UTERINE FIBROIDS: The Wise Woman ApproachSusun Weed September 1, 2011
The following article is an excerpt from Down There: Sexual and Reproductive Health The Wise Woman Way, a new book release by Susun S. Weed.
Every year in America a quarter of a million women undergo a hysterectomy due to fibroids. Don’t be one of them. About 80 percent of women with uterine fibroids have few or no symptoms. They may simply wait; menopause will eliminate their fibroids.
Recent findings from over 850,000 counseling sessions conducted by the HERS Foundation suggest that almost all hysterectomies (98%) could be avoided with either conservative treatment or no treatment at all.” (1)
Step 1. Collect Information
Uterine fibroids are benign swellings. Despite the name fibroid ‘tumour’, cancer is extremely rare (0.1–0.5 per cent).
Fibroids are also called leiomyomas (leio is smooth, my is muscle, oma is growth), myomas, myofibromas, fibromyomas, uterine leiomyomata, and fibroid tumours.
Between the ages of 35 – 50, about 20% of white women, and nearly 60% of women of colour, have uterine fibroids. By age 50, more than 80% of black women and 70% of white women have fibroids. Black women often have larger, more numerous, faster-growing fibroids at a younger age.
About one-third of reproductive-age women in the U.S. have symptoms from fibroids: heavy, clotty, painful menses; abdominal and back pain; anemia from blood loss; a constant urge to urinate; constipation; pelvic pressure; pain on intercourse.
Uterine fibroids can grow rapidly or slowly. There is no way to predict if, or how fast, a fibroid will grow. Surgery to remove a fibroid (or the uterus) “before it gets too big” is bad advice. Uterine fibroids can shrink spontaneously.
Uterine fibroids do run in families. A mutated gene that interferes with the production of fumarate hydratase may be the cause.
Fibroids have many estrogen receptors, but ingesting estrogen, even in birth control pills or ERT, does not cause fibroids, nor will a low-estrogen diet cure them. Progesterone can increase fibroid size.
“Women can relax about the big fibroids,” says researcher Karen Hartmann. “Those are old and dormant. Small ones are the most active.”
Women who have had four or more children, or who smoke, rarely have fibroids.
Fibroids usually go away after menopause.
Women who began menstruating before they were twelve, who are obese, or who have not given birth are more likely to have problematic fibroids.
Most women have several types of uterine fibroids. (For details on types of fibroids, refer to the full chapter on this topic in Down There.)
Fibroids look like “white or pink potatoes.” Most are pea sized; the largest ever reported weighed 140 pounds. From one to dozens may occur at once. Large fibroids cause more symptoms. Small fibroids cause more miscarriages. Doctors size fibroids by comparing the uterus (not the fibroid) to fruit or pregnancy. A uterus the size of a large grapefruit or a twenty-week pregnancy can contain a four-pound fibroid.
As fibroids grow, they create new blood vessels, thus increasing the blood flow to the uterus. A large fibroid can bleed so profusely that a woman can pass out or bleed to death. Fibroids on the outside of the uterus bleed internally, and thus invisibly. If you suddenly feel faint or dizzy, suspect internal bleeding.
A fibroid that presses on the tubes connecting the kidneys and bladder can cause kidney damage.
“The bottom line is that fibroids are not cancer, they don’t cause cancer, and they do not even increase the risk of having cancer.” (What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Fibroids, by Goodwin, Broder, and Drum)
Step 2. Engage the Energy
Fraxinus americanus, or white ash, is the homeopathic specific for women with fibroids.
Other homeopathic remedies include:
~ Calc-carbonica: for pedunculated bleeding fibroids;
~ Thlaspi: for continuous bleeding;
~ Calc-fluorica: for large, hard fibroids, heavy bleeding;
~ Calc-iodine: for profuse yellow discharge.
• Chinese herbalists say fibroids occur due to “stagnant Qi and Blood, which causes heat and dampness to accumulate in the pelvis.” In Ayurvedic tradition, fibroids are “an accumulation of emotions.” Christiane Northrup says: “It’s easy to see fibroids as hard, implacable anger.”
• Fibroids are a normal part of being a woman. They are not caused by things stuck in your colon, though they may be linked to an unfulfilled desire to bear children, or a need to express bottled-up feelings. To shrink fibroids naturally, persevere.
Step 3. Nourish and Tonify
“… there are no studies that demonstrate that fibroid growth can be stopped by altering your diet.” (What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Fibroids, by Goodwin, Broder, and Drum)
Women who eat the most beef are 70% more likely to have fibroids than those who eat the least. But a vegetarian or vegan diet won’t cure fibroids. Reducing dietary estrogens has not been found to reduce fibroids. (Ibid.)
Organic milk, meat, and cheese are nourishing foods, and don’t make fibroids grow. (Susan Lark, MD)
No association between eggs or dairy products and fibroids has been found. (Journal of Obstetrics)
• Women who consume the most fish and leafy greens (nourishing herbal infusions!) are the least likely to have fibroids. (Journal of Obstetrics)
• A dropperful of Vitex/Chaste berry tincture, taken 2 – 4 times a day, reduces uterine inflammation and changes the hormonal messages sent to fibroids, easing pain quickly and helping shrink the fibroid. In German medical practice, Vitex is considered specific against uterine bleeding. Side effects (intestinal distress, rash, headaches) are rare. Chaste berry works best when taken for a long time, so you will need a lot of tincture. Make your own. It’s easy; directions are on page 367 (of Down There).
