Fibroids are associated with infertility, miscarriage, heavy bleeding, and pelvic pain. Treatment options have traditionally been limited to surgical intervention, but that’s changing with new research on vitamin D supplementation.

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By Margaret Rogers, MPA

Uterine fibroids, also known as leiomyomas, are the most common benign (non-cancerous) tumors in women of reproductive age. They are associated with infertility and miscarriage, not to mention the symptoms of heavy bleeding and pelvic pain. Treatment options have traditionally been limited to surgical intervention, but that’s changing as new research is emerging that vitamin D supplementation could reduce the progression of fibroids.

The majority of women will get fibroids in their lifetime

Approximately 50-80% of women will get fibroids in their lifetime. A population based study in the US detected fibroids in 59% of Black women and 43% of white women. For women in their late 40s, the estimated frequency of fibroids was >80% for Black women and near 70% for white women. And they are three to four times more common in Black women, who are also ten times more likely to have a vitamin D deficiency.

Finding out I had a fibroid at age 28

This emerging research on non-surgical options to treat fibroids hits close to home for me. Why? Because when I was 28 years old, I had my first miscarriage. During the ultrasound to confirm the miscarriage, the OBGYN commented on the prescence of a very large fibroid. This was news to me because at my annual doctor’s appointment just six months earlier, it wasn’t detectable. Over the next few weeks, I learned that the fibroid may have contributed to the miscarriage. Because of this link, as well as the size and location of my fibroid, my doctor recommended an abdominal myomectomy to remove the fibroid before trying to get pregnant again. 

This was upsetting not only because of the time and cost it added before we could start trying to get pregnant again (six months after surgery), but also because it meant I’d have to have caesarean sections (c-sections) with any future pregnancies. I’d always wanted to have a vaginal birth if possible, so learning that was no longer an option was mentally challenging. Plus, c-sections are major surgery and add a whole additional level of risk and complexity to healing from childbirth!

Vitamin D and fibroids

Recent studies have looked into the role of vitamin D in the development of uterine fibroids. We are learning two things:

  1. There is an association between vitamin D deficiency and increased risk of uterine fibroids.
  2. Vitamin D supplementation may help shrink uterine fibroids.
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Can you get rid of fibroids without surgery?

Traditionally, treatment options for fibroids include surgery (hysterectomy and myomectomy) and uterine arterial embolisation. In fact, fibroids are among the most common reasons for major surgery in pre-menopausal women, and the leading cause of hysterectomy in the United States. While surgery can be effective, hysterectomies are not an option for women who still plan to have children one day. Not to mention, they are expensive, painful, and associated with significantly increasing morbidity and mortality. And abdominal myomectomies may necessitate c-sections in future pregnancies due to an increased risk for uterine rupture during labor, which is a big consideration (and another major surgery) for women who plan to have children. This is something that your OBGYN will decide based on the number and/or location of fibroids at time of removal. 

However, there are potential non-surgical ways to manage fibroids, including vitamin D supplementation. Researchers funded by the NIH found that vitamin D inhibited the growth of human fibroid cells in laboratory cultures. Louis De Paolo, Ph.D., chief of the Reproductive Sciences Branch of the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development said of the study: "The results provide a promising new lead in the search for a non-surgical treatment for fibroids that doesn't affect fertility.”

There are potential non-surgical ways to manage fibroids, including vitamin D supplementation.

Another study of women with uterine fibroids and vitamin D deficiency found that after 12 months of vitamin D supplementation, women had a lower rate of surgical and medical treatment. The authors concluded, “vitamin D supplementation seems to reduce the progression to an extensive disease, and thus the need of conventional surgical or medical therapy.”

Vitamins to shrink fibroids

Can vitamin D shrink fibroids? Vitamin D is the most researched supplement in the treatment of fibroids. One clinical trial on 69 women with fibroids and vitamin D deficiency found that fibroid sizes significantly decreased in the group receiving vitamin D supplementation. The authors concluded that “vitamin D administration is the effective way to treat leiomyoma [fibroids]”. 

Other supplements include epigallocatechin gallate (green tea), berberine, and curcumin, but more research is needed. 

If you suffer from fibroids and vitamin D deficiency, talk to your doctor about treatment options. Ask as many questions as possible, and don’t be afraid to get a second opinion. You’re your own best health advocate, and if you prefer to pursue newer treatment options, you deserve a doctor who will support you.

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