Recovery from Uterine Fibroids: One Woman’s Story of Her Journey from Pain to HealingJulia Woodford April 1, 2008
Preoccupied with living my busy life, I had become lackadaisical about scheduling regular medical check-ups. It had been a few years since my last exam, but in the fall of 2001, unusual pain convinced me to see a doctor. Since early that summer, I’d been experiencing discomfort in my abdomen and back for several days every month.
My 36th birthday came and went, and I stepped up my workouts, as rigorous exercise had eradicated extreme cramps in the past. As a vegetarian for fifteen years, I never smoked or drank alcohol. Although I maintained a trim physique, these new pains returned each month and became more severe.
When I finally went to a doctor, she had initial suspicions but confirmed through an ultrasound that my pain came from what she described as “a family of fibroid tumours.” She explained that uterine fibroids were common, benign tumours of the uterus. I learned that the medical community offered several treatments for these non-cancerous tumours – some surgical, some non-surgical. After reviewing my options and discovering that fibroids could be linked to infertility (I had been unable to conceive for many years), I decided on surgery to remove them.
I underwent an abdominal myomectomy in March 2002, and my doctor removed numerous tumours (she actually lost count), including one as large as a baseball. She also extracted significant amounts of scar tissue from my uterus due to endometriosis, a condition she only discovered once she opened me up.
The frustrating thing about fibroids (besides the fact that no one actually knows what causes them) is that once removed, they often grow right back. My treatment was far from complete. Since my husband and I still wanted to have children, my doctor recommended we try to conceive for one year. After that year, she planned to put me on birth control pills, which can hinder fibroid proliferation. She said if I chose not to follow her advice, the fibroids would definitely return and I’d be in so much pain that I would be begging for a hysterectomy in five years.
I didn’t want to go on “the pill,” not just because it complicates conception, but because of side effects many women suffer while taking it. Never a proponent of prescription drugs anyway, I tried to maintain a positive outlook.
A year and a half later, I still hadn’t conceived, and those familiar pains in my abdomen began creeping back each month. I had not begun taking birth control pills, as my doctor recommended, and I didn’t plan to.
Online research led me to stories about women who had undergone surgery for fibroids multiple times. I learned that tens of thousands of fibroid sufferers in Canada (and significantly more in the U.S.) chose to have hysterectomies. In fact, these benign tumours remain the primary reason for hysterectomies in the U.S., accounting for as many as 300,000 surgeries annually.
One study suggested that fibroid tumours exist in as many as 80% of pre-menopausal women, although since most of these women experience no symptoms, they simply are a non-issue.
As my research continued, my doctor’s prognosis began to sound even more grim. I learned that hysterectomies in young women bring on early menopause, and many doctors feel that such a procedure is not only extreme (negatively impacting a woman’s quality of life), but needless. Even my surgery, although deemed necessary, had been a challenging experience. A four-day hospital stay became a six-month recovery period, during which I had to battle low energy and a compromised immune system. Although I didn’t want to take birth control pills, if my tumours were in fact regrowing I couldn’t fathom undergoing the fibroid surgery a second time or having a hysterectomy. There had to be a better way.
My life changed dramatically in December 2003. While I flipped through channels on television, a cable show about diet and nutrition caught my attention. The moderator, a radiant 50-year-old woman, claimed to be living an active, medication-free life despite having the degenerative disease lupus. She shared how she maintained her health and exuberance through diet, specifically eating according to her blood type. I had heard a little about this particular eating plan before, and began to do some online research. The food intolerances, tastes, and sensitivities for people with type A blood sounded exactly like mine. I contacted my doctor to confirm my blood type, and discovered that I had guessed correctly. I was officially intrigued.
My next step seemed clear: Set up a consultation with the woman from the cable show. I met with her for nearly two hours while she outlined nutritional supplements, herbs, and a cleansing program that she felt would lessen my fibroid-related pain and bring my body into a healthy state. Among her recommendations were tumour inhibitors and female hormone regulators such as noni juice, pau d’arco, milk thistle, a topical progesterone cream, various teas, and black cohosh, as well as a regular cleansing plan that would eliminate yeast and other toxins from my body.
Within two months of following her suggestions, my pains began to lessen in intensity and duration. Throughout this process, I also became a strict vegan, eliminating all dairy products from my diet, as well as wheat and numerous foods that allegedly aggravate a type A’s sensitive digestion. Before my surgery, long before even the pains began, I had been plagued with ongoing sinus problems (mucus mostly), which sometimes woke me up at night, and occasional stomach aches following meals. After four days of eating a type A diet, my mucus and digestive pain disappeared. I was officially convinced.
Today, six years after my surgery and still in possession of my uterus, I remain free of prescription drugs and no longer suffer debilitating pain. Although I have not yet conceived, I am thankful to have found a dietary balance that fuels my body, offering vitality and a pain-free existence without pharmaceuticals. When my doctor told me that, without medication, I’d be begging for a hysterectomy in five years, I chose not to blindly accept her prognosis. Instead, I explored other options, seeking out resources to help me unearth a more natural route.
TIPS TO PREVENT OR ELIMINATE FIBROIDS
I had already experienced how frequent cardiovascular workouts diminished my PMS symptoms. Regular exercise also plays an important role in overall health, increasing energy and strength, and improving muscle tone and flexibility. The benefits of staying active are well documented. Walking, biking, and countless at-home equipment options provide no-cost or low-cost fitness choices these days, making it easier to work out than ever before.
