How—and Why—to Show Your Uterus Some Love
Hell hath no fury like a uterus neglected. Here's how to keep yours happily humming along.
Illustration: Owen Gildersleeve
Anyone who's suffered the worst of fibroid symptoms—excruciating periods, agonizing lower back pain, bloating, constipation, a constant need to urinate, the blood—understands that the uterus can have a huge impact on a woman's quality of life. Black and white women have the highest risk of developing fibroids—benign uterine tumors—by age 50 (80 and 70 percent, respectively). And more than 65,000 women per year are diagnosed with cancer of the uterine lining (endometrial cancer). The good news is, there are several ways to help keep your uterus in great shape.
What: Get your vitamins
Why: Women with healthy vitamin D levels were 32 percent less likely to develop fibroids than those who were deficient, a 2013 study from the National Institutes of Health found. Vitamin D may prevent fibroid cells from developing and growing larger.
How: You can boost D levels by eating more fortified milk, yogurt, OJ and cereals, as well as oily fishes (salmon, tuna). Also ask your doc if you should consider supplements to make sure you're getting the recommended dietary allowance; for healthy adult women, it's 600 IUs a day.
What: Carry on with contraceptives
Why: Birth control can do more than prevent unwanted pregnancy. An analysis of 18 studies found that, on average, women who used an IUD had a 19 percent lower risk of developing endometrial cancer than those who didn't (it's possible the IUD promotes shedding of the uterine lining that sloughs off premalignant cells). Women who started using an IUD at 35 or later reduced their risk by 47 percent. Prefer the pill? A 2015 analysis found that women who stay on it for five years can cut their risk of uterine cancer by a quarter.
How: Talk to your ob-gyn about which contraceptive is right for you.
What: Green your diet
Why: A study looking at the diets of more than 2,000 women found that those who reported consuming the most red meat had a 70 percent greater risk for developing fibroids, while those who ate the most green vegetables had a 50 percent lower risk. There's a similar link with uterine cancer: Eating three and a half ounces of red meat per day can increase your risk by 51 percent. (However, there's no proof yet that eating lots of produce alone lowers the risk of cancer.)
How: Cut back on red meat and prioritize plants. The USDA recommends at least two and a half cups of vegetables per day; make sure you get plenty of leafy nutrient powerhouses like kale, Swiss chard, and spinach.
What: Maintain a healthy weight
Why: Overweight and obese women are two to four times more likely to develop uterine cancer and up to three times more likely to develop fibroids. Excess fat tissue leads to high levels of estrogen, which can influence the growth of fibroids and cancerous tumors, as well as insulin, which is also linked to cancer.
How: Monitor portion sizes and stay active. One study found that women who engaged in moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activities for at least two and a half hours per week had a 34 percent reduced risk of uterine cancer compared with sedentary peers. Those who had a BMI lower than 25 had a nearly 75 percent reduction in risk. So work up a sweat—your uterus will thank you.