Fibroids, benign growths in the uterus, are one of the most common gynecological health issues. According to American statistics, approximately 40-60% of women have fibroids by age 35; by age 50, up to 80% of women will have had uterine fibroids at some point in their life.
African-American women are significantly more likely to develop fibroids than Caucasian women. Early menarche, genetics and weight are other factors that increase the likelihood of developing fibroids.
Some people never know they have fibroids. In some cases, routine ultrasounds in pregnancy turn them up. Others experience heavy or prolonged menstrual bleeding, and/or feelings of fullness or pain. When fibroids are especially large, they may lead to constipation or urinary symptoms too.
The conventional medical approach is often a “watch and wait”, or no treatment. When fibroids are associated with bothersome symptoms, oral contraceptives or IUDs (intra-uterine devices) may be prescribed.
Although time and menopause often resolve fibroids on their own, there are lots of naturopathic options for helping to shrink existing fibroids and prevent future growth. Here are my top five:
Regular exercise helps to increase circulation and metabolism overall. Plus, there is ample evidence showing that people with more physical activity are less likely to develop fibroids that those who do little physical activity. Dance, yoga, hiking, swimming, running, do anything to get your body moving.
Research has shown that black women are at lower risk of developing fibroids if they have a diet high in fruits and/or vitamin A sources compared to those who ate very few fruits or vitamin A sources. Other studies have found an association between fibroids, low intake of green vegetables and vitamin D deficiency. As with many other health issues, the main takeaway is to eat more plants.
Increasing phytoestrogenic foods such as soy, which act as hormonal regulators, has not been shown in studies to prevent fibroids but may also be helpful. Bitter foods such as leafy greens and lemon help to stimulate liver function, while high fibre foods like ground flax and chia help ensure optimal digestion and hormone metabolism.
3. Castor oil packs and self-massage
Regular castor oil packs along with gentle abdominal self-massage, are an easy way to connect with yourself, nurture your health, and improve circulation and digestion as part of an overall approach to fibroids. Topical castor oil has also been shown to improve immune function, which may help to limit further growth of fibroids too.
Herbs can be used to resolve heavy bleeding and encourage the metabolism of estrogen through the liver. Traditionally, astringent herbs such as cinnamon, yarrow, geranium, and shepherd’s purse have been used to decrease excessive bleeding, or menorrhagia. Herbs like black cohosh and chaste tree have been used to balance hormones involved in fibroid growth. Anti-inflammatory and anti-tumour herbs such as curcumin, an extract from turmeric, and EGCG, an extract from green tea, have also shown some potential benefit in shrinking fibroids.
5. Move stuck energy
Acupuncture, along with herbal medicine, has long been part of the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) approach to resolving fibroids. In ancient texts and in modern day TCM theory, fibroids are understood as accumulation or stagnations of Qi, phlegm, and/or blood. Acupuncture treatment is directed at moving stagnant energy and blood, increasing circulation, and reducing fibroid-related symptoms. Arvigo, or Mayan, abdominal massage may also be helpful to improve blood flow and increase overall pelvic health.
Moving stuck energy may also be relevant as part of a mindbody approach to fibroids. According to both TCM and Ayurvedic theory, stagnation may occur from suppressed emotions, anger in particular, along with lack of exercise and poor diet. This suppressed energy then collects, proliferates, and forms a mass or tumour. From an energetic perspective related to the chakras, fibroids may represent unexpressed creativity or ideas that are not given the space to come alive. Fibroids may also represent unaddressed conflicts in other types of reproductions or relationships. Another theme that may be relevant is the unfulfilled need to be held, or a need to fill a void, for example as a result of a mother-daughter disconnection.
Overall, any treatment for fibroids should work on addressing both physical and mental-emotional factors. Eating well, regular exercise, self-care, herbal support, acknowledging emotions and needs, as well as supporting creative power may all have a role in any treatment plan.
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