Fibroids are harmless growths in the uterus. They’re also called uterine fibroids, myomas, and leiomyomas.

Fibroids aren’t cancerous or life-threatening but they can sometimes cause complications and health problems.

Fibroids form in and around the uterine walls. They’re made of muscle and other tissues. They may be as tiny as a seed or grow larger than a tennis ball. You may have multiple fibroids or just one.

Doctors don’t know exactly what causes fibroids. Being overweight or obese increases your risk, as does having low levels of some types of nutrients.

Prevalence

Almost 80 percent of women have fibroids in their lifetime. This condition may also be genetic. You’re at higher risk if your mother or sister has fibroids.

Fibroids can cause symptoms and complications such as:

  • pain
  • heavy menstrual bleeding
  • constipation
  • anemia
  • difficulty getting pregnant
  • miscarriages

However, only 20 to 50 percent of women with fibroids have symptoms. In most cases, treatment isn’t needed. Your doctor may recommend waiting and watching to see if the fibroids go away on their own.

While foods can’t treat or prevent fibroids, your daily diet and lifestyle may play a role in reducing your risk. Diet can help balance hormones that may trigger these growths. Certain foods may also help ease fibroid symptoms.

There are a number of changes you can make that might help reduce your risk for fibroids.

Follow a Mediterranean diet

Add plenty of fresh and cooked green vegetables, fresh fruit, legumes, and fish to your plate. A Mediterranean diet is one way to do this. Research shows that eating these foods regularly may help lower your risk for fibroids. On the other hand, eating beef, ham, lamb, and other red meat may raise your risk.

Check out a beginner’s guide to the Mediterranean diet for tips and a meal plan.

Cut back on alcohol

Drinking any type of alcohol may increase your risk for fibroids. This can happen because alcohol raises the level of hormones needed for fibroids to grow. Alcohol may also trigger inflammation.

One study found that women who drank one or more beers a day increased their risk by more than 50 percent. Avoid or limit alcohol to help reduce your risk.

Balance estrogen

Estrogen is a hormone important for healthy fertility in both women and men. However, too much estrogen can increase your risk for fibroids or make them worse.

Many treatments for fibroids work by lowering estrogen levels. Other ways to balance estrogen levels include:

  • Losing weight. Obesity and excess weight increase the risk for fibroids. Fat cells make more estrogen, so losing weight may help prevent or slow the growth of fibroids.
  • Avoiding hormone-disrupting chemicals. Natural and synthetic chemicals can throw off your endocrine balance, raising estrogen levels. These chemicals can leach into your body through skin and food. Avoid coming into contact with chemicals found in:
    • fertilizers
    • pesticides
    • plastics such as BPA
    • nonstick coatings on cookware
    • fire retardants
    • dyes
    • paints
    • some personal care products

Lower blood pressure

Research shows that a high number of women with severe fibroids also have high blood pressure. More research is needed to find out if there’s a link.

Balancing blood pressure is vital for your overall health. Try these tips:

  • Avoid added salt. Flavor food with herbs and other spices instead.
  • Limit high-sodium processed and packaged foods.
  • Check your blood pressure daily with a home monitor.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Lose weight, especially around the waist.
  • Avoid or limit alcohol.
  • Increase potassium by eating a majority of plants at each meal.
  • Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.
  • If you have high blood pressure, take medication as prescribed.
  • See your doctor for regular checkups.

Get enough vitamin D

Vitamin D may help reduce your risk of fibroids by almost 32 percent. Your body makes this “sunshine vitamin” naturally when your skin’s exposed to sunlight. If you have darker skin or live in cooler climates you’re more likely to be deficient.

Supplements can help raise your levels, along with foods such as:

  • egg yolks
  • fortified milk, cheese, and dairy products
  • fortified cereals
  • fortified orange juice
  • fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel
  • cod liver oil

A note about smoking and diet

Eating brightly colored fruits and vegetables is good for your general health. Red, yellow, and orange foods are rich in antioxidants. These nutrients may help protect you from disease, including some cancers.

However, a study found that these foods don’t lower the risk for fibroids. In smokers, they may even increase risk. Further research is needed on why this might happen. In any case, smoking is harmful to your health and may increase your risk of fibroids.

Diet alone can’t treat fibroids. However, a balanced diet may also help ease some fibroid symptoms and complications. Certain foods may help slow fibroid growth in some cases.

Fiber

Fiber-rich foods aid weight loss and balance hormones. They also help to keep blood sugar levels steady. For these reasons, fiber may help prevent and slow the growth of fibroids. Add these whole foods to your diet:

  • cooked and raw vegetables
  • cooked, raw, and dried fruit
  • whole grain bread and pasta
  • cruciferous vegetables
  • oats
  • lentils
  • barley
  • beans

Potassium

Potassium helps to counter the effects of salt to balance blood pressure. Add these potassium-rich foods to your daily diet:

  • avocado
  • bananas
  • citrus
  • cantaloupe
  • collard greens
  • dates
  • lentils
  • oat bran
  • potatoes
  • tomatoes

Dairy

Add dairy products such as yogurt and full-fat cheese to your diet. Dairy is rich in calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. These minerals may help prevent fibroids and slow their growth. Fortified milk also contains vitamin D.

Green tea

Green tea contains several antioxidants. A study found that one of these, epigallocatechin gallate, may help slow the growth of fibroids by bringing down inflammation and high estrogen levels. Green tea may also improve symptoms of heavy bleeding due to fibroids, such as low iron.

Sugar

Sugary foods and simple carbohydrates may trigger or worsen fibroids. These foods spike blood sugar levels. This causes your body to make too much insulin. Excess insulin can cause weight gain and affect fibroid growth.

Avoid refined carbs and added sugars such as:

  • table sugar
  • glucose
  • dextrose
  • maltose
  • corn syrup
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • white bread, rice, pasta, and flour
  • soda and sugary drinks
  • fruit juice
  • potato chips
  • crackers
  • packaged energy bars

Estrogen-increasing foods

Some foods contain natural ingredients that mimic the estrogen in the body, called phytoestrogens. Others have added hormones or trigger your body to make more estrogen. It appears that some of these foods have protective effects when consumed in small to moderate amounts yet result in negative health effects when consumed in high amounts. You may need to limit or avoid foods such as:

  • red meat
  • animal fats
  • alcohol
  • chocolate
  • soy beans
  • soy milk
  • tofu
  • flax seed
  • alfalfa sprouts

Eating a balanced diet and shedding extra pounds is important for your overall health. You may not be able to prevent fibroids, no matter what precautions you take. See your doctor if you think you may be at risk or if you experience any changes in your health.

If you have fibroids, your doctor will determine the best type of treatment. Healthy diet and lifestyle changes are the first step to treating fibroids and soothing symptoms.

Following a diet plan is critical even if you have surgery, drug therapy, or other treatment for fibroids.

Your doctor may also recommend natural remedies, alternative pain relief, stress management, and supplements to help ease symptoms. Talk with your doctor and dietitian about the best diet plan for you and other ways to prevent and reduce the effects of fibroids.