Fending off Fibroids?
I have a uterine fibroid tumor that is a little smaller than a tennis ball. I have been trying to reduce its size through exercise and diet -- and I've been taking blue cohosh, too. How long should I take this herb, and what dosage do you recommend? Does blue cohosh help shrink the fibroid? What else can I do to shrink the fibroid?
Uterine fibroids are benign muscle tumors that grow within or on the uterus. Estrogen appears to stimulate fibroid growth -- generally they appear in premenopausal women and shrink when estrogen levels bottom-out after menopause. A woman who has fibroids may have no symptoms. However, if they grow large enough (some weigh several pounds), fibroids can distort the uterus, become painful, or cause heavy menstrual bleeding. Some gynecologists recommend hysterectomy to remove any fibroids. But because fibroids don't become malignant, I think surgery is an extreme measure. I don't recommend it unless the fibroids are causing pain or excessive bleeding. (By the way, women with heavy menstrual bleeding should always be screened for anemia.)
Blue cohosh (or Caulophyllum thalictroides) won't shrink fibroids. In the past, women took the herb to stop the heavy bleeding associated with fibroids, or to induce labor -- but I no longer recommend this herb for women. This year, a study in the Journal of Natural Products found that blue cohosh could cause birth defects in rat embryos, including nerve damage, twisted tails, and poor or absent eye development. And last year, in the Journal of Pediatrics, a Seattle pediatrician reported on the newborn of a woman who had taken blue cohosh while pregnant. The baby had a heart attack associated with congestive heart failure and shock, and remained critically ill for several weeks before recovering. The physician said other possible causes of the heart problems were carefully excluded before he pointed a finger at blue cohosh. He noted that constituents of the herb are known to produce toxic effects on the hearts of laboratory animals and suggests cautioning women against taking blue cohosh during a pregnancy.
Both studies suggest we need to know more about the effects of blue cohosh. In the meanwhile, all women of reproductive age should avoid it to prevent the possibility of birth defects. Fortunately, alternative treatments for fibroids are available. These include:
Eat a low-fat diet.
Avoid foods considered estrogenic. These include meats, poultry, eggs, and dairy products -- unless you're sure they've been raised or produced without drugs or hormones.
Increase aerobic exercise.
Take 400 IU of vitamin E twice a day.
Try to decrease the size of the fibroid with visualization exercises.
If your symptoms are severe, and your gynecologist recommends surgery, you can choose an alternative to hysterectomy. Fibroids can be removed via a myomectomy, an operation that can preserve your uterus and fertility.