Did you know that your love affair with sugar could be raising your risk for something a little less sweet? We're talking about uterine fibroids, those pesky growths that can wreak havoc on your reproductive system. Here’s what you need to know.
With a whopping 80% of women estimated to experience fibroids at some stage in their life, we’ve got a widespread condition on our hands. These growths can lead to pain, heavy periods, constipation, anaemia and fertility issues. It’s worth noting that only 50% of women with fibroids are believed to have symptoms – but for others, the symptoms can be severe and debilitating. While diet hasn’t been proven to treat or prevent fibroids, there is research to suggest an anti-inflammatory, low-added sugar diet may help reduce your risk, along with reducing the severity of symptoms in those with pre-existing fibroids. First, let’s unpack what these growths actually are.
What are fibroids?
Fibroids are abnormal growths in the uterus, and while they aren’t cancerous, they can cause painful symptoms and may lead to health problems. These growths form in and around the uterine walls, varying in size and quantity. Take a look at some of the symptoms:
- Heavy periods
- Irregular periods
- Bleeding between periods
- Back pain
- Frequent urination
- Pelvic pain
- Period pain
We don’t know yet what causes fibroids, but obesity and nutrient deficiencies have been linked to an increased risk for the condition.
Sugar and fibroids – a dangerous pair
There is a body of evidence that suggests a diet high in added sugars may increase the risk of uterine fibroids – for one, we know that excess sugar can lead to obesity, increased inflammation and imbalanced hormones; all of which contribute to our chance of developing fibroids. Research pinpoints some of the ways in which the sweet stuff can trigger fibroids – for one, it spikes blood-sugar levels and may eventually lead to insulin resistance, which in turn can result in weight gain – a known risk factor for fibroids. Research also shows that inflammation in the body may increase your risk for the condition – and what promotes inflammation? Sugar. When we consume too much added sugar, we can throw our gut microbiome off – this means we may experience an overgrowth of bad bacteria, leaving us vulnerable to inflammation, infection and chronic disease. A high-sugar diet can also trigger the release of what are known as pro-inflammatory cytokines, these are proteins that play a key role in our immune response. Too many of these cytokines can lead to chronic inflammation. So, how can we prevent reduce inflammation in the body? Opting for whole foods over ultra-processed foods is a great first step – think whole grains, whole fruit and veggies, nuts and seeds. You’ll also want to take some time to exercise each day, along with avoiding smoking and excess alcohol consumption. Another sneaky element of inflammation is stress – we all struggle with stress from daily life, but it’s important to keep it to a minimum. Things like meditation, slow breathing and time in nature can all help.
As we mentioned before, obesity and excess weight can increase our risk for fibroids – but let’s dive into the link between sugar and obesity. When we consume too much sugar – particularly fructose – our liver is put under the gun to metabolise it, and we can end up with visceral fat. This then results in weight gain and may even lead to obesity. With the addictive nature of sugar – after all, it triggers our brain’s reward system with the release of the feel-good hormone dopamine – it can be hard to keep our intake to a minimum. This means we’ll often consume a lot more than we planned. Another issue here is that sugary foods and beverages are often high in calories, which means that they can contribute significantly to our daily intake, despite lacking in nutrients. Many sugar-laden foods are missing the fibre that slows the absorption of sugar, meaning we have little defences to the consequences. The result is increased weight gain and, by association, an increased risk for uterine fibroids.
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