One dubious distinction of the American medical community is that we lead the world in hysterectomies. Between 600,000 and one million hysterectomies are performed on American women each year and statistics reveal that as many as 90% of them are unnecessary. Estimates suggest that up to half of all women will be minus their uterus by the time they reach 65. Why? One could argue that some doctors are in a surgical rut or that others like having a consistent source of income or perhaps empty hospital beds need to filled or maybe it boils down to simple ignorance.
A hysterectomy should never be viewed as an inconsequential or run of the mill surgery.Of the 500,000 to 600,000 hysterectomies performed annually, complications are noted 35% of the time. Moreover, 50 to 60 women die from the "simple procedure." In addition, after many women make a full recovery from the surgery they can still suffer a number of side effects that are rarely discussed by their doctor.
Outdated notions spawned in the old school of medicine viewed hysterectomies as the end-all surgery. A few swift turns of the scalpel and the offending parts were gone and the patient lived happily ever after. Not so. No one should take a hysterectomy lightly and for heavens sake, women need to know that there are other options to consider.
Clearly, if a woman has a serious prolapsed uterus, cancer, uncontrollable bleeding or extremely large fibroids, removing her reproductive organs can greatly improve the quality of her life. If, however, she has small fibroids or irregular or heavy periods or mild pelvic relaxation, she may not need to go under the knife. Keep in mind that taking out a whole system of organs takes little finesse. On the other hand, it's much more challenging and time consuming for a physician to study out viable alternatives and share them with his patients.
Before I consider any surgical option for a woman with heavy or irregular periods, I put her on a course of genistein supplementation (a soy isoflavone that blocks estrogen) and natural progesterone cream (to help correct an estrogen dominance). Keep in mind that if you make too little progesterone, your hormonal see saw can dip on the side of estrogen something that can cause PMS, heavy periods, breast tenderness, bloating, etc. One of the worst things you can take for estrogen dominance is a course of birth control pills: a treatment frequently recommended by many physicians.
I recently saw a 46 year-old woman who had been bleeding for over 9 months. Her former doctor had placed on hormonal drugs without success. She was told her only recourse was to have a hysterectomy. When I saw her, she was running a business and just couldn't take any time off for surgery. I suggested she try a course of genistein and natural progesterone. Somewhat reluctantly she agreed. Four weeks later, she confessed that she initially thought I might be a witch doctor of sorts. She continued, "Dr. Townsend, the day after I started using genistein and natural progesterone, I stopped bleeding and havent bled since." After six more weeks, she returned and noted that she had a light 3 day period but no irregular bleeding or spotting. I lost track of her for the next year and a half and ran into her former gynecologist at a local hospital. He asked about her and when I told him, his reply was, "You cheated me out of a hysterectomy."
Endometrial Ablation: Lose the Lining Keep the Organ
If the "dynamic duo" of soy and wild yam cream fails to correct the problem, something called endometrial ablation can stop or greatly reduce menstrual bleeding without removing the uterus. Ablation involves cauterizing or the lining of the uterus, a task that can be accomplished with a freezing probe (cryosurgery), laser or rollerball. I believe that the secret to its long term success is taking genistein for at least 3 months post-op to block the estrogen receptors of the uterus. My patients that do approach nearly 100% control of their bleeding. Moreover, with a diet light on meat and heavy on fresh vegetables, legumes and fruit, the use of genistein can reduce a womans risk of breast and uterine cancer.
Half of all women who have a uterine ablation performed by a qualified doctor dont experience any side effects whatsoever. The other half note mild cramping for a week or less. Getting back to work after 2 days is the norm. In virtually every patient Ive treated with this procedure, the menstrual flow is dramatically reduced or ceases altogether. Unlike a hysterectomy, the risks of this procedure are few and rare. I have used this protocol for hundreds of women with excellent success and emphasize once again that very few women should have a hysterectomy to remedy simple heavy menstrual bleeding.
Duane Townsend, MD is author of the book A Maverick of Medicine Speaks to Women (Woodland Publishing; 2003). For more info, please visit: www.woodlandpublishing.com or call 1-800-777-2665.