Fibroids are common benign tumours that grow in the uterus of a woman, affecting many women worldwide. While the exact causes of fibroid development are still a topic of debate, it has been understood that certain hormones, particularly progesterone and estrogen play a significant role in their growth. Here, we will explore how progesterone and estrogen levels affect fibroids.
The Role of Progesterone in Fibroid Development
Progesterone is a hormone produced by the female ovaries and plays a crucial role in the female’s menstrual cycle and pregnancy. In one of the phases of the woman’s menstrual cycle, progesterone influences the growth and development of the endometrial lining in the uterus and prepares it for the potential implantation of a fertilized egg. The fertilization of an egg is done by the entry of a male sperm. This forms a foetus and the woman is observed to be pregnant. But progesterone is also a big player in the formation of fibroids especially when there are immune blockers like the contraceptives in the woman’s body. In the context of fibroids, this is how progesterone can contribute to their growth:
Progesterone is a hormone that promotes cell growth in the uterus. When progesterone levels are abnormally high, it can lead to the formation and growth of fibroids. Fibroids have more receptors for progesterone compared to healthy uterine tissue, which means they are more sensitive to the effects of progesterone. This sensitivity to progesterone contributes to the growth of fibroids.
Progesterone also affects the extracellular matrix, which is a network of proteins and molecules that provide support to tissues. Fibroids have a different composition of the extracellular matrix compared to healthy uterine tissue, and this is influenced by progesterone. These changes in the extracellular matrix contribute to the growth and maintenance of fibroids.
The Role of Estrogen in Fibroid Development
Estrogen is a hormone produced mainly by the ovaries and plays a crucial role in the development and maintenance of female reproductive organs. Estrogen also influences the growth of fibroids through its interaction with estrogen receptors in the uterus.
Like progesterone, estrogen promotes cell growth in the uterine tissue, including the cells involved in fibroid growth. Fibroids have higher levels of estrogen receptors compared to healthy uterine tissue, which makes them more responsive to the effects of estrogen. This increased responsiveness to estrogen contributes to the growth of fibroids.
Additionally, estrogen stimulates the formation of new blood vessels, a process called angiogenesis. This is important for fibroid growth and survival because fibroids need a good blood supply to receive nutrients and oxygen for their continued growth. Hence, the more they get supplies, the bigger they grow.
The Balance Between Progesterone and Estrogen in Fibroid Development
Although both Progesterone and estrogen are primary hormones that are very essential in the reproductive organ of females, they are naturally regulated to maintain a balance in the body of a normal adult female. An imbalance would arise when there are hormonal disruptors like birth control pills, processed foods, and other environmental factors. Hence, maintaining a healthy balance between progesterone and estrogen levels is essential for the normal functioning of the uterus. However, an imbalance between these hormones can contribute to the development and growth of fibroids.
A. Estrogen Dominance causes fibroid growth:
Estrogen dominance occurs when estrogen is relatively excessive compared to progesterone in the body. Estrogen dominance has been associated with an increased risk of fibroids and their growth, as the relative lack of or reduced progesterone allows estrogen's proliferative effects to predominate. The bad worker becoming a master ruins the job.
B. Hormonal Changes during Menopause may cause fibroid to shrink:
During menopause, there is a decline in both estrogen and progesterone levels.
As a result, fibroids may shrink and become less symptomatic in some women. However, this is not universal, and individual variations exist.
Managing Hormonal imbalance
Hormone therapy is a conventional way in which hormone imbalances may be managed. Using therapies like Selective Progesterone Receptor Modulators (SPRMs), progesterone receptors are targeted which will prevent the body’s progesterone from reaching the fibroid and inhibit its growth. Contraceptives like the combination birth control pills or hormonal intrauterine devices (IUDs) which contain the synthetic forms of progesterone and estrogen are used to also regulate hormones expecting to inhibit fibroid growth. It's important to note that each woman's hormonal dynamics and response to hormonal therapies may vary, and the side effects of all of these may also be unpleasant.
Adopting Healthy Diet and lifestyle practices for hormone balance
Here are some healthy diet and lifestyle practices you can adopt to achieve a healthy balance of progesterone and estrogen for optimal reproductive health. You do not have to wait to be diagnosed with fibroid to incorporate these changes. Everyone should have these as preventive and healthy measures. Starting with the lifestyle
Regular Exercise: Engaging in regular physical activity can help maintain hormonal balance and promote overall reproductive health. Thrive to exercise daily for at least 20 minutes. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, such as playing a sport, strength training, brisk walking, jogging, or cycling.
Stress Management: Chronic stress can disrupt hormonal balance. If you see yourself constantly being stressed, understand that your hormones too are being disrupted. Implement stress management techniques like meditation, relaxation and rest, deep breathing exercises, massages, or engaging in activities you enjoy to reduce stress levels.
Enough Sleep: Sleep is a very essential part of the body’s repair means. Getting up to between 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night should be a priority to support hormonal regulation. This is a challenge many workers who take on night shifts may experience. Aim for quality sleep each night.
Avoid Environmental Hormone Disruptors: There are several environmental toxins that we are always exposed to which may cause a lot of disruption at the cellular levels. These chemicals are potentially harmful and can cause hormonal imbalances in the body. Such of which are BPAs (found in plastic products), phthalates (found in personal care products), and certain pesticides and insecticides. Always choose BPA-free products and choose organic foods whenever possible.
Balanced Macronutrients: Macronutrients like protein and complex carbohydrates are very essential to help to balance progesterone and estrogens. Eat a balanced diet that includes an adequate amount of protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. These macronutrients highly support hormone production and continuous balance.
Phytoestrogens: Always include foods that are rich in phytoestrogens in your diet, such as soybeans, tofu, flaxseeds, and chickpeas. Phytoestrogens can act as weak estrogen agonists or antagonists, helping to maintain hormonal balance.
Cruciferous Vegetables: The alkaline-forming vegetables especially cruciferous vegetables should be incorporated into the diet. Add cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kale into your diet. Cruciferous vegetables contain compounds that support estrogen metabolism and detoxification.
Fiber-Rich Foods: Foods rich in fibre are a very important addition to your diet. Consume plenty of fibre from fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Consuming adequate fibre in your diet promotes healthy estrogen metabolism and elimination from the body. Here is how you can begin to add more fibre to your foods.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Whole fats like unsaturated fats are vital players in hormone production and regulation. Include sources of omega-3 fatty acids, such as chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, avocado and fatty fish (salmon, mackerel). Omega-3 fatty acids support hormone production and reduce inflammation in the body which could potentially aid fibroid growth.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and following a supervised balanced diet is a proven way to balance and maintain reproductive and other body hormones. Ensure to work with your medical professionals to help you get a tailored approach and to ensure safe and effective management.