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Up to 80 percent of women have uterine fibroids, non-cancerous tumors that grow in the wall of the uterus. They can range in size from nearly microscopic to masses that enlarge and distort the uterus.
For most, the condition is asymptomatic. But at least a quarter of women with fibroids experience significant symptoms such as pelvic or lower back pain, heavy bleeding, exhaustion, pain during sex, complications during pregnancy and labor and bladder or rectum pressure.
Uterine fibroids are typically found in women of childbearing age, with most developing them by age 50. The condition usually stabilizes, and symptoms lessen or go away on their own once a woman goes through menopause and her hormones decline — particularly estrogen.
Until then, those who suffer from fibroid symptoms don’t have a lot of resources for managing those problems, other than surgery, OTC pain relievers and one type of drug that can be used to shrink fibroids: gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists (GnRHas).
Unfortunately, GnRHas are only used for a limited amount of time to inhibit estrogen production. They come with a list of side effects, including hot flashes, depression, insomnia, decreased sex drive and joint pain. They also only work to shrink fibroids during the time they are used. Once stopped, the fibroids will begin growing again.
This is why investigators are exploring other nonsurgical options for shrinking the tumors. And there’s one compound that growing evidence shows may help…
EGCG acts on specific fibroid proteins
Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers conducted a preclinical, proof-of-concept study using laboratory-grown human fibroid cells treated with an extract of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). EGCG is the predominant compound found in green tea and has powerful antioxidant properties and has shown promise in previous research involving treatment of uterine fibroids and their symptoms.
“There is no standard protocol for uterine fibroid disease management or prevention, no tools to prevent their growth, so finding a safe nonsurgical therapy is important,” says Dr. James Segars, professor of gynecology and obstetrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
The Johns Hopkins researchers specifically designed their study to identify how EGCG interacts with fibroid cells.
Compared to normal cells, uterine fibroid cells have a large extracellular matrix, the network of macromolecules and minerals in tissues that support but are not part of the cells themselves. Because of this, the researchers set up their experiments to see if treating cells with EGCG affects the protein expression associated with this matrix.
The fibroid cells were dosed with EGCG in growth media for 24 hours. Then, a laboratory technique used to detect a specific protein in blood or tissue was performed. The team looked at three specific proteins in their testing: the matrix protein fibronectin; cyclin D1, a protein involved with cell division; and connective tissue growth factor (CTGF) protein.
When comparing the EGCG-treated fibroid cells to untreated cells, they found EGCG reduced protein levels of fibronectin by 46 to 52 percent and decreased CTGF proteins by up to 86 percent. They also discovered EGCG disrupted pathways involved in fibroid tumor cell growth.
“The results from this study show that EGCG targets many signaling pathways involved in fibroid growth, particularly the extracellular matrix,” says study lead author Md Soriful Islam, Ph.D., M.Sc., a postdoctoral fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
“EGCG supplements could be an easily accessible and natural way to relieve symptoms and slow fibroid growth.”
Reach for tea bags instead of green tea extract
These results add to growing evidence that EGCG may reduce fibroid cell growth and help support an ongoing clinical trial of EGCG in women with fibroids who are seeking pregnancy.
The researchers suggest future studies on EGCG will also include clinical trials with large and diverse patient groups to identify optimal doses as well as possible side effects. Until then, they caution women not to start taking green tea extract to treat fibroids until more is known.
In previous research using data from the Minnesota Green Tea Trial, a large study of green tea extract’s effects on breast cancer, Rutgers researchers discovered a small subset of people in whom EGCG increased stress on their livers, which could potentially lead to damage or even failure of the organ.
However, for most people drinking a cup or two of green tea is perfectly safe, since the amount of EGCG isn’t concentrated. Not only could that provide some relief but a host of other health benefits green tea offers as well.
Getting enough of the vitamins D and B6 may also help. Combining these two nutrients with EGCG was shown in one study to reduce total fibroid volume by 34.7 percent in women who took the combo twice daily for four months.
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Uterine fibroids — U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health