Herbal Medicine, Women's Health

Fibroids

Fibroids occur in 1 of 5 women and the cause is unknown, although it is believed that their continued growth is linked to a hormonal imbalance, and more specifically, excess estrogen (Maciocia, 1998). 

The size of a fibroid, or myoma, can be tiny and seen only under a microscope, or quite large and even fill up the entire uterus. Smaller fibroids may cause no problems, and may not even be detectable. Larger fibroids can cause heavy periods, an urgency to urinate, and painful periods. The urinary symptoms occur when a larger fibroid is pressing up against the bladder. 

Unless fibroids are very large, most western doctors advise against surgical or drug intervention. When symptoms become more frequent, or more difficult to manage, there are very good options from both the standard, western, and natural health models. 

Types of Fibroids

There are three types of fibroids, classified by location: Those that adhere to the outside of the uterus (sub-serous), those within the muscle wall of the uterus (interstitial), and those on the inner lining of the uterus (submucosal). The most common is interstitial, and the rarest is submucosal (“Where do fibroids grow…, “2017).

Standard medical treatment of fibroids depends on the type and size of fibroid. If symptoms like heavy periods are not severe, the “wait and see” approach is recommended. It is only when the fibroid continues to grow that investigative procedures, such as ultrasound or CT scan, are recommended. 

Treatments are also chosen based upon the type of fibroid. This may include simple ultrasound to heat up the fibroid and help it dissolve, radiofrequency to break up the fibroid, or ablation to freeze/pulverize the fibroid. All of these will essentially cut off the blood supply to the fibroid and allow it to dissolve. Fibroids that are very large will require surgical intervention, and surgeries are now much more sophisticated and require less recovery time than in the past.

Natural health alternatives for fibroids

Fibroids can be tough to manage with conventional medicine. One reason is that the medications used have rather serious side effects, such as menopausal symptoms and/or amenorrhea (loss of menstrual cycle). Even surgery to remove fibroids (myomectomy) is statistically not very effective with 80-90 percent of women requiring a repeat surgery within 5 years due to the growth of new fibroids. Using acupuncture and herbal methods offers a safe and effective solution for the reduction and even potential resolution of fibroids.

Herbs for fibroids

Herbal treatment for fibroids is an approach that is time tested, and works. In the past, raw herbs were cooked into teas, but in modern times it is much easier since herbs can be taken in pill form. Gui zhi fu ling wan (Ramulus Cinnamomi-Poria Pill) is a standard formula for improving overall blood circulation to the pelvic region. Traditionally, this formula was used for women who experience bleeding during pregnancy. It is very gentle and safe.

Because fibroids are growths in the uterine wall or cavity, a bit more momentum is required to encourage blood flow to the pelvic region, and also to shrink growths of the uterus. The formula Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang, or Drive Out Blood Stasis in the Lower Abdomen, is thus combined with the aforementioned formula to achieve this aim. These two formulas have been combined in patented pill forms by many companies. One such line of herbs, the Jade Woman herbals, is highly regarded for gynecological issues such as fibroids, endometriosis, PCOS, dysmenorrhea, and others.

The herbs contained in both formulas have been shown to control bleeding, and also to control both estrogen and bgFg (Rister, 1999). It is important to use a strategy that stops fibroids from growing, while also addressing hormonal levels. Studies show that the synergistic effects of these herbal formulas lower estrogen, an effect that is positive for numerous systems in the body. Herbs contained in these formulas stimulate the liver to change estrogen from a more active to a less active form (Rister, 1999).

Individual herbs have signatures, and an empirical use (one that has been observed over a long span of time with a specific result). For example, E zhu (Curcuma rhizome) and san leng (Sparganium Rhizome) are particularly powerful to reduce solid masses. Dang gui (radix angelica sinensis) reinforces and warms the blood, especially in the pelvic region.

Note that there are drugs that can also lower estrogen. Gondadotropin-releasing (GnRH) hormone agonists can be used to block production of estrogen and progesterone, however, these have side effects that mimic menopausal symptoms. The main side effects are hot flashes, stopping the menses, and hirsutism (hair growth on face), in other words, masculinizing effects. (“Fibroids,” n.d.). A progestin-releasing IUD is sometimes prescribed to help control heavy bleeding from fibroids (“Fibroids,” n.d.), however, there is some evidence that progesterone also leads to continued growth of fibroids (“Hormones and fibroids…,” 2019).

Acupuncture for Fibroids

The 3 main meridians that influence gynecological issues are the Directing, Penetrating, and Governing vessels. All three connect with the pelvis, and the reproductive organs. The Directing vessel is arguably the most significant because of its impact on yin, or fluid aspects of the body, and therefore supports essential hormones.  The Governing vessel connects with the Heart, Kidneys, and Brain. These areas are important in maintaining shen, or peaceful attitude and calm.while simultaneously strengthening the “root.” The Penetrating vessel governs blood and helps remove stagnation in the pelvic region. Complementary points on the main meridians are chosen based upon individual diagnosis. An analysis of the menstrual cycle, i.e. length, spotting, cramping, clots also help determine point prescription.

The hormone bfGf (basic fibroid Growth factor) is responsible for the growth of fibroids and is the one responsible for the rampant growth of fibroids that impede fertility. When fibroids become large they may block the sperm from entering the follicle. Studies show that this hormone is especially active at ovulation, because it interacts with the shifting estrogen to progesterone in the body at that time (Anania et al., 1997).

Acupuncture and herbs offer safe and gentle approach to treating fibroids, and can be a first line of treatment to manage pain, regulate and restore a healthy menstrual cycle, balance hormones, and shrink or lessen fibroid.

Always consult with a qualified practitioner when using herbs and supplements long term, and/or for chronic health conditions. Certain variations of formulas are available to persons who have sensitivities due to immune system, comorbidities, and use of medications. 

TCM herbalists go through rigorous training on the use of herbal formulas in combination with drugs and know the safest way to dispense herbs without causing negative side effects.

REFERENCES

Anania, C., Stewart, E. Quade, B., Hill, J., Nowak, R.. (1997).  Expression of the fibroblast growth factor receptor in women with leiomyomas and abnormal uterine bleeding, Molecules in Human Reproduction, 3(8), 685-691.

Hormones and fibroids: The role of estrogen and progesterone. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.usafibroidcenters.com/blog/hormones-and-fibroids-the-role-of-progesterone-and-estrogen/

Lyttleton, J. (2013). Treatment of infertility with Chinese medicine. United Kingdom: Elsevier Health Sciences.

Maciocia, G. (1998). Obstetrics and gynecology in Chinese medicine. New York: Churchill Livingstone.

Rister, R. (1999). Japanese herbal medicine: The healing art of Kampo. Avery Publishing Group, Inc.: New York.

Uterine Fibroids (n.d.) Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/uterine-fibroids/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20354294

Where do fibroids grow? The 4 types of fibroids explained. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.azuravascularcare.com/infoufe/fibroids-explained/