I am thankful for my doctor and what she did for me. My surgery was needed at the time, and it began my journey into nutritional education and natural health. Food has become something not to simply please my palate, but to truly nourish every part of me. A reprogramming of the brain helped me see food and drink as a means to an end – a healthy, vibrant, disease-free body. The names of new dietary choices that sounded so alien have become my staples. I may get teased for eating black bean hummus at family gatherings, but I’m sowing invaluable seeds into my body. Besides, I have gotten more than a few people hooked on my hummus, not to mention my fruit smoothies and curry brown rice.
While some forms of soy remain a great protein source for vegans (especially the organic, fermented varieties of miso and tempeh), many studies suggest that too much soy encourages fibroid growth. Because of this, some fibroid sufferers cut out soy completely. I limit my soy intake, preferring almond milk over soy milk, and choosing other non-soy proteins.
Every person is different and what has worked in my case might offer no benefit to someone else. Information regarding the blood type diet (including recipes and eating plans) can be found online.
Nutrition experts continually warn the public about the dangers of consuming too many processed meals or those laden with preservatives, salt, refined sugars, and saturated fats. Yet even in today’s enlightened society many people don’t think or care about what’s in the food they eat.
If a dietary change can so drastically impact my fibroid suffering, imagine what simple nutritional changes could do for your body. Could such practical shifts have an impact on fibromyalgia? On diabetes? Of course, no significant dietary changes should be implemented without first consulting your physician. If I had started eating a healing diet many years ago, my fibroids may have never required surgery. I strongly challenge everyone, especially those dealing with health issues, to explore natural options, beginning with an objective examination of what you currently eat and drink.
For me, it began with changing my mindset, redefining what constituted a meal as well as “celebration foods” (anything you’d take to a party), and learning to enjoy — even love — organic, raw, nutritious foods. Greasy, fatty foods aren’t worth the hours of discomfort that will follow. I’ve had the opportunity to get creative and do a lot of experimenting in the kitchen.
Upgrading my diet was not as difficult as it might seem. These days, with the Internet and so many more natural food enthusiasts than ever before, finding great tasting, healthy foods is easier than it was just a few years ago. There are also plenty of health-conscious restaurateurs that serve raw, living, super-charged fare. Be adventurous, do taste tests with friends, and try not to condemn grains, fish, or vegetables you may have hated in childhood. Give every food a fair chance.
If you have never gone on a nutritional quest of your own, I invite you to take up my challenge and explore some of the health-enhancing foods available to you. It could very well change your life.
NUTRIENTS TO COMBAT FIBROIDS
The following list of health items is provided with dosages that were recommended to me (general dosages for capsules, tinctures, and powders are typically found on product labels). Keep in mind, you need not implement everything mentioned in this article, and there are other natural treatments for fibroids not listed here. Talk with your healthcare provider, do some investigating, and see what works for you. Also, check for drug interactions, food allergies and intolerances, before embarking on any kind of drastic dietary shift.
- Aduki beans (also spelled adzuki or azuki): An easily digestible red bean. Excellent source of iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and folate.
- Almond milk: A non-dairy milky drink made from ground almonds (preferably organic). Contains no cholesterol or lactose. Rich in vitamins and can be purchased prepackaged in grocery or health food stores. Use as needed in place of dairy.
- Black cohosh: From a flowering plant and touted as a reliever of PMS, menstrual cramps, and many menopause symptoms. One caplet (40 mg.) daily.
- Goji berries: Small dried berries rich in antioxidants and said to protect the liver, help eyesight, improve sexual function and fertility, strengthen the legs, boost immune function, improve circulation, and promote longevity.
- Legumes: Beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts (plants with seed-filled pods). Rich in antioxidants, low in fat, an excellent source of protein. Contain iron, zinc, calcium, selenium, and folate. May help reduce risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer. At least one serving daily.
- Milk thistle: An herb considered to improve liver function. Two ml. liquid herbal supplement daily or 1-3 capsules (600 mg.) daily.
- Miso: Fermented soybean paste originated in Japan. Used to make soup. Rich in vitamins and minerals, thought to protect against breast cancer. One to two servings per week.
- Nettle tea: Derived from a plant with pointed, stinging leaves. Known for detoxifying the blood, improving liver and kidney functions, easing coughs and other respiratory problems. High in iron and Vitamins A and C. One to two cups of tea daily.
- Pau d’arco: Derived from tree bark, pau d’arco teas, tinctures and capsules used to treat yeast infections, warts, inflammation of bronchial airways, immune-related disorders (asthma, eczema, psoriasis, and bacterial and viral infections). Thought to possess anti-tumour activity. One capsule (500 mg) daily or 6-12 drops tincture in liquid 1-3 times daily or tea as desired.
- Spirulina: This blue-green algae is one of the few plant sources of Vitamin B12. A perfect balance of all essential amino acids. A more complete protein than beef. One tsp. powder daily.
- Sprouted spelt: A wheat grain high in Vitamin B. Considered easily digestible since the grain was sprouted before harvesting. Can be eaten instead of white or whole wheat flour.
- Topical progesterone cream: Usually made from wild yam. Delivers progesterone through the skin, helping restore hormonal balance. Apply 1/4 tsp. daily to inner arms or thighs, abdomen or chest (not readily available through health food stores – ask your health care provider for more information).
- Turmeric: Used primarily as a spice. Aids in digestion, lowers cholesterol, and contains curcumin. Known as an anti-inflammatory and anti-tumour agent.