Fibroids. Uterine fibroids, to be specific. I recently had a client who had fibroids grow during her pregnancy.
This is a picture, shared with permission, of a the outline of a 5x8cm fibroid on the top of a pregnant uterus. This fibroid did not cause many problems for my client during their pregnancy or labor, just some discomfort and pain when baby was kicking it. It was caught by coincidence by an ultrasound during a pre-pregnancy exam and grew to this size by mid-pregnancy. Because of diet and environmental changes made by this client, we believe this fibroid stopped growing and the other two fibroids she had significantly shrank. During the first 6 weeks of the postpartum period we think the fibroid may have contributed to some gas pains and indigestion as it lowered with her shrinking uterus but did not shrink in size itself.
Fibroids are way more common than you think – for folks with a uterus, your risk of developing fibroids between 20-50 years old is 20-50%, although that could be an underestimate. If you are Black, your risk of developing a uterine fibroid is up to 75%.
What are fibroids? They are non-cancerous growths of muscle tissue in the uterine wall. They can be painful and cause issues that can interfere with your quality of life, especially around your period, getting pregnant, or during pregnancy. Fibroids are one if the leading causes of hysterectomies in the United States. But they can also be totally benign and you wouldn’t even know they were there. Some symptoms of fibroids include:
- Heavy periods
- Painful periods
- Periods that last longer than a week
- Spotting between bleeds
- Fatigue or anemia
- Lower back or leg pain
- Full feeling in the lower tummy
- Pain during sex
- Peeing frequently, urgently, or difficulty peeing
- These symptoms are similar to endometriosis and cause a misdiagnosis of one or the other. In addition, gynecologic cancerous masses may sometimes look like large fibroids and remain untreated. Regular visits to a gynecologist can help differentiate between all of these issues. Speak up about your body and ask questions if you aren’t getting the answers you need.
Fibroids can grow during pregnancy. They can make your fundal height (the measurement from the pubic bone to the top of the uterus) bigger so it may seem like the baby is bigger than we think they should be. Fibroids can be painful, especially if the baby is kicking them or if they begin to degenerate during pregnancy. They can also, but rarely, cause complications during the birth if they are close to the cervix or too close to the placenta.
What can you do about fibroids? Fibroids grow with excess estrogen and insulin-like growth factors. So anything that we do, ingest, or live in that increases these will possibly increase one’s risk of developing a fibroid. These can be endocrine disrupting chemicals in the products we use (Google that and you’ll get an idea of which products have them), and man-made chemicals in our environment like pesticides and chemicals from factories. Your risk of developing fibroids also increases with a family history of fibroids and your race/ethnicity. Lastly, diet plays a role, with more fibroid growth with diets heavy in meat and conventional dairy (due to increased hormones in the food) and processed foods.
Is there anything you can do to naturally decrease your risk of fibroids or slow their growth? Yes! First, as Aviva Romm talks about, conventional treatments of fibroids do not address the possible underlying contributing causes, the biggest of which are hypertension, high estrogen, chronic inflammation, insulin resistance and Vitamin D deficiency. Here are some easy first steps to addressing your fibroids and better health in general:
- Diet: eating 5-8 servings of leafy green veggies and citrus per day. Getting enough fiber in your diet, either through foods or additional fiber like ground flaxseed or psyllium. Increase Vit D foods like fish, beef liver, mushrooms, eggs, and Vit D supplements. Decrease alcohol, sugar, and non-organic red meat, pork, and dairy.
- Lifestyle: reduce your exposure to chemicals. These can be in your home, soil outside, the air you breath, plastics, or products you use like in makeup, body, and hair care products, cleaning products, etc. This may seems like a lot but, depending on where you live and what you put in and on your body, even little changes can make a big difference in the levels of chemicals you are exposed to.
- Exercise: this helps with pelvic circulation and regular bowel movements. Move your body and move those hips for best results!
Resources for more information on fibroids: