In search of natural treatments

So, you’ve just found out that you have fibroids – don’t panic! Here’s what you need to know right now:

1.      Fibroids are benign (noncancerous) tumors that grow inside the uterus. According to research, approximately 1 in 5 women will develop fibroids during their childbearing years.

2.      Fibroids take years to develop/grow but there are warning signs:

  • Have you noticed that you’ve become lethargic lately?
  • Are you out of breath after climbing a short flight of stairs?
  • Have you been bleeding a lot more than normal during your menstrual cycle?
  • Is your menstrual cycle lasting longer than usual?
  • Is there abdominal swelling?
  • Do you have back pain?
  • Is there unexplainable weight gain?
  • Are you urinating frequently?

3.      Anemia: Iron deficiency is common among women with fibroids and your doctor will insist that you begin taking supplements immediately.

4.      Iron and vitamin C:  Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron so it’s important that you take these two together. To that end, why not have a glass of orange juice with your iron supplement? Or, why not make lemonade, but instead of using sugar use blackstrap molasses?

5.      Distended abdomen: This is where things start to get ugly. It’s bad enough that you are now, probably anemic, having back pains, bleeding uncontrollably, etc. There’s one more surprise waiting for you. As the fibroids grow, your uterus will expand and your abdomen will become distended – that is, you will look like you’re pregnant.  Say goodbye to your waistline.

6.      Bloating: Another common symptom of fibroids. It’s important that you listen to your body to discover the pattern. In my case, it usually begins at least one week before my cycle commences and ends a few days after.

7.      Fibroids are not life threatening.

8.      Fibroids are more common than you think – mention it to a few of your friends and you’ll be surprised at how many have been suffering in silence.

9.      No one knows for sure why fibroids develop.

10.    Treatment options:

  • Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE): This is a minimally invasive procedure that blocks blood supply to the fibroids by inserting a catheter into the uterine arteries. The entire treatment typically lasts less than an hour and the patient is required to remain in the hospital for another 24 hours for observation. To learn more, see: http://www.ask4ufe.com/howUfeHelps/ufeProcedure.cfm
  • Myomectomy: In this operation, the surgeon removes the fibroids leaving the uterus intact. Note that with this procedure, fibroid regrowth may occur.
  • Hysterectomy: This is a surgical procedure in which the uterus is removed – an option for women who have no desire to become pregnant.
  • MR Guided Focused Ultrasound: This is a non-invasive, outpatient procedure in which high doses of focused ultrasound waves are used to destroy uterine fibroids.
A selection of Beta vulgaris, known as beet ro...

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Eager to have the UFE done as quickly as possible, I scheduled an MRI. The result would eventually reveal that I had two large fibroids (9 cm and 8cm) plus others too numerous to count! As I listened to my doctor, I couldn’t help but notice that he did not seem very enthusiastic about me doing the procedure. When I questioned him about this, he chose his words very carefully. Based on the MRI, I was the perfect candidate for UFE.

I began to seriously doubt whether or not I was making the right decision, so once again I returned to Earthclinic (http://www.earthclinic.com/CURES/fibroids.html) to figure out what I had missed.  I found nothing new. However, through additional research I learned that vitamin C enhances the absorption of iron. This made a lot of sense to me as I had stopped drinking juices (orange juice in particular) because I found them incredibly sweet. I also realized that I hadn’t been eating a lot oranges – I always ate apples, bananas, pineapples, etc. I needed foods with higher vitamin C content.

Further research led me to a discussion about the use of beets, aloe vera juice, and molasses to shrink fibroids.  This seems to be a popular formula among Dominicans. Anyway, I went out and bought some lemons and a few beets – I already had fresh aloe vera juice in the fridge. I figured, why not?  I then juiced and bottled the beets. Every morning and evening I would prepare the following drink:

  • 1 cup beet juice
  • 1/4 cup aloe vera juice
  • 1-2 tablespoons unsulphered blackstrap molasses
  • The juice of one lemon
  • Enough water to fill the glass

After a few days, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and my belly looked flatter. I dismissed it though – it had to be my imagination. Next day, same thing – my belly looked flatter than the day before. That’s when I started measuring. I measured below my waist, where the protrusion was greatest, and that day it was 38 inches. Two days later I measured again and it was 36 inches!  I wasn’t imagining it.

Vitamin C! Who knew?

I called my doctor and explained that I wanted to delay the UFE. He sounded pleased.

April, 2009: the date of my appointment to discuss my candidacy for uterine fibroid embolization (UFE).  In preparation for the big day, I watched a video of the procedure. I watched it several times actually, until I was comfortable. You can see it here: http://tinyurl.com/36jjhh8

A friend asked: “Why are you watching this? Are you going to get up in the middle of the procedure and declare ‘you’re doing it wrong!’ then do it yourself?” That made me laugh. But in all seriousness, watching the procedure made me less nervous and more confident about my decision. I really needed to know exactly what they were going to do to my body.

The big day finally arrived and I was greeted by a very warm and caring nurse in the waiting room of the doctor’s office, who, after showing me to the exam room, proceeded to get the required information from me.  She was very thorough and actually made me feel quite comfortable. She confirmed that I looked like I was six months pregnant. Then it was the doctor’s turn.

