Although uncommon, some men have prominent breasts because of a condition known as Gynecomastia. This condition is characterized by swelling of the breast tissue in boys or men due to an imbalance of the hormones estrogen and testosterone.
Gynecomastia can affect one or both breasts unevenly and is seen in newborns, adolescent boys, and adult men. Although it occurs from changes in hormone levels, other causes may also contribute to this condition.
The condition can disappear on its own, however, if it it persists, medication or surgery is often used as corrective measures.
Though gynecomastia is not a life-threatening condition, it can be difficult to cope with. Men and boys with gynecomastia undergo pain in their breasts and can feel embarrassed regarding their appearance. Symptoms of gynecomastia may include:
- Swollen breast gland tissue
- Breast tenderness
While a doctor may be able to diagnose gynecomastia, there are other conditions with similar symptoms. These include
- Fatty breast tissue: Chest fat in some men resembles gynecomastia. It is referred to as false gynecomastia (pseudogynecomastia).
- Breast cancer: Though uncommon in men, it can occur. Enlargement of one breast or the presence of a firm nodule could be signs of male breast cancer.
- A breast abscess (mastitis): This is an infection seen in the breast tissue.
Causes of Gynecomastia
Gynecomastia is linked to a decline in testosterone in comparison to estrogen. The cause of this decrease could be due to a reduction of testosterone or an increase of estrogen levels. Hormone balance could be disrupted due to following reasons:
- Kidney failure
- Liver failure
Malnutrition and starvation have also been associated with gynecomastia. As surprising as it sounds, the use of herbal products such as tea tree oil or lavender oil in the form of shampoos, soaps, or lotions have also been attributed to increased risk of gynecomastia as well. This may be due to the oils’ estrogenic activity.
Natural Hormone Changes
The testosterone and estrogen hormones control the development and maintenance of sexual characteristics in both men and women. Testosterone influences male traits, such as muscle mass and body hair while estrogen controls female traits, such as the development of breasts.
Though estrogen is thought to be a female hormone, men can also produce it, however, it’s normally in small quantities. When male estrogen levels increase or testosterone levels become imbalanced, it can cause gynecomastia.
- Gynecomastia in infants is seen due to the effects of their mother’s estrogen. Usually, the swollen breast tissue subsides within two to three weeks after birth.
- Gynecomastia during puberty is relatively common. Mostly, the swollen breast tissue goes away without treatment in a span of six months to two years.
- Gynecomastia in men is seen between the ages of 50 and 80. It is observed that 1 in 4 men in this age group is affected.
A number of medications can cause gynecomastia. These include anti-androgens used mainly for the treatment of prostate enlargement and prostate cancer. Examples include:
- Finasteride (Proscar, Propecia)
- Spironolactone (Aldactone)
- Anabolic steroids
Cancer treatment (chemotherapy) is also considered as another cause of the condition. Drugs such as marijuana, heroin, amphetamines, and methadone, as well as alcohol, are also known to cause gynecomastia.
If you feel like you’re struggling with gynecomastia, your doctor will perform a physical examination and also ask about your medical history. Initial tests to determine the cause of gynecomastia may include:
- Blood tests
- Computerized tomography (CT) scans
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans
- Testicular ultrasounds
- Tissue biopsies
Medications used for treating breast cancer such as tamoxifen (Soltamox) and raloxifene (Evista) could be helpful for men with gynecomastia. Anti-estrogenic drugs are also administered to reduce breast size.
If breast enlargement still remains despite initial treatment, your doctor may advise surgery. Two gynecomastia surgery options include:
- Liposuction: It removes breast fat and not the breast gland tissue.
- Mastectomy: It consists of removal of the breast gland tissue. It is often done endoscopically, involving small incisions.
Natural Remedies for Gynecomastia
There are multiple treatments to help combat gynecomastia, but if you don’t want to take prescription medications and go more towards the natural route, there are multiple natural remedies to try to help reduce this condition. These remedies include:
- Turmeric: This spice is known to increase testosterone in males. It can be taken in the form of capsules as well as a tea or an addition to food.
- Passion flower extract, Fish oil and Zinc: These natural supplements are known to increase testosterone.
- Cold compress: This is a temporary solution for relieving tender and painful breasts.
Homeopathic Remedies for Gynecomastia
Conium, Calc flour, Calc carb, Aurum met, Thuja and Phytolacca are homeopathic medications used in the treatment of gynecomastia.
Make Sure to Talk to Your Doctor First
Almost 200,000 men are diagnosed with gynecomastia every year. Although this isn’t a life-threatening condition, it can cause embarrassment and discomfort from the swollen breast tissue.
Do your own research and talk to your doctor about your options, including natural, pharmaceutical, and surgical.
How can gynecomastia be reduced?
Mathew J, Perkins GH, Stephens T, et al. Primary breast cancer in men: clinical, imaging, and pathologic findings in 57 patients. AJR Am J Roentgenol. 2008;191(6):1631-9.
Volpe CM, Raffetto JD, Collure DW, et al. Unilateral male breast masses: cancer risk and their evaluation and management. Am Surg. 1999;65(3):250-3.