If you’re struggling with abdominal pain, heavy, painful periods, and fatigue, you might be one of the millions of women diagnosed with uterine fibroids each year. The most common neoplasm affecting women (non-cancerous growths, also called leiomyomas) occur in 70 percent of pre-menopausal women. A quarter of all women seek treatment for fibroids. Conventional treatment typically involves hormonal birth control, medication, or surgery—but doesn’t address the root of the issue. Following a myomectomy (surgical removal), up to a third of fibroids recur and roughly 10 percent of women will have a hysterectomy within ten years.
Lifestyle and holistic changes, on the other hand, target the underlying causes of uterine fibroids and can result in lasting improvement. According to Jessie Wei, MD, a functional medicine physician at Parsley Health, for many women, the best long-term treatment involves modifying your nutrition, sleep habits, and stress management strategies. Holistic strategies can be employed to combat uterine fibroids through natural treatment.
Causes of uterine fibroids
In healthy women, estrogen and progesterone interact to maintain a delicate balance. For women who seek treatment for uterine fibroids, however, that balance tips toward estrogen dominance, a major culprit behind the condition. “It’s what happens when estrogen, which is our main sexual hormone, is either too high in the body,” says Danielle DeSimone, a health coach at Parsley Health. “Or estrogen might be a completely normal level, but it’s going unchecked by too little progesterone.”
One metastudy noted that while uterine fibroids are associated with many variables, estrogen’s role is especially concerning; there are no documented prepubertal cases and the condition recedes after menopause—the phase of life when estrogen is naturally low. According to the National Institute of Health, other risk factors include older age, race (Black women are at higher risk), obesity, a family history of fibroids, high blood pressure, no history of pregnancy, Vitamin D deficiency, and the consumption of food additives and soy milk.
Uterine fibroids natural treatment methods
Whether you’re hoping to prevent a recurrence of uterine fibroids after surgery, you want to ease fibroid symptoms, or slow the development of fibroids, the below uterine fibroids natural treatments can help.
Make your diet (and your hormones) work for you.
To understand the role diet plays in supporting the fine balance between estrogen and progesterone, you first need to understand the relationship between estrogen, the liver, and gut. Normally, your body uses estrogen and eliminates it, first sending it to the liver. From there, estrogen metabolites (byproducts of estrogen metabolism) enter the gut and exit via the stool. But imbalanced gut bacteria can interfere with that process by cutting off the signal for the estrogen to be excreted. This process is called enterohepatic circulation, and causes estrogen to instead be “recycled right back into the body,” setting the stage for estrogen dominance, says Dr. Wei.
According to DeSimone, you can support the part of the gut that processes estrogen metabolism, the estrobolome, through diet. Research shows that changes in the estrobolome can propel estrogen-mediated conditions including uterine fibroids and that gut microbiome changes can decrease estrogen circulation. These foods can help:
- Fermented foods, rich in probiotics, are an excellent choice. Kimchi, sauerkraut, and plant-based yogurt, “can be really helpful just for getting a better balance of those ‘good guys,’” says DeSimone.
- Fiber-rich foods are also key. Fiber feeds the probiotics and helps them flourish, explains DeSimone. She suggests filling your plate with four to five cups of non-starchy vegetables (measured raw) each day.
- Dark, leafy greens like spinach, kale, arugula, collards, and baby greens are great for “general liver detox,” according to DeSimone. An Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine study found kale and collards support liver health.
- Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage, hold a compound known as DIM (Diindolylmethane). According to DeSimone, DIM binds to excess estrogen in the bloodstream and flushes it out. One study found that women with diets higher in cruciferous vegetables were less likely to experience uterine fibroids.
- Flaxseeds also help clear excess estrogen. They’re rich in lignans, a weak phytoestrogen that “hangs out in the cell,” explains DeSimone, “blocking our own estrogens from being used, which means they have to get flushed out.” One study found an inverse association between lignan excretion and uterine fibroid risk. DeSimone suggests two tablespoons of ground flaxseed per day.
- Anti-inflammatory herbs and spices like parsley, garlic, cilantro, and turmeric also support healthy liver function. Gut inflammation can weaken the intestinal lining, which promotes dysbiosis, which occurs when too many “bad bacteria” crowd out “good bacteria.”According to one study, many herbs and spices (including turmeric, basil, bay leaves, cinnamon, garlic, and ginger) have anti-inflammatory properties.
