Fibroids and Weight Gain
Are fibroids causing you to gain weight? Can excessive body weight cause Fibroids?
Have you been gaining a significant amount of weight (10 lbs or more) in a relatively short period of time (3-6 months) for no apparent reason or change in your dietary habits? Are you experiencing pelvic pain, heavy blood flow during menstruation or increased frequency in urination? If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you could be suffering from fibroids.
Fibroids (leiomyomata uteri) are a benign form of tumor in the uterus. They vary greatly in their size, shape, weight, and numbers found in the uterus. The chances of fibroids turning into malignant cancer are very low – estimated at less than 1% during a patient’s lifetime. Women who are at risk of fibroids include those who have a family history, are of Black or Hispanic origin, or have a Body Mass Index (BMI) greater than 25. Symptoms of fibroids include:
- Pain and pressure in the pelvic and abdomen area
- Enlargement of the abdomen
- Heavy menstrual bleeding. The loss of blood could lead to anemic symptoms like constant tiredness or dizzy spells
- Irregular or abnormally long intervals between menstrual periods
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Pain in the back or legs
The Fibroid and Weight Gain Connection
Normally, fibroids can weigh from a few grams to between 2-6 lbs; the size can range from that of a nut to that of a cantaloupe. Some medical professionals measure the size of fibroids by comparing its size to that of the uterus during pregnancy. For example, a doctor may say that the size of your fibroid is comparable to that of the uterus if you were 8 weeks pregnant. Although uncommon, fibroids can weigh as much as 50 pounds – the largest fibroid ever recorded weighed 140 pounds.
The extent of fibroid weight gain also depends on blood flow to the fibroid. A higher blood flow to the fibroid causes it to grow larger, which leads to water retention and weight gain.
Fibroids can definitely lead to weight gain. However, it is important to note that excessive body weight can increase the risks of developing fibroids in the first place. Studies have shown that fibroid growth is associated with excess levels of the female hormone, estrogen. Overweight women tend to produce more estrogen because they carry more fat cells in their body. Fat cells act as secondary sites for producing and storing estrogen, thus having a greater proportionof fat cells increases the risks of fibroid growth. Pregnancy also increases the level of estrogen in women; hence pregnant women also tend to develop more fibroids.
Fibroids are usually diagnosed with a pelvic exam and an abdominal/pelvic ultrasound. Fibroids also can be confirmed using magnetic resonance (MR) and computed tomography (CT) imaging techniques. These are all painless and minimally invasive tests.
Sometimes, a transvaginal ultrasound may be required. An ultrasound probe is inserted into the vagina so the inside of the uterus can be better examined than with the abdominal ultrasound. There is generally minimal discomfort associated with this procedure.
Hormone Therapy: Drugs that control or suppress the hormone estrogen can control the growth of fibroids. These include birth control pills. Hormone therapy is a short term treatment measure, as the fibroid growth will resume once the therapy is stopped.
Uterine Artery Embolization: This is a newer approach to treating fibroids, and it involves blocking the arteries that supply blood to the fibroids. This procedure is minimally invasive, only a thin nick in the skin is required, and the patient is sedated but conscious throughout the procedure.
A small nick (less than one-quarter of an inch) in the skin is made by the interventional radiologist at top of the leg to access the femoral artery, and a tiny tube (catheter) is inserted the artery. Local anesthesia is used to minimize pain and discomfort.
Hysterectomy: This is the most radical treatment option, and involves the surgical removal of the uterus. Unless the fibroids cause severe symptoms and complications, more conservative treatment options are usually sufficient to treat fibroids.
Fibroid Prevention & Control
Lifestyle and diet modification: Because excess body weight and fat can lead to increased estrogen and fibroid growth, you should take steps to control your diet and body weight
- Lifestyle: An active lifestyle and adequate levels of exercise can maintain your bodyweight and prevent excess weight and estrogen levels in the body.
- Eating habits: A diet containing high levels of red meat (e.g. beef) and dairy products is linked to higher risks of fibroids. Livestock which have been fed growth hormones may contain high levels of xenoestrogen, a chemical which mimics the effect of estrogen in the body and promotes fibroid growth. On the other hand, some studies have shown that a diet which contains plenty of green vegetables protect women from developing fibroids.
Natural Remedies: Certain herbs and natural foods are believed to be able to curb fibroid growth or even shrink fibroids. Including these in your diet may help prevent and control fibroid growth. The following are some examples. * Note that the benefits of these herbs and foods on fibroids have not been rigorously proven medically. Be sure to consult a physician before you consume any of these for your fibroids.
- Soy: Some studies have shown that a moderate intake of soy can keep estrogen levels of women in check. This is because soy contains proteins that can moderate estrogen levels.
- Licorice Root: This herb helps in purging excess estrogen; it also assists the adrenal glands and has anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic properties.
- Dong Quai (Chinese Angelica): This traditional Chinese herb is known by some as the ‘ultimate herb’ for women, and may moderate estrogen levels in women. Dong Quai is also used to treat other estrogen related ailments of the female reproductive system like Endometriosis.
- Vitex: This herb can prevent the over-production of estrogen which is responsible for fibroid growth. It also helps balance other hormones like progesterone and can also reduce PMS symptoms and tissue inflammation.
- Bethroot: This herb is beneficial for many menstrual problems. It is especially useful for moderating bleeding associated with fibroids and is also helpful for for headaches and acne associated with hormonal imbalances.
Consult a Physician or Gynecologist
Before you start any exercise, dietary or treatment regime, be sure to consult a physician or gynecologist to obtain a professional diagnosis and opinion.