If you're a woman, and you've just found out you have uterine fibroids, get ready to blame your mother. This time it's not about genetics, but rather because of nutrition in the form of the baby formula Mom fed you when you were a baby.
A study just published in the medical journal Environmental Health Perspectives says that women who were given soy-based baby formula as infants have a an increased risk of 25% for developing uterine fibroids over those women who were given breast milk or dairy formula as babies.
While the exact figure is unknown, uterine fibroids may be present in one quarter of all women in the United States. These non-cancerous growths in and outside of the uterus are often responsible for chronic pelvic pain, heavy prolonged bleeding, and infertility. They are also the number one reason for hysterectomy surgeries. This study says that exposure to the phytoestrogens contained in soy-based foods at an early stage in life may cause women to develop fibroids in later years.
Formulas based on soy milk have been on the market for the past 30 years. Their growing popularity is based on the need for a dairy substitute in babies who are allergic to milk or who suffer from colic. While the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) only recommends these soy-based infant formulas in a very small number of situations, soy formulas hold a strong 20% of the infant formula market within the United States. Many parents feel that soy milk is healthier than dairy, milk-based formulas, even though there may be no specific indication for this substitution in the form of baby allergies or colic.
While these study results are only the first step in discovering the truth of the matter about early soy-based nutrition and the later development of uterine fibroids, we now have another piece of the puzzle helping us to understand why some women may end up with this condition. Also, women who have fibroids may want to reconsider a decision to feed soy formula to their infants when it is not specifically indicated for them.
In an interesting twist to the "soy as culprit" plot, a Japanese study found that women who ate more soy had a reduced risk for hysterectomy. Researchers feel this suggests that eating more soy prevented the development of fibroids, the most common reason for having this surgery. But when a similar study was performed in Washington State, there seemed to be no benefit or detriment to including more soy in the diet in terms of the rate of hysterectomy or the development of fibroids.
On the other hand, researchers found that consuming large amounts of lignans, another type of plant-based estrogen found in whole grains and flaxseed, cut the risk for fibroids in half when compared with the rate for fibroids in women who avoided such foods in their diets.