So many of our young men are growing breasts these days that the word “moobs”—short for “man boobs”—has entered popular vernacular. While the word itself sounds amusing, it’s a heartbreaking trend for young men and their families, and a booming business for surgeons who specialize in breast reduction surgery.
Why is this happening? The New York Times and other major media report that while no one knows for sure why gynecomastia (the technical term for “moobs”) is on the rise, many claim that environmental estrogens found in plastics, pesticides, drinking water, and supermarket meats and poultry should take the blame. Widely noted is the fact that in the past “moobs” rarely were found outside the bodybuilding community, where steroid use led to what the men liked to call “bitch tits.” Today, however, they are appearing in fit and unfit young men alike.
Many of these boys and men have increased fatty tissue because they are overweight or obese. Although this gives the appearance of “moobs,” it is not the same as true enlargement and is diagnosed as pseudogynecomastia. Doctors also report that fifty percent or more of boys experience at least periods of hormonal imbalance where “moobs” appear but then flatten out in a few months. True gynecomastia is a more long-term condition, and it can occur in boys and men who are underweight, overweight and normal weight.
Why is this happening? Environmental estrogens are surely a factor. But so is soy. Young men at the highest risk are those who were given soy infant formula during infancy and/or who regularly drank soy milk during their childhoods and teenage years. Such boys are not only at risk for “moobs” but may show other estrogenic signs as well, including lowered quantity and quality of sperm, undersized genitals, undescended testicles, and other reproductive system problems.
Scientists first linked phytoestrogens (plant estrogens) with lowered sperm count and other reproductive problems in the 1940s when they diagnosed clover disease in sheep. Red clover contains a type of phytoestrogen known as coumestans, which are similar in their effect to the isoflavones found in soybeans. When sheep graze heavily on red clover, they can develop red clover disease, which causes normal male sheep to became infertile and castrated males—called wethers—to experience teat enlargement and nipple discharge. Rodents, primates, and humans experience similar feminizing effects if their reproductive development is disrupted by estrogens that either interact directly with the testes or that affect plasma gonadotrophin or sex hormone concentrations.
Soy industry spokespeople tend to downplay side effects from estrogenization and testosterone-lowering by claiming phytoestrogen consumption to be protective against prostate cancer and atherosclerosis. Although the possibility that soy foods or supplements could prevent these deadly conditions makes headlines, few men hear that the downside is demasculinization, which in some men manifests as gynecomastia.
Although many studies link soy consumption to masculinization, few have looked at “moobs.” A study for the National Cancer Institute completed at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, however, reported that soy-eating men experienced “nipple discharge, breast enlargement and slight decreases in testosterone.” Although the researchers concluded these side effects were inconsequential and few men would see visible “testicle shrinkage” or “massive breast enlargement,” the bottom line is the subjects of the study showed feminization from high soy phytoestrogen consumption. Whether their “moobs” came in large or small, their development signified estrogenization, lowered testosterone levels and overall hormonal imbalance.
Can gynecomastia be reversed naturally? It depends, but cleaning up the environment and the diet to remove environmental and phytoestrogens are critical first steps. Many clinicians such as Kim Schuette of Biodynamic Wellness in Solana Beach, California, report reversals (as described below) just from eliminating soy milk and soy foods from the diet.
That’s the good news, but sadly not all boys will be so fortunate. In addition to the obvious factors of dose and duration, a key issue is timing. The “windows of vulnerability” for phytoestrogen exposure is wide, and goes from conception to adulthood. High risk windows are in utero, infancy, shortly before puberty, and during puberty. That said, men remain at some risk for “moobs” throughout their lives and so would do well to take it easy on the soy.
For further discussion and full references, visit Dr. Kaayla’s “Recovering from Modern Diets” blog at westonaprice.com.
EPIDEMIC OF GYNECOMASTIA
The number of boys and men challenged with gynecomastia (aka “man boobs”) is on the rise. It is thought that one reason for the increase in gynecomastia is the use of certain antipsychotic medications. This week I came across an article regarding the prescription drug Risperdal. Risperdal is an antipsychotic drug commonly used for schizophrenia. It is also being prescribed for bipolar disorder, autism spectrum disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, sleep disorders and anxiety. As a prolactin-raising drug (which has a dopamine-blocking action) it can considerably increase levels of the pituitary hormone prolactin. One of its side effects is excessive breast development in men and in some cases galactorrhea (abnormal lactation).
Dopamine-blocking medications along with the pervasive use of soy isolates in commercial foods are creating a near epidemic in America of gynecomastia among boys and men. A few years ago I worked with a mother of two boys, ages twelve and fourteen, suffering with gynecomastia. Before using any iodine or other remedies to address the probable hormonal imbalance in both boys, I asked their mother to remove all soy from the diet. As she began to read labels she was shocked to learn how much soy her sons were consuming daily. Close to 75 percent of all processed foods in this country contain some form of soy protein.
Within two weeks both boys’ breasts had returned to normal sizes. We have seen similar positive results in those struggling with ADHD, anxiety and bipolar disorder when the GAPS Diet was implemented. Wouldn’t it be great if all products containing soy were required to have a warning label stating that soy can alter hormones in girls, women, boys and men? And wouldn’t it be in the best interest of those struggling with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and anxiety to be introduced first to the healing principles of the GAPS Diet prior to being prescribed strong medications with a multitude of side effects? It is critical that the information so well taught by the WAPF spread to the general public.
The same boys with the man boobs had an older sister who had decided to become vegetarian. The parents observed that almost overnight her bust size doubled. They brought her into my office in order for us to talk her off the vegetarian cliff. One month after removing tofu, soy bars and soy milk from her diet and adding wild fish, raw cheese and eggs her cup size went from an E to a C.
Kim Schuette, CN, Biodynamic Wellness, San Diego, California
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2015