After reading my chart, he explained the procedure and while I had done my homework and knew almost everything he was telling me, I must admit that I was not aware of the potential side effects. They include the possibility that your period could stop for a few months, chronic pain, pelvic pain and cramping, nausea and vomiting, and fever. Please note that serious complications are not very common.

What really surprised me however, was the knowledge that it could take approximately six months after the procedure for the fibroids to shrink. Also, the fibroids wouldn’t shrink completely – their size would be reduced by about 60 – 70%.  You see, I naively thought that once I had the UFE done, my belly would return to its usual size and everything would be wonderful – no, the doctor said, you need surgery for that. And, the side effects of surgery are far worse.

He asked about my symptoms – I had none. “Then why do you want to do this?” Oh, I don’t know. Maybe the fact that I looked like I was six months pregnant! The first seed of doubt was planted though, and I then wondered if I was doing the right thing.

To determine whether or not I was a good candidate for UFE, I was asked to do an MRI and an endometrial biopsy.

The date: February, 2009. I have been managing my fibroids now for about a year and a half. Although the size of my belly kept fluctuating, I had figured out the pattern. There were no more back pains, menstrual cycle was normal, and my iron level was good. I sometimes had problems with frequent urination but it was manageable.

What I recall is that I had a visit from my Aunt who then asked me to make one of my skincare products. (I don’t usually keep stock in the house.) A trip to the hair salon had left her a bit bald and she was desperate for a product to fix it. Before preparing the formula, I sterilized all the containers and utensils, then disinfected the countertops with bleach. After about two hours, she had her product. Nothing unusual, I thought.

However, a few days later my belly literally doubled in size!

Pre-fibroids, I don’t think I truly understood how one’s self esteem can be  intricately intertwined with body image. Most women are sensitive about their weight. Not me. But then I didn’t have to be, I was always skinny. My Achilles heel is my skin. I am obsessed with skincare and the idea of flawless skin.

Yet, in February 2009, as I stared in the mirror and saw my image, I was crushed. I had a distended abdomen and looked heavily pregnant. My self esteem plunged. From that point on, I stopped looking in the mirror – I hated what I saw, so what was the point? When I tried on one of my favorite J. Crew dresses and realized that it no longer fit, I got really angry.

Suddenly, the natural route wasn’t cutting it. I wanted an immediate solution to the problem – the fibroids had to come out. No more molasses, no more research, just get them out – now!

With that in mind, I made an appointment with one of the radiologists on the www.ask4ufe.com Web site. Uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) was the route I wanted to take. It’s less invasive than surgery and the process typically lasts less than an hour. For more information see http://tinyurl.com/35gjgqk.

In late 2008, the Star Tribune printed the following article about vitamin D:  http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/28701254.html.  Here are the highlights:

  • Vitamin D deficiency is now an epidemic
  • Researchers have linked deficiencies to 17 kinds of cancer, autoimmune diseases, chronic pain, heart disease, depression and ADHD
  • Vitamin D regulates hundreds of genes, especially those associated with cell growth
  • It’s cheap and readily available via the sun
  • Those who live in colder climates do not get enough of the vitamin as they tend to spend more time inside than out

Further research lead me to the following clinical trial: Vitamin D inhibits myometrial and leiomyoma cell proliferation in vitro (http://tinyurl.com/2d938yd).

Here are the highlights:

  • The study was done in vitro (in a test tube)
  • In both myometrial and leiomyoma cells, 0.1 nM physiologic level of 1,25(OH)2D3 inhibited growth by 12% when compared with controls
  • Conclusion: Both myometrial and leiomyoma cell growth in vitro was effectively inhibited by 1,25(OH)2D3. Vitamin D may play a role in the growth of uterine leiomyomas.
  • (Note: leiomyoma = fibroids)

Another study concluded that vitamin D inhibits proliferation of human uterine leiomyoma cells via catechol-O-methyltransferase (http://tinyurl.com/34lzc2l)

At this point, I decided to incorporate vitamin D into my diet.  Here’s my regimen:

  • Soak up the sun: Daily walks that last at least 30 minutes
  • Cod liver oil (very good source)
  • Vitamin D3 tablets (winter)

In my case, it definitely did. I first noticed that my clothes weren’t fitting properly – they were snug. Also, when shopping, I could no longer fit into my usual size. Vanity sizing?

Now, I know this might sound strange but I’ve been the same size for years – actually, since college. In fact, I don’t gain weight easily. This is why I never thought it was me.

Then one day I got on the scale and looked down. It read 155 lbs! I’m 5ft. 9 and my usual weight, pre-fibroids, was 143-145 llbs.  This couldn’t be right – I need a new scale. My eating habits hadn’t changed. I rarely drank sodas, fruit juices, or basically any drink that contained fructose corn syrup.  I snacked (and still snack) on nuts, fruits, and the occasional ice cream.  It just didn’t make sense.

What was even more shocking was the overnight weight gain. Once, I went to bed weighing 155 lbs and woke up weighing 165! I nearly went mad. That’s when I realized that it was the fibroids. No matter what I did (exercise, daily walks, cutting out sugar) I just seemed to be gaining weight at the drop of a hat. Bloating was beginning to be a bigger pain than I thought it would be.

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