After being diagnosed with uterine fibroids women often hear or read about the dependence of these benign tumors and hormones. Fibroids and estrogen: what is the relationship between them? And how can this knowledge help in preventing/curtailing symptoms from the fibroids?
Fibroids can cause many problems for women which worsen their quality of life. Long, heavy, and painful menstruation, uterine bleeding can contribute to the development of anemia; hemoglobin levels drop, weakness takes over, fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, decreased performance, loss of appetite, and many other symptoms become apparent. Large fibroids can lead to significant pelvic pain and/or pressure and impaired functions of neighboring organs (exs. bladder, bowel) as well and even affect fertility. Frequent urination, waking multiple times at night to urinate, leaking urine, constipation and/or painful bowel movements, painful sex, all are possible symptoms with fibroids.
Fibroids and Estrogen: Does This Hormone Cause Uterine Fibroids to Grow?
While no one knows where fibroids come from, it has been shown that they are sensitive to hormones; notably estrogen and progesterone. An imbalance of these hormones can seriously affect women’s health. Each of these hormones is directly related to the development of reproductive organs, so it is extremely important to maintain their balance to ensure a productive and healthy life.
It is also true that changes in estrogen and progesterone levels can affect fibroid growth. These are the two most important hormones in the female body that are produced by the ovaries. They are vital for normal reproductive development and fertility.
- Estrogen, a steroid hormone, carries physiological messages to the uterus to grow and replace the lining that is shed during menses.
- Progesterone helps regulate menstruation, prepares the body for pregnancy, and aids in nourishing uterine environment to support implantation of fertilized egg as well as growth of the placenta.
When estrogen levels are too high, this can lead to the growth of fibroid tumors, and with insufficient progesterone, the body has no way to stop this growth. Progesterone not only limits the effect of estrogen on fibroids but can also inhibit the growth and decrease the size of fibroids in some cases.
Sometimes, with elevated estrogen, hormone therapy with progesterone can help stop the pain and growth of fibroids. However, it is intended only to relieve the symptoms and stop fibroid growth temporarily. This will not cure fibroids but only slow their development. However, with progesterone therapy, many women experience side effects ranging from weight gain to insomnia and fatigue. Because of this, progesterone therapy is recommended as a temporary solution before the proper treatment of fibroids.
Hormonal treatment of fibroids is generally more effective in women with small fibroids and is less likely to be successful in women with multiple or large fibroids. If you are currently looking for an effective fibroid treatment, progesterone therapy usually is not enough.
In addition to hormonal therapy, estrogen levels (and the growth of fibroids to a degree) can be controlled through a low-estrogen diet. There are foods that should be limited or excluded from your diet like margarine, butter mixes, butter; fatty meats (and processed meats); smoked products; hard cheeses with a high percentage of fat, processed cheeses, sausage cheeses; muffins and pastries (and other white flour products); sweets, including ice creams, cakes, fudge, sodas, and other sugary foods. While overall alcohol consumption should be limited, red wine in moderation is actually beneficial. This is due to flavonoids in red wine which block estrogen production (as an aside, these compounds are also founds in colored fruits and vegetables and dark chocolate). Green tea extract (EGCG) has also been shown to help with fibroid symptoms by reducing fibroid size.
In addition, proper nutrition can increase progesterone levels. Vegetable fats are needed to produce progesterone: avocados, coconut oil, olives, red peppers, raspberries, nuts; products containing vitamin P and ascorutin like citrus fruits, black currant; beta carotene rich foods. Eggs, poultry, poultry, and fish are also beneficial. For cooking, use turmeric, a mixture of curry, thyme, and oregano.
Treatment Options for Uterine Fibroids
Today there are several ways to treat fibroids that allow a woman to keep her uterus. One of them is myomectomy, a surgery to remove a percentage of the fibroid tumors. However, after this procedure, there are typically a number of living fibroids still inside the uterus. These fibroids will ultimately grow, and therefore, within 5 years over half of the women treated with myomectomy will need another procedure (over 1/3 of them within 3 yrs.). Also, every woman that intends to undergo a myomectomy has to sign a waiver/release stating she’s aware that she may wake up without her uterus.
The safer, less invasive, and more effective fibroid treatment option is uterine fibroid embolization (UFE). During this 30-40 minute nonsurgical procedure, small particles are introduced into the blood vessels that supply all of the fibroid tumors. Without a blood supply, all of the fibroids will start to die off. The death of all of the fibroids, causes them to soften and shrink, and as this occurs, the woman’s symptoms start to disappear. The death of all of the fibroids also means that for the vast majority of women that undergo UFE, it is the only procedure they will ever need (i.e. “one and done” unlike surgical myomectomy). This option is ideal for women that want to avoid the risks and long recovery of surgery and even a consideration for women who want to maintain their fertility.