• There’s a 3000-year-old Chinese remedy for women with fibroids that I call the “Triple Goddess Gift.” It consists of equal parts of Maidenwort (chickweed), Motherwort, and Cronewort (mugwort). I prefer to use tinctures of each, but a tea of dried leaves and flowers works well, too. (It tastes nasty though.)
Neither exercise nor weight loss will get rid of fibroids. Both exercise and weight loss do moderate the symptoms, however. Exercise increases the level of pain-reducing endorphins in the blood; but it increases flooding.
(Ed. note: For details on Fibroids and Pregnancy, see the extended version of this article in “Down There.”)
Step 4. Stimulate/Sedate
As with any hard-to-solve problem, many herbs have been tried (with some success, sometimes, for some women) to relieve pain (P), check bleeding (B), and/or shrink fibroids (F). Here are the best known herbs:
~ Chaste Berry: P, B, F, tincture (2–4 dropperfuls daily);
~ Comfrey leaf: P, F, sitz bath (warm) or compress;
~ Lady’s mantle: B, F, tincture (10–25 drops 3 times a day);
~ Poke root: P, F, tincture (1–3 drops daily); rub oil on belly;
~ Reishi mushroom: P, tincture/tea, reduces inflammation;
~ Raspberry leaf: P, B (iron), F, infusion, (2–4 quarts weekly);
~ Shepherd’s purse: P, B, F, tincture (1 dropperful daily, from ovulation to menstruation only);
~ Yarrow (use only white-flowered ): P, B, sitz bath (warm).
(Suggested protocol: Take a dropperful of Vitex or Saw Palmetto tincture 2–4 times a day; Investigate acupuncture; Listen to your uterus; Drink 2–3 quarts each of nettle and raspberry leaf infusion weekly.)
• Acupuncture can relieve the “stuck energy” of fibroids. Moxibustion and/or acupressure work, too. Do-it-yourself directions are in Dr. Susan Lark’s Fibroid Self Help Book.
Step 5a. Use Supplements
Lipotrophic factors (vitamin B6, inositol, choline, and magnesium) are suggested for women with fibroids. Instead of supplements, I eat lipotrophic foods like beets, garlic, and lentils.
• Avoid progesterone cream. It is promoted for women with fibroids, but the evidence suggests progesterone feeds fibroids. (American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology)
About Drugs and Surgery
(Editor’s note: For a discussion of various drugs and surgical procedures used for fibroids with varying degrees of success, refer to the original extended version of this article, which appears as a chapter in the Down There book.)
About 40 per cent of hysterectomies are done as a response to uterine fibroids. A quarter of a million American women a year lose their uterus because they have fibroids. Most of these hysterectomies are unnecessary! Keep your uterus!
Irene is a massage therapist with two grown children.
“Lying in bed one night, just as I was falling asleep, I suddenly felt as if I’d peed myself. The bed was full of blood. The gynecologist confirmed my fear that the hard cantaloupe-sized protuberance in my abdomen was a fibroid. The size of a 10-week pregnancy, it pressed on both my bladder and my colon, causing pain during bowel movements and frequent urination. Determined to avoid surgery, I took Chaste Berry tincture three times a day, had acupuncture and moxibustion treatments, used castor oil packs regularly, and (to replace lost blood) drank nourishing nettle infusion. It took six months for me to shrink the fibroid. It hasn’t returned.”
(1) HERS (Hysterectomy Education and Resource Services): free counselling at 1-888-750-HERS or 610-667-7757.
The above article is reprinted with permission from Ashtree Publishing, the publishers of Down There: Sexual and Reproductive Health The Wise Woman Way, by Susun S. Weed. Ask for the book at your local bookstore, or visit http://www.wisewomanbookshop.com.
To place bulk book orders, visit the Canadian distributor’s website at http://bit.ly/r45uBz or call (800) 667-3399
Susun began her study of herbal medicine in 1965. Her areas of focus are: folkloric herbalism, eco-herbalism, ethnobotany, pharmacognosy, philosophy and psychology of healing, comparative religion, and women's health / spirituality. She is especially interested in altered states of consciousness as they pertain to learning, healing, birthing, and dying; and the role of plants in these states. Ms. Weed has four books in print (Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Years; Healing Wise; Menopausal Years, The Wise Woman Way; and Breast Cancer? Breast Health! The Wise Woman Way) in English, French, Dutch, Japanese, and German. She is published in peer-reviewed journals (such as The Journal of Nurse-Midwifery), and was contributor to The Routledge Encyclopedia of Women's Studies. Ms. Weed writes a regular column for Sagewoman and Aspire magazines. She is featured in five professional videos (Weeds to the Wise, Menopause Metamorphosis, Chronic Problems the Wise Woman Way, Botany for Herbalists, and Hands-on Herbal Medicine).