- Avoid inflammatory foods and those that tax your liver. Reducing or eliminating alcohol, excess sugar, gluten, and dairy also fosters a healthy gut microbiome. A Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology study found that women who consumed food additives in processed, sweetened, or preserved foods were more than three times as likely to experience uterine fibroids versus women who did not.
Keep in mind, you don’t necessarily need to give up your favorite foods or follow strict rules to see results. Particularly for women with a history of disordered eating, it’s important to avoid black and white thinking, says Dr. Wei. Instead, she suggests focusing on a plant-based diet eating a rich variety of foods. In addition to getting plenty of greens, opt for foods of all colors of the rainbow. Parsley health coaches work with members to develop a personalized nutrition plan that meets their goals. Intentional nutrition changes can be an easy step for uterine fibroids natural treatment.
Prioritize quality sleep.
“Sleep is the foundation of everything,” says DeSimone. Insufficient sleep drives up cortisol, your major stress hormone, and in turn, causes insulin to spike, which sets you up for an array of chronic conditions—including uterine fibroids. One study, which examined the relationship between stress and uterine fibroids, suggested that the activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the consequent release of cortisol may play a role in the fluctuating estrogen and progesterone levels, setting the stage for uterine fibroids.
In general, you should aim for seven to eight hours of sleep a night, but there is some evidence women may need on the higher end of that, says DeSimone. She finds many of the women she works with need eight to nine hours of sleep. While minimal, one study found women tend to sleep an average of 11 minutes longer than men. Research suggests hormones are largely responsible for the ways in which female sleep needs differ from males over their lifespan.
Even if you can’t get enough sleep, says DeSimone, you can still benefit from quality sleep. Parsley’s health coaches offer strategies to optimize your sleep environment and how to create an optimal bedtime routine for restful sleep. Avoiding activities like scrolling social media and checking the news before bed can help, as these stressors can interfere with your natural sleep cycles.
Find a mindful outlet.
Stress management is foundational to health and hormonal balance, says Dr. Wei. “If the body thinks it’s in trouble, it’s going to prioritize cortisol secretion,” which, as noted above, can lead to estrogen dominance.
According to one study, this relationship may be bidirectional; researchers found that menopausal women who received estrogen replacement therapy experienced higher cortisol levels than those who did not. If you release cortisol in response to stress, and that drives your estrogen up, the estrogen spike may then drive your cortisol up further. According to a Medical Hypotheses study, this estrogen-cortisol feedback loop is present in cats, and may also be present in humans.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to stress relief, there are myriad strategies you can try. Here are a few:
- Find joy. According to DeSimone, you might find joy in a creative outlet like dancing, or art. But you don’t need to carve out time for a new hobby to feel better; Dr. Wei emphasizes the importance of simply slowing down enough to appreciate the small, beautiful moments you might otherwise miss.
- Be mindful. Dr. Wei recommends some form of mindfulness to all her patients. While guided meditations and apps work for some, taking a walk and appreciating nature is her personal go-to.
- Exercise frequently. Exercise can not only lower blood pressure (another risk factor for fibroids), it’s also an excellent stress reliever. DeSimone notes that her exercise recommendations vary from client to client so, in general, it’s important to find a form of movement you enjoy.
Manage environmental risk factors.
Man-made estrogens, or endocrine disruptors, found in many common health, cleaning, and beauty products can contribute to estrogen dominance. To minimize environmental risk factors, substituting items like non-stick cookware and conventional cosmetics with clean alternatives is a great starting point, says Dr. Wei. According to the literature, even fetal exposure to synthetic estrogens increases the risk of developing uterine fibroids. DeSimone suggests visiting the Environmental Working Group website to find out where endocrine disruptors are lurking and identify healthier alternatives.
A holistic approach to fibroid treatment might sound overwhelming but it doesn’t need to be. With Parsley physician and health coach support, you’ll co-create a personalized, sustainable treatment plan that meets you where you are. If you and your doctor determine surgery may be an appropriate option for you, they can also guide you through recovery and help you prevent future recurrences of uterine fibroids.