Three out of four women develop benign uterine fibroid tumors.
Fortunately, relatively few tumors cause symptoms or need serious treatment.
Drugs may shrink the tumors, but effective, worry-free, non-surgical treatments have proven elusive.
So it's encouraging to hear that vitamin D shrank uterine fibroids in rats dramatically … albeit animals genetically predisposed to developing fibroids.
Although rats and people share much in biomedical terms, they don't always react to nutrients and drugs the same way.
Accordingly, the results of a new study concerning benign – but potentially painful, life-hindering – uterine fibroid tumorsmust be repeated in human trials.
Fish fit the vitamin D bill; Sockeye salmon stand out
In addition to getting vitamin D from supplements, certain fish rank among the very few substantial food sources of vitamin D, far outranking milk and other D-fortified foods.
Among fish, wild sockeye Salmon rank as the richest source, with a single 3.5 ounce serving surpassing the US RDA of 600 IU by about 15 percent:
Vitamin D per 3.5 ounce serving*
Sockeye Salmon 687 IU
Albacore Tuna 544 IU
Silver Salmon 430 IU
King Salmon 236 IU
Sardines 222 IU
Sablefish 169 IU
Halibut 162 IU
*For our full test results, click here.
In prior research from Nashville's Meharry Medical College, vitamin D inhibited the growth of human fibroid cells in the test tube.
The new rodent experiment was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) … and as Louis De Paolo, Ph.D., of NIH said, “[the outcomes] … provide a promising new lead in the search for a non-surgical treatment for fibroids...” (NICHD 2012).
Uterine fibroids: a painful and costly burden
Uterine fibroids grow within and around the wall of the uterus, and are the most common non-cancerous tumors in women of childbearing age.
Thirty percent of women 25 to 44 years of age report fibroid-related symptoms, such as lower back pain, heavy vaginal bleeding or painful menstrual periods.
Uterine fibroids also are associated with infertility and such pregnancy complications as miscarriage or preterm labor.
Other than surgical removal of the uterus, there are few treatment options for women experiencing severe fibroid-related symptoms and about 200,000 U.S. women undergo the procedure each year.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that fibroid-related health expenses and lost productivity cost the United States from $6 billion to $34 billion annually (NICHD 2011).
Fibroids are three to four times more common in African-American women than in white women. Moreover, African-American women are roughly 10 times more likely to be deficient in vitamin D than are white women.
Study finds vitamin D shrank rats' fibroids by 75 percent
Scientists from Meharry Medical College conducted the research with colleagues from Vanderbilt University Medical Center … both located in Nashville.
The Nashville-based team tested vitamin D treatment on a strain of rats genetically predisposed to developing fibroid tumors (Halder SK et al. 2012).
After examining the animals and confirming the presence of fibroids in 12 of them, the researchers divided the rats into two groups of six each:
Received intravenous vitamin D (test group)
No supplemental vitamin D provided (control group)
In the first group, small pumps implanted under the skin delivered a continuous dose of vitamin D for three weeks.
The researchers then examined the animals in both groups, and found that fibroids shrunk dramatically in the rats receiving vitamin D.
On average, uterine fibroids in the group receiving vitamin D were 75 percent smaller than those in the untreated group.
In contrast, the tumors grew bigger in the untreated rats.
The amount of vitamin D the rats received each day was equivalent to a modest human dose … roughly 1,400 international units (IU).
The recommended amount of vitamin D for teens and adults age 70 and under is 600 IU daily, although up to 4,000 units is considered safe for children over age nine, adults, and for pregnant and breastfeeding females (ODS 2011).
According to co-author Ayman Al-Hendy, M.D., Ph.D., “Additional research is needed to confirm vitamin D as a potential treatment for women with uterine fibroids. But it is also an essential nutrient for the health of muscle, bone and the immune system, and it is important for everyone to receive an adequate amount of the vitamin.” (NICHD 2012)
Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D
As the NIH says, fatty fish such as wild salmon, mackerel, and tuna are the best natural sources of the vitamin (NICHD 2012).
Fortified milk and other fortified foods provide small amounts of the vitamin (e.g., 100 IU per 8 oz of milk).
Of course, vitamin D is also produced when ultraviolet rays from sunlight strike the skin.
It's important to note that light-skinned people make more vitamin D than dark-skinned people do from the same amount of sun exposure.
This explains why vitamin D deficiency or inadequacy is more common among darker-skinned people.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). Audio Briefing: Annual cost of fibroid tumors in the United States. December 23, 2011. Accessed at http://www.nichd.nih.gov/news/releases/122311-fibroid-economics.cfm
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). Uterine Fibroids. February 19, 2007. Accessed at http://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/Uterine_Fibroids.cfm
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). Vitamin D shrinks fibroid tumors in rats. March 1, 2012. Accessed at http://www.nichd.nih.gov/news/releases/030112-vitaminD-fibroids.cfm
Halder SK, Sharan C, Al-Hendy A. 1,25-Dihydroxyvitamin D3 Treatment Shrinks Uterine Leiomyoma Tumors in the Eker Rat Model. Biol Reprod. 2012 Feb 1. [Epub ahead of print]
Mayo Clinic. Uterine fibroids. June 11, 2011. Accessed at http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/uterine-fibroids/DS00078/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs
Office of Dietary Supplements, U.S. National Institutes of Health (ODS). Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin D. June 24, 2011. Accessed at http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-QuickFacts/