Study Links Hair Relaxers To Fibroids in Black Women

09/20/2012 | By | More


fibroids in black women associated with use of hair relaxersA new study in the American Journal of Epidemiology further illustrates the health dangers of chemical relaxers for African American women. Researchers at Boston University linking hair relaxers, a favorite styling tool of Black women, to uterine fibroid tumors in women as well as to early puberty in young girls.

Led by Lauren Wise of Boston University’s Slone Epidemiology Center, scientists followed more than 23,000 pre-menopausal Black American women from 1997 to 2009 and found that the 2-3x higher occurrence of fibroids among black women may be linked to chemical exposure through scalp lesions and burns resulting from relaxers.

Women who got their first menstrual period before the age of 10 were also more likely to have uterine fibroids, and early menstruation may result from hair products black girls are using, according to a separate study published in the Annals of Epidemiology last summer.

Three hundred African American, African Caribbean, Hispanic, and White women in New York City were studied. The women’s first menstrual period (menarche) varied anywhere from age 8 to age 19, but African Americans, who were more likely to use straightening and relaxers hair oils, also reached menarche earlier than other racial/ethnic groups.

While so far, there is only an association rather than a cause and effect relationship between relaxers, menarche, and fibroid tumors, as Tamika Fletcher, co-owner of Natural Resources salon in Houston, pointed out in a Fox report, the hair care industry isn’t regulated by the FDA so there’s no telling what black women are putting in their hair and how harmful those products may be.

These studies go way beyond the damaging effects chemical relaxers may have on one’s hair, women and girls may be damaging their reproductive systems with some of the hair products they use, making it even more critical to know exactly what you’re putting in your hair and in your body.

What Are Fibroid Tumors?

New York gynelocologist Ernst G. Bartsich describes fibroid as:

A uterine fibroid is a non-cancerous (benign) tumor that originates from the smooth muscle layer (myometrium) and the accompanying connective tissue of the uterus. Fibroids are the most common benign tumors in females and typically found during the middle and later reproductive years. While most fibroids are asymptomatic, they can grow and cause heavy and painful menstruation, painful sexual intercourse, and urinary frequency and urgency. Uterine fibroids are the major indication for hysterectomy in the US. Fibroids are often multiple and if the uterus contains too many leiomyomatas to count, it is referred to as uterine leiomyomatosis. The malignant version of a fibroid is uncommon and termed a leiomyosarcoma.

Fibroids in Black Women

fibroids in black women associated with use of hair relaxersThe Philadelphia Black Women’s Health Project research reveals that fibroids are more common in African American women than in women of other racial groups. One study showed that fibroids are three times more common in African American women than in Caucasian women. Additionally, fibroids tend to be larger and occur at an earlier age in African Americans. It is unclear as to why such differences exists. It is estimated that 20-80% of all women will develop fibroids by the time they reach 50.

Other Reasons Why Black Women Get Fibroid Tumors

Though I’m certain that the chemicals in relaxers, easily absorbed through the scalp right into the bloodstream are a major concern and health risk, there are several other factors that can increase a woman’s risk of developing fibroids:

  • Age. Fibroids become more common as women age, especially during the 30s and 40s through perimenopause. After menopause, fibroids usually shrink.
  • Family history. Having a family member with fibroids increases your risk. If a woman’s mother had fibroids, her risk of having them is about three times higher than average. Fibroids in black women occur more often than amongst any other demographic; thus, the likelihood that you will also have them since your mother did is extremely high.
  • Ethnic origin. Fibroids in black women are more likely to develop than fibroids in white women.
  • Obesity. Women who are overweight are at higher risk for fibroids. For very heavy women, the risk is two to three times greater than average. Statistically, 54% of Black women are obese.
  • Eating habits. Eating a lot of red meat (e.g., beef and pork) is linked with a higher risk of fibroids. Eating plenty of green vegetables seems to protect women from developing fibroids.

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Blogger, writer, relationships/dating expert, fitness trainer and natural hair enthusiast since 1997. Sharing information from grandmomma, books and scientific journals, as well as my personal discoveries and experiences with natural hair as we journey from relaxers, flat irons and weaves together.

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  1. Correlation does not imply causation. I wore my hair natural for 15 years (way before it was trendy and you had to practically mix your own products to style it), and only developed tumors five years AFTER I stopped relaxing my hair. Moreover. I decided to relax my hair a few years ago (after my SECOND myomectomy to remove fibroids) and I haven’t had a reoccurence since. According to severel studies diet plays a much larger role in the development of fibroids, in particular estrogenic foods like soy, white carbs and processed meats. Ironically, my fibroids appeared after I started drinking coffee and consuming lots of soy in lieu of dairy and animal proteins sources, and I attributed my fibroid free status to being diligent about not eating with soy in it, which is hard because soy lecithin is commonly used preservative and stabilizer, and soy is used to everying from “healthy” breakfast cereals to snack food to fast food burgers.

    • Deborrah says:

      There are people that have unprotected sex with HIV positive individuals and don’t come down with HIV.
      There are people that eat junk food regulary but they don’t have a heart attack or a stroke.
      There are people that drive drunk but they never get a DUI ticket or crash their car.
      There are people that smoke cigarettes for years but they don’t get lung or throat or facial cancer.

      But does it make sense to take those risks when you don’t have to? Does it not make more sense to avoid use of drugs, avoid high risk behavior, and avoid things that are associated with disfigurement, impairment and death?

      There is no need to argue about it. Chemicals build up in the body, just like fatty deposits in the arteries – over time. A stroke or heart attack occurs sometimes after decades of dietary abuses, just as tumors do. So it would be logical that your cancer would not be visible to doctors until years later, though cancerous cells begin forming sometimes decades before symptoms are displayed and tumors show up on medical screening tests.

      If you choose to ignore these studies, that’s fine! It’s your body and totally your choice.

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