Fibroids are benign, noncancerous tumors made of fibrous connective tissue and smooth muscle cells. They are the most common benign growth within American women and usually grow on the walls of the uterus. The cause of fibroid growth is not well understood, but assumed to be multifactorial and involve genetics, hormone imbalance and dietary toxins. Omega-3 fatty acids display a variety of beneficial properties and are sometimes recommended for shrinking fibroids, but there are no scientific studies to support the idea.
Due to their predilection for the walls of the uterus, fibroids are often called uterine fibroids or leiomyomas. Fibroids are considered common benign tumors in females and typically start to develop during the middle and later reproductive years. While most fibroids are asymptomatic, they can grow and cause heavy and painful menstruation, abdominal cramps, painful sexual intercourse and increased urinary frequency and urgency, as cited in “Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine.” Fibroids may interfere with pregnancy, although it is considered rare. Fibroids often grow in multiples and are a primary cause of partial and complete hysterectomy surgeries.
The cause of fibroid growth is not well understood and frequently debated. The medical community believes genetics, hormone imbalance and trauma of the uterus due to previous deliveries, abortions or birth control practices are the primary causes, although some alternative health professionals think that diet is the main factor, according to “Nutrition and Public Health.” Dietary concerns involve the consumption of preservatives, artificial sweeteners, highly refined sugars, mild carcinogens and saturated fats. Fibroids do need estrogen to grow, which is why menopause stops their growth or shrinks them. It has been noted that African Americans, smokers and the obese have higher incidence of fibroid growth.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential unsaturated fats that are found in abundance in fish oils and flaxseed oil. There are some different types that are referred to as ALA, DHA and EPA, but all are polyunsaturated fats. The ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids within your body should be about 1:2 ideally, but the typical American diet promotes ratios of 1:20 and beyond, as cited in “Contemporary Nutrition.” Omega-3 fatty acids discourage inflammation in your body, which may play a part in fibroid growth, but there is no scientific evidence. The idea that omega-3 fatty acids can affect fibroids may be related to other ingredients in flaxseed.
In addition to essential fatty acids, the seeds of the flax plant also contain lignan. Lignan is an antioxidant that has a balancing affect on female hormones and may help prevent estrogen-dependent cancers, such as breast cancer, according to “Nutritional Sciences.” If fibroids depend on excess estrogen to grow, lignan may be able to reduce their growth or even shrink them by modulating estrogen production, but more research must be conducted before any recommendations can be made. A number of studies have shown that flaxseed consumption slows benign prostate growth, so it is possible that it may have a positive affect on fibroids even though the two conditions are quite different.