to this is if you are trying to get pregnant when you should only use the caster oil pack during your period. The pack invigorates the blood and helps the lymphatic system move debris. Apply caster oil to your abdomen, cover the area with plastic wrap them place a heating pack or hot water bottle on top. This should be warm not scalding. If it is too hot place a towel between the hot pack and the plastic wrap. Do this twice a day.
- Regular moderate exercise – helps improve circulation.
- Regular warm baths can be helpful especially if you add essential oils such as frankincense and lavender.
- Regular acupuncture can promote blood flow in the pelvic area and thus help reduce fibroids.
4. Exploring the emotions associated with your fibroids
Over the years I have noticed that women with certain emotional issues are more prone to fibroids. For instance women whose fibroids bleed profusely are often overwhelmed and unable to cope with their workload. Dr. Christiane Northrup says that fibroids represent creativity that was never birthed. She talks about dead-end jobs and relationships, and conflicts about reproduction and motherhood. Although not always the case I have noticed this enough to flag it up with my patients and urge them to address their overwhelming lives and explore areas where they feel unfulfilled.
What to do:
- Learn to meditate
- Take up yoga
- Hire a therapist or life coach and explore the ways in which you feel blocked
- Learn to say NO