Uterine fibroids are common and often asymptomatic. Even though the precise cause is unknown, research has found they’re dependent on the sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone.

Some people are at greater risk for uterine fibroids, including those who have obesity.

Some of the risk factors for uterine fibroids can be changed. Being physically active, making certain dietary choices, and managing your weight can reduce your risk.

Medication and surgery are other options you can consider to manage your uterine fibroids. Less invasive procedures include uterine artery embolization and high frequency magnetic resonance-guided focused ultrasound.

You should talk with your doctor about what treatments may be best for you depending on your symptoms, age, and fertility goals, as well as the size and location of the fibroids.

Fibroids are tumors that grow inside the uterus. They’re usually benign or non-cancerous. Fibroids don’t always cause symptoms, but when they do, they can affect your quality of life. You may experience:

  • heavy menstrual bleeding
  • iron deficiency (anemia) from blood loss
  • bleeding between periods
  • pain during sex
  • pain in the lower back
  • pelvic pressure
  • reproductive issues, like infertility and early onset of labor

About 30 percent of women with fibroids experience severe symptoms.

There are some factors that may increase your risk for uterine fibroids. These include:

  • being over 40 years old
  • having had your first period at age 10 or younger
  • having a family history of fibroids
  • having obesity
  • having high blood pressure
  • never having been pregnant
  • consuming food additives
  • having a vitamin D deficiency

Research shows that uterine fibroids may occur at a higher rate in people of African descent, but it’s unclear as to why. Pregnancy and long-term use of contraception use can lower the risk of uterine fibroids.

Research has found a few important links between diet and uterine fibroids. For example, a lack of vitamin D and not eating enough fruits and vegetables can increase your risk.

Limiting certain foods and adding others to your diet can help you decrease fibroid risk and may also promote a moderate weight.

Foods to eat

These foods may protect you against fibroids:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • vitamin D
  • oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel)
  • white meats (chicken, turkey)
  • soya beans
  • fava beans
  • green vegetables
  • apples
  • tangerines
  • oranges
  • vegetable juice
  • unsweetened fruit juice
  • green tea

Your doctor may also recommend dietary choices that align with your overall health goals, such as lowering sugar and fat intake.

Foods to avoid

Eliminating or reducing the following foods can also help you reduce fibroid risk:

  • red meat (beef, ham, lamb)
  • potatoes
  • rice
  • chips
  • alcohol
  • high sugar drinks
  • sweets and chocolates

You can ask your doctor about other foods that may not be right for you given your personal health profile.

There are many risk factors for uterine fibroids that are beyond your control, like your age and family history. There are also many things you can do to lower your risk.

Obesity is a known risk factor for uterine fibroids, but physical activity can also help protect against fibroid development.

A 2018 paper described physical activity, diet, and change in weight as possibly modifiable uterine fibroid risk factors.

A 2015 study found that exercise can reduce the amount of sex hormones in the body, an effect not just explained by weight loss. According to the 2018 paper, fibroids are also dependent on the same kinds of sex hormones.

Starting an exercise program, even if it does not immediately result in weight loss, may still reduce your risk of uterine fibroids. Exercise may also help reduce the level of sex hormones that fibroids depend on.

If you don’t have symptoms, your doctor may recommend no specific treatment for fibroids.

Mild symptoms may be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Your doctor may also recommend hormone medication like low dose birth control to control bleeding or a hormone-releasing intrauterine device (IUD).

If you’re interested in a non-hormonal option, tranexamic acid can also reduce heavy menstrual bleeding. Other drugs, like gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists, can shrink the fibroids.

For moderate to severe symptoms, your doctor may recommend surgery. Types of surgery for fibroids include:

  • myomectomy: removal of the fibroid
  • hysterectomy: removal of the uterus
  • endometrial ablation: destroying the lining of the uterus to stop bleeding
  • myolysis or uterine fibroid embolization (uterine artery embolization): two methods for destroying the fibroid inside the body

The choice of surgical procedure depends on many factors, such as the location of the fibroid and your personal fertility goals.

Most uterine fibroids, whether or not they are treated, start to shrink at menopause.

People who have surgery for fibroids can experience significant symptom improvement. Hysterectomy is considered a cure for fibroids, as they very rarely come back the procedure.

A 2020 study found that people who had a myomectomy had a better quality of life 2 years after having a hysterectomy compared with those who had uterine artery embolization.

Your family doctor may offer guidance on how to manage weight gain and diet if you have uterine fibroids. In some cases, they may refer you to a specialist to discuss treatment options in more detail.

Here are some questions you may want to ask your doctor:

  • How many fibroids do I have, and where are they located?
  • What is the size of my fibroid(s)?
  • Will diet changes improve my symptoms?
  • Is it safe for me to exercise?
  • How can I treat fibroids and preserve my fertility?
  • Are there complementary treatments you can recommend?

Try to feel comfortable discussing your symptoms with your doctor so they can help you come up with a treatment plan for you to feel better.

There’s a known link between uterine fibroids and obesity. Diet and physical activity also play a role in your risk for the condition.

Starting an exercise program and making different food choices may help you improve your overall health and reduce fibroid symptoms.