By Michael A. Smith, MDfibroids affect 45% of aging women in the US. Fibroids are benign growths of muscle cells called myomas or leiomyomas. The development and progressive enlargement of a fibroid can cause great discomfort, heavy periods, infertility, and can even displace surrounding organs.
The traditional treatment is surgery. Women sometimes will have individual fibroids removed; however, in most cases they will have to undergo a complete hysterectomy — a removal of the entire uterus. In 2003, over 600,000 hysterectomies were performed in the United States, with over 90% of them for benign reasons like fibroids.1
A diagnosis of uterine fibroids doesn’t automatically mean a trip to a surgeon.
The Theory of Estrogen & Progesterone ImbalanceWhen women stop ovulating, progesterone concentration decreases dramatically. This creates an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone known as estrogen dominance. This imbalance between these two key hormones has been implicated in the development of uterine fibroids.
This theory has been tested in animal models. A group of researchers from China showed that when rats are injected with estrogen, they develop uterine fibroids. The authors concluded, “The uterine leiomyoma [fibroid] developed in the treated rats demonstrated similar features as in human uterine leiomyoma [development].”2
This theory is the basis for progesterone replacement, which is a topic that’s currently stirring a fair amount of controversy.
Progesterone Replacement — A Controversial ApproachA majority of the progesterone produced in women occurs after ovulation. A woman’s follicle, after releasing an egg, becomes the corpus luteum and begins to produce and release progesterone.
However, when a woman becomes premenopausal, she doesn’t always ovulate. This means that no egg is released, no corpus luteum is formed, and little progesterone is made. With lower levels of progesterone, estrogen can stimulate the uterine wall without the countering effects of progesterone—so the theory goes.
In line with this thinking, some doctors use progesterone to treat fibroids. They believe that it will reverse estrogen’s effects on fibroid development and growth. Various practitioners have reported excellent results regarding uterine fibroids and progesterone use.
But this is definitely a controversial approach. Just this year, a group of researchers from Northwestern University summarized the actions of steroid hormones on fibroid growth. Their research is zooming in on progesterone as the major culprit behind the disease.3
The bottom line is this: Women using progesterone should be closely monitored, and this approach definitely warrants more research.
Improving Estrogen Metabolism with Cruciferous Vegetables.When it comes to improving estrogen metabolism, the consensus is far more unified, since healthy estrogen metabolism is beneficial to all women. Cruciferous vegetables contain a compound called indole-3-carbinol (I3C). Research shows that I3C effectively increases 2-hydroxyestrone, a protective estrogen, while reducing undesirable 16-hydroxyestrone.4,5
For this reason, a healthy daily serving of cruciferous vegetables along with an I3C daily supplement will go a long way in promoting healthy estrogen metabolism.
Enhancing Liver Function to Protect Against FibroidsThe liver is the most active metabolic processing center in the body. Among the many vital metabolic functions assigned to the liver is detoxification, or excretion of hormones such as estrogen. The liver metabolizes estrogen so it can be eliminated from the body by converting it to estriol — which has a very limited ability to stimulate the uterus.
One powerful liver-supporting nutrient is milk thistle. Milk thistle is rich in polyphenols, which are plant-based antioxidants. There are two broad categories of polyphenols — silymarin and silybinin. These powerful antioxidants both offer protection by enhancing the liver’s metabolic functions.
When choosing a milk thistle product, pick one that’s standardized to 80% silymarin and 20% silybinin. This will help ensure that it’s effective at supporting your liver’s detox phases and overall function.
Another nutrient to consider is SAMe — S-adenosylmethionine. Supplementing with SAMe helps restore glutathione levels and allows your liver to protect itself from the onslaught of free radicals produced by toxins. For this reason, many liver experts are recommending SAMe these days as an area of increased study for humans with liver disease.6
Don’t Forget to Check Your ThyroidThyroid nodules are often seen in women with uterine fibroids. Some researchers theorize that both thyroid nodules and uterine fibroids are both caused by excess estrogen stimulation.7 Many doctors have noted that often their patients with fibroids also have thyroid nodules.
If you have fibroids, you should definitely consider a thorough thyroid exam and blood testing. If you want to proactively support thyroid function, here are the top supplements to consider:
- Iodine – 1 to 2 mg/day
- Tyrosine – 250 mg/day
- Selenium – 250 mcg/day
- Zinc – 30 to 80 mg/day
- Copper – 1 mg/day
- Vitamins E – 400 units/day
- Vitamin C – 200 mg/day
Talk with Your Doctor about Alternatives to Fibroid SurgeryA hysterectomy is an invasive surgery that could likely be avoided with early intervention. Before going under the knife, please have a frank discussion with your doctor about alternatives that we’ve outlined here.
If you’d like to read more on this topic, feel free to check out our Health Concerns report on fibroids.
Have you been diagnosed with fibroids yourself? If so, have you tried any of the alternatives that we’ve suggested? Please let us know in the comments.
- Obstet Gynecol. 2007 Nov;110(5):1091-5.
- Zhongguo Yi Xue Ke Xue Yuan Xue Bao. 2011 Aug;33(4):408-11.
- Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2011 Jun 6. [Epub ahead of print: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21672608]
- Altern Med Rev. 2002 Apr;7(2):112-29.
- J Cell Biochem Suppl. 1997;28-29:111-6.
- Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Nov;76(5):1183S-7S.
- Endocr J. 2010;57(7):615-21.
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