In the increasingly toxic and stressful world of the 21st century, the occurance of many chronic health conditions continues to rise. The negative elements of our modern lifestyle and environment can impact our body in many important ways.
Of particular concern is the influence of these factors on the health of our nervous and endocrine systems. These systems work together to control and integrate the functioning of all other body systems. This is accomplished through neural signals and hormones that are released by our endocrine glands. When these systems are under stress, it can disturb the delicate balance of hormones in our body which will in turn affect the functioning of every other organ.
Although these factors can affect men and women in similar ways, women may suffer additionally from a wide range of reproductive imbalances. This is because there is a very delicate balance of reproductive hormones that are continuously changing in a cyclic pattern throughout every woman’s reproductive years. The balance of these hormones is easily disturbed by a variety of psychological and environmental stress factors. This can lead to conditions such as PMS, dysmenorrhea (menstrual cramping), endometriosis and other reproductive imbalances.
One common reproductive symptom that is affecting a growing number of women is the development of uterine fibroids. These are non-cancerous tumors that grow within the uterine tissues. This condition can affect up to 20% of North American women, especially between the ages of 30 and 50. Medical researchers do not clearly understand the causes of fibroids, but they are believed to be at least partly the result of elevated estrogen levels. This conclusion has resulted from the observation that fibroids tend to be worse during periods of elevated estrogen levels, such as pregnancy, and to decrease during periods when estrogen levels are lower, such as after menopause.
From a holistic perspective, there are many factors that can contribute to the development of fibroids. The treatment of fibroids will therefore involve changing as many of these factors as possible. The most important factors will vary with the specifics of the case.
Psychological stress has a profound effect on the functioning of our nervous and endocrine systems. Excessive levels of stress will inevitably lead to imbalances of the female reproductive hormones. In addition, many people tend to hold tension in their abdominal region. This will have the additional effect of reducing blood flow to the uterus.
It is important to not only identify and reduce exposure to stressful situations whenever possible, but it is also essential to learn how to deal with potentially stressful situations more effectively as stress mostly results from how we respond to situations rather than the situations in themselves.
Exercise helps to reduce stress and improve blood flow to the uterus and endocrine glands. It also helps our body to eliminate toxicity, which I will address below. Other disciplines such as meditation, yoga, tai chi and various stress management techniques can also be helpful.
Consumption of stimulants has basically the same effect on our body as stress. It is therefore important to reduce consumption of coffee, tea, cola and chocolate as much as possible.
Other foods that should be reduced include sweets, red meats, dairy products, alcohol, processed foods and bad fats such as deep fried foods and other sources of rancid, hydrogenated and saturated fats and oils.
Anyone who has uterine fibroids should also avoid taking birth control pills and use other methods of contraception.
On the positive side, it is best to increase consumption of whole foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables. Essential fatty acids are also very important. Good quality essential fatty acids can be optained from flax oil and similar food supplements.
Antioxidant nutritional supplements will also benefit fibroids. These include vitamins A, C, E, the various carotenes, bioflavinoids and anthocyanidin supplements such as grape seed and pine bark extracts.
THE ROLE OF ENVIRONMENTAL TOXICITY
Toxicity is a major issue in all chronic health conditions and fibroids are no exception. Many environmental toxins interfere with the normal functioning of hormones in our body and can contribute to the development of abnormal cell growth. Of particular concern are estrogenic toxins such as many pesticides, herbicides and other petrochemical products such as plastics that are used to store food and water. Estrogen itself is a major problem in our water supply. It is excreted into the Great Lakes by millions of women taking birth control pills or on hormone replacement therapy. Estrogen is not removed from our water by our municipal water treatment plants.
In the treatment of fibroids it is important to reduce exposure to toxicity as much as possible. Eat foods that are certified organic and reduce the use of toxic household cleaning products, commercial cosmetics, and other toxic chemicals in the home and workplace.
Ensuring proper liver function is essential to the treatment of this condition. Our liver is our major organ of detoxification and fat metabolism. It is also the organ responsible for breaking down excessive levels of estrogen and other hormones. Factors that impede liver function include overeating, overconsumption of fatty and heavily processed foods and all sources of toxicity. Liver function can be aided by increasing consumption of fresh fruits, especially lemons, and vegetables, especially bitter green vegetables such as rapini, escarole, mustard, endive, dandelion and chicory.
HERBAL MEDICINE FOR FIBROIDS
Once we have addressed the various dietary and lifestyle factors that contribute to the development of fibroids, there are also many herbs that are beneficial. Herbal treatment requires two distinct stages.
In the first stage the focus is on improving digestion and liver function and detoxifying the body. At all stages of treatment we must also address stress. There are two groups of herbs that are particularly important here. The first group are calming aromatic herbs that help reduce stress, improve digestion and have a mild tonic influence on the female reproductive system. These include lemon balm herb (Melissa officinalis), lavender flowers (Lavandula angustifolia), catnip herb (Nepeta cataria), spearmint herb (Mentha spicata), wild mint herb (Mentha arvensis) and wild bergamot herb (Monarda fistulosa).
The second group of herbs are bitter herbs that improve digestion, liver function, and aid detoxification. These include dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale), burdock root (Arctium spp.), gentian root (Gentiana lutea) and centaury herb (Centaurium erythraea).
We usually combine two or three herbs from the first group which collectively make up about two thirds of our formulation, with one or two herbs from the second group which collectively make up one third.
These herbs are best taken as fresh plant tinctures. They should be taken three times per day on an empty stomach. The best times are 15 to 20 minutes before each meal, two to four droppers per dose. A dropper consists of whatever amount of tincture that you get when you completely squeeze the bulb of your dropper. The formulation is taken for several months before beginning the second stage of the treatment.
In the second stage we continue to use the first formulation, but we alternate it with a second formulation. The second formulation also includes two to three herbs from the first group of herbs mentioned above, also making up approximately two thirds of the formulation. In addition, it includes two gentle female reproductive tonic herbs. The best choices are chaste tree berries (Vitex agnus-castus), motherwort herb (Leonurus cardiaca), yarrow herb (Achillea millefolium) and raspberry leaves and flowers (Rubus idaeus). Collectively these make up one third of the formulation.
This second formulation should also be taken two to four droppers, three times per day before meals. However, it should be taken beginning one week before you would expect to get your period, and continued until two to three days after your period is over. Then you switch back to the first formulation and take it as before for the duration of your cycle.
Continue alternating between these formulations.
As always, if you have any unusual reactions to these herbs, stop taking them immediately and consult with a herbalist or other complementary health professional. If you don’t get any noticeable results by the time that you have continued the second stage of the treatment for at least three cycles, you should also consult with a qualified practitioner. This treatment will work for mild to moderate cases that are not too complex. However, many cases will required professional supervision.