Fibroids are a common health issue that affects women – it is estimated that 1 in 3 women will develop these non-cancerous growths in or around the uterus. These masses made of fibrous tissue and muscle tend to develop in different sizes. Many women don’t even realize that they have fibroids because of lack of any symptoms. Those who do experience symptoms may have abdominal pain, painful or heavy periods, pain in the lower back, a need to urinate frequently, constipation, or discomfort or pain during sex. In some cases, fibroids may cause problems like infertility or premature labor or miscarriage during pregnancy.
What exactly causes fibroids is still a mystery. Fortunately, we’re not completely in the dark. Experts feel it is linked to the levels of female hormones estrogen and progesterone. Genetic factors are also thought to play a role in the development of these growths.1 Various other factors are also thought to increase the risk of fibroids. Let’s take a detailed look at all these risk factors.
The following factors could up your chances of getting fibroids:
1. Estrogen And Progesterone Levels
Fibroids are linked to estrogen and progesterone levels because they grow rapidly when these hormone levels are high – for instance, during pregnancy. They also shrink or stop growing when estrogen levels fall, say, during menopause. Also, anti-hormone medication has been found to be effective at shrinking them.
2. Family History
Your risk of getting fibroids is higher if a family member has them. A woman whose mother has these growths has a 3 times higher chance of getting them.2
Being overweight is another risk factor for fibroids. Very heavy women have a 2 to 3 times higher risk than average of getting fibroids. They are thought to occur more frequently in overweight women because being overweight can increase your estrogen levels.3 4
4. Red Meat
Having a lot of red meat like beef and pork has been associated with a higher risk of this condition, again because of higher estrogen production. On the other hand, consuming green vegetables has a protective effect.5
5. Having Children
It has been found that women who’ve had children face a lower chance of developing fibroids. Moreover, the more kids you have, the lower the risk.6 Although it’s not clear why this happens, changes during the postpartum remodeling of the uterus are thought to play a part in eliminating small lesions.7
One study that looked at the development of fibroids in Japanese women found that those who consumed alcohol had a higher prevalence of fibroids. Researchers think this might be because alcohol is associated with higher levels of estrogen in women and may have an estrogenic effect on the smooth muscle tissue of the uterus.8
Caffeine is an interesting case. It’s not associated with increased risk of fibroids for all women. But women over the age of 35 who have 3 or more cups of caffeinated coffee or 500 mg or more of caffeine in a day face a higher risk.9
8. Excessive Vitamin A
One study which looked at 887 women aged between 20 and 49 years found that there was a statistically significant dose-response relationship between vitamin A and fibroids. Higher levels of this vitamin resulted in greater odds of having fibroids.10 While research on this is still at an early stage, avoid oversupplementation with vitamin A to be safe.
9. Low Levels Of Vitamin D
Low levels of vitamin D might be a factor in the development of fibroids. According to an animal study, treatment with vitamin D was effective at reducing the size of fibroids. In fact, the size of fibroids in the group that received vitamin D was 75% smaller than the control group. Fatty fish like tuna, mackerel, and salmon are good dietary sources of this vitamin which is also found in fortified foods. The daily recommended amount of vitamin D is 600 units for adults up to the age of 70, though up to 4000 units may be safely consumed. But do check in with a doctor before taking supplements as excessive amounts can be toxic.11
10. High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure has been associated with an increased risk of fibroids. In one large study of over 100,000 premenopausal subjects, women with high blood pressure were found to be 24% more likely to develop this condition than normotensive women. It was also found that the risk increased with the duration of hypertension. The researchers suggest that high blood pressure may increase risk by causing uterine smooth muscle injury.12
|↑1, ↑2, ↑3, ↑5||Uterine fibroids. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.|
|↑4, ↑6||Fibroids. National Health Service.|
|↑7||Khan, Aamir T., Manjeet Shehmar, and Janesh K. Gupta. “Uterine fibroids: current perspectives.” International journal of women’s health 6 (2014): 95.|
|↑8||Nagata, Chisato, Kozue Nakamura, Shino Oba, Makoto Hayashi, Noriyuki Takeda, and Keigo Yasuda. “Association of intakes of fat, dietary fibre, soya isoflavones and alcohol with uterine fibroids in Japanese women.” British journal of nutrition 101, no. 10 (2009): 1427-1431.|
|↑9||Laughlin, Shannon K., Jane C. Schroeder, and Donna Day Baird. “New directions in the epidemiology of uterine fibroids.” In Seminars in reproductive medicine, vol. 28, no. 03, pp. 204-217. Published in 2010 by Thieme Medical Publishers, 2010.|
|↑10||Martin, Chantel L., Larissa R. Brunner Huber, Michael E. Thompson, and Elizabeth F. Racine. “Serum micronutrient concentrations and risk of uterine fibroids.” Journal of Women’s Health 20, no. 6 (2011): 915-922.|
|↑11||Vitamin D shrinks fibroid tumors in rats. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑12||Boynton-Jarrett, Renee, Janet Rich-Edwards, Susan Malspeis, Stacey A. Missmer, and Rosalind Wright. “A prospective study of hypertension and risk of uterine leiomyomata.” American journal of epidemiology 161, no. 7 (2005): 628-638.|