Millions of women suffer from gynecological complaints each year. Endometriosis (11% of women in the US) and fibroids (26% of women in the US) are two of the most common and painful issues women face. That’s over 30 million women in the US alone and these numbers are arguably under-reported as many less severe cases are often dismissed as PMS, depression, or part of some other syndrome. Conventional biomedicine has little to offer women in these cases beyond hormone therapies (often with intolerable side effects) or surgical options that can scar and affect future fertility, or as a last-ditch effort—simply offering a hysterectomy (often taking the ovaries as well) and throwing the woman into early menopause. Symptoms of these conditions can be painful and quite literally, draining, as women struggle with heavy, unrelenting bleeding.
These are not conditions new to women. Endometriosis was first identified 300 years ago in Western medical texts, but references to the condition trace back over 4000 years under the older diagnosis “hysteria”. Similarly, uterine fibroids have a long history. Uterine fibroid lesions were initially known as the “uterine stone.” In the second century AD, they were called scleromas. The term fibroid was first introduced in the 1860s. Uterine fibroids are the most common pelvic tumors among women of reproductive age, affecting more than 70% of women worldwide, particularly women of color”1. It is not surprising traditional medicines have ways to treat these conditions.
In my practice I have found acupuncture and herbs together provide the best treatment outcomes for these conditions, and if only one can be used, the herbs are the more important piece (although it takes longer for them to achieve the same results when used without acupuncture). Fortunately, I have been able to work with patients who not only were able to report their progress through improvement in their physical symptoms but also provided me with ultrasounds and other diagnostics from their OBGYNs.
In one case of a woman in her 40s—her uterine fibroids shrank on average more than 7mm each in a 3-month period, and after 6 months had no visible blood supply. She was no longer a candidate for surgery as her fibroids were effectively “cured”. 4 years later, even without maintenance herbs—her fibroids have not returned. Her heavy periods, severe abdominal pain and fatigue are a thing of the past.
In another case, a woman in her 20s came in for endometriosis and fibroids. Hormone therapies had failed and she was hoping to retain her uterus and chances to have children in the future but she was living with crippling pain that radiated from her abdomen to her back. She described it as “living with barbed wire wrapped around her torso and her spine—like I am being torn from the inside out”. In addition, she had fibroids and chronically heavy periods resulting in fatigue and anemia. To top it all off, she dealt with the emotional stress of the constant pain and fear of losing her chances at motherhood. Within 3 months of treatment, her periods were more normal and the pain was no longer constant but limited to around ovulation and onset of her menses. At 6 months, her cycles were normal and she was pain-free! She had follow-up imaging to evaluate her need for surgery and while endometrial tissue and fibroids were still present, the fibroids were visibly smaller and the endometrial tissue appeared less pervasive on imaging than it had 6 months before when she started treatment. At 9 months she was due for laparoscopic surgery to remove some of the endometrial tissue, and remarkably only 40% of the expected tissue was found and the fibroids were 70% smaller than on the initial imaging. The doctors were able to remove the excess endometrial tissue and fibroids easier than expected. 6 months later she was pregnant with her first child and now has a happy, healthy little girl, and her cycles continue to be normal.
Cases like these highlight why herbs and acupuncture have been used for thousands of years. Together they help women optimize their health safely and effectively. In combination with modern medical techniques, they can give even the most severe cases relief. I highlight the second case in particular because I don’t believe the herbs and acupuncture alone could have reduced the damage enough to help her get pregnant—perhaps if we had started the herbs years earlier before the progression was so severe. It’s important to work with all available resources for optimal health care. So please, if conventional treatments have failed or you want a more natural alternative—find an experienced acupuncturist and herbalist to work with!
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1 Qiwei Yang, Michal Ciebiera, Maria Victoria Bariani, Mohamed Ali, Hoda Elkafas, Thomas G Boyer, Ayman Al-Hendy, Comprehensive Review of Uterine Fibroids: Developmental Origin, Pathogenesis, and Treatment, Endocrine Reviews, Volume 43, Issue 4, August 2022, Pages 678–719, https://doi.org/10.1210/endrev/bnab039