Beyond hysterectomies: Integrative medicine provides natural approaches to fibroids

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Although uterine fibroids, benign tumors found in a woman’s reproductive organs, are one of the most common gynecological conditions, they’re also misunderstood and misdiagnosed.

Many women with fibroids don’t have symptoms, but those who do often experience extreme abdominal and pelvic pain, lower back pain, pain during sex, heavy bleeding, and frequent urination.

In the past, many doctors recommended a hysterectomy for fibroids, and while some still do, there are also other less-invasive surgical options available. There are also medications such as Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists, that treat fibroids by putting patients into a temporary state of menopause.

Those who don’t want to undergo a surgical procedure, or take prescription medications, can often find relief from fibroids through integrative modalities including aromatherapy, acupuncture, and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), that treat fibroids in a non-invasive manner.

“When the goal is avoiding a hysterectomy, both treatment of existing fibroids and prevention of any future ones are key,” said Meredith Liguori, DACM, LAc, of the Yinova Center in New York City. “We use many modalities to treat fibroids, including acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, moxibustion, and dietary supplements. As with any condition, we treat the symptoms of the diagnosis as opposed to the diagnosis itself.”

Integrative treatments are often offered in adjunct with Western medicine. For women who are of childbearing age, or who prefer to avoid the risks associated with a hysterectomy, Liguori said acupuncture and herbs can reduce the size and unpleasant side effects of fibroids, including abnormal or heavy menstruation and abdominal cramping.

Acupuncture treatments can help shrink fibroids naturally by targeting special points on a client’s lower abdomen.

“We encourage clients who have a history of fibroids to see an acupuncturist regularly to keep them at bay, and eventually, eradicate them completely,” Liguori said.

She also recommends moxibustion to relieve fibroid pain, which involves burning the herb mugwort. Clients can do this at home using lit moxa sticks, made of ground mugwort leaves, and holding them an inch away from their lower abdomen, while rotating the sticks in small circles.

“Looking at a woman’s menstrual cycle is an additional focus when treating fibroids,” Liguori said. “Details like the length of the menstrual cycle, the color of the menstrual blood, quality of menstrual blood, and pain with bleeding all give us a better idea of what treatment will work best.”

As an example, Gui Zhi Fu Ling Tang (GFLT) is commonly used to treat fibroids with one recent study, published in Medicine (Baltimore) finding the Chinese herb was very effective in shrinking fibroids when combined with Western medicine.

In addition to treating the side effects of fibroids, integrative practitioners should consider other aspects of a woman’s health. Liguori said this includes assessing each client’s digestion, sleep, and overall wellbeing.

Since what a client eats, or doesn’t eat, can be linked to their risk of developing fibroids, Liguori also talks with clients about their diet and modifications they can make.

A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, found that a low intake of fruit and green vegetables, vitamin D deficiency, and pollutants ingested with food can all lead to an increased risk of fibroids.

Chronic stress can affect a woman’s risk of developing fibroids and therapies such as aromatherapy can improve many of the symptoms associated with fibroids, such as anxiety, depression, and pain.

When Renee Hughes, a certified professional coach, aromatherapist, and holistic coach mentor, at Aromaspecialists, based in Atlanta, Georgia, meets with new clients she asks if they’re dealing with high blood pressure, imbalances of the endocrine system, or emotional health issues. She also confirms they’ve received a fibroid diagnosis from a gynecological specialist and asks about the specific treatment their doctor recommended.

“Fibroids are often misdiagnosed, especially if a woman hasn’t seen a specialist,” she said. “I then explain that while aromatherapy can’t cure fibroids, hormonal imbalances and unmanaged stress can certainly intensify and complicate the symptoms of fibroids.”

In addition, Hughes asks if clients have any allergies and whether they are using medications and dietary supplements to ensure there are no conflicts with any aromatherapy blends she recommends.

“I then suggest a regimen of essential oils to use along with other lifestyle modifications that can reduce negative stress and support the endocrine system,” Hughes said.

Among the essential oils used for fibroids are Frankincense, known to balance hormone levels and reduce menstrual cramping, Lavender to reduce stress and anxiety, Juniper berry to help regulate menstruation, and Peppermint for its soothing abilities. When being used to treat clients with fibroids, essential oils are applied directly to the skin surrounding the abdomen, offering a natural and soothing solution.

“The goal is for the client to become genuinely nourished,” said Hughes. “In an environment with minimal negative stress, the body can start to repair what’s out of balance.”