Can Your Hormonal Balance Affect Uterine Fibroids?
Posted bySarah Handzel, BSN, RN
As doctors unravel some of the mysteries surrounding uterine fibroids, more and more is being understood about these uterine growths and what causes them. A family history of fibroids, for example, is thought to be a risk factor, but it’s not that simple. More than 60 percent of respondents to a HealthyWomen.org survey on fibroids reported that they had no history of fibroids in their family tree. The Office on Women’s Health notes that age, ethnicity, obesity, and eating habits are also potential causes.1 But what about a women’s hormonal balance?
According to the Office on Women’s Health, up to 80 percent of women develop uterine fibroids by the age of 50. The female sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone, may affect the growth and shrinking of fibroids, thus it’s key to learn more about hormones.1 Here’s a breakdown of hormones and how estrogen and progesterone may fit into the equation.
Understanding Hormonal Balance
With each menstrual cycle, two hormones, estrogen and progesterone, are responsible for stimulating the growth of the lining of your uterus in preparation for pregnancy. As you age, the level of these two hormones in your body naturally fluctuates. At menopause, both hormones aren’t produced at high levels like they were before, notes the Cleveland Clinic.2 It’s important to keep this in mind, because the development of uterine fibroids has been shown to be related to the level of both estrogen and progesterone in your body.3
Estrogen’s Role in Fibroid Development
In your body, estrogen helps determine which genes are activated to cause the growth of fibroids in your uterus. There are specific binding sites, called receptors, for estrogen in the tissues of your uterus. When an estrogen molecule binds to one of these receptors, certain cellular processes occur that may make fibroid growth possible, according to a review published in the journal Current Opinion in Obstetrics & Gynecology.3
The receptors for estrogen are also found in fibroids themselves. Uterine fibroids have been shown to have high amounts of estrogen receptors within them, and the levels of estrogen within fibroid tissue is higher than in other tissues. As a result, uterine fibroids may increase in size as estrogen levels increase.3
How Does Progesterone Fit In?
Progesterone helps your body coordinate your normal reproductive processes, and it has been shown to have a role in the development of fibroids. In combination with estrogen, progesterone stimulates uterine fibroid expansion.3
In your body, certain genes that help regulate the growth of uterine fibroids are stimulated by progesterone. Uterine fibroids have higher levels of receptors for progesterone, which may make the non-cancerous tumors respond to this hormone.3
Hormonal Balance Is Still Being Studied
Even though doctors are still working to better understand just how your hormonal balance affects uterine fibroids, research points to both female sex hormones as possibly having a role in the development of fibroids. It’s a complicated subject, but one that may become easier to understand as more research is conducted.
If you think you have uterine fibroids or are concerned about any symptoms you might be experiencing, such as heavy or long periods, pelvic pressure and back or leg aches, among others, lists the Mayo Clinic, you should talk to your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis.4
1“Uterine fibroids.” Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. February 6, 2017. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/uterine-fibroids
2“Menopause, Perimenopause, and Postmenopause.” Cleveland Clinic. January 6, 2017. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/what-is-perimenopause-menopause-postmenopause
3Movarek, Molly B. and Bulun, Serdar E. “Endocrinology of Uterine Fibroids: Steroid Hormones, Stem Cells, and Genetic Contribution.” Current Opinion in Obstetrics & Gynecology, August 2015; 27(4). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4734398/
4“Uterine fibroids, Symptoms and causes.” Mayo Clinic. July 6, 2016. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/uterine-fibroids/symptoms-causes/dxc-20212514
- Posted by Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN
- On July 31, 2017