There are some things men just don’t want to talk about, not even to their doctors. It’s easy to discuss cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, or other obvious conditions. But when it comes to some parts of the body men have a difficult time breaking the silence. This was true of a new patient who came to me with a very personal problem.
Since puberty, this middle aged man had been living with a condition known as gynecomastia, a term meaning “women like breasts.” As you might expect, he was reluctant discuss his condition with me and was surprised to hear that other male patients have the same problem. If you are wondering why you haven’t heard of this condition before it’s because abnormally large breasts are not something men publicize.
The surprising truth is gynecomastia is more common than you may realize. It is seen in adolescent boys who show signs of breast development during puberty. The hormones that cause other changes in the body of a pubescent boy are responsible for breast tissue growth and are a common part of the normal development for young men. In 90% of males, the symptoms disappear in a matter of months. The remaining 1% of boys reaching adulthood is left with the development of “women like breasts.”
Psychological Effects Can Be Devastating
Living with “female like” breasts can cause a man deep embarrassment and shame. Feelings of humiliation are common along with a loss of masculinity. Gynecomastia is a social handicap that may diminish the male ego and lead to low self esteem if not brought to the forefront. Many men suffering with the disgrace of abnormally large breasts struggle with anxiety their entire life. Even the smallest act like taking off their shirt at the beach can be stressful.
My patient was no exception when it came to embarrassing situations. It took him a long time to have enough courage to walk into my office and discuss his problem. He is not alone. There are many success stories of men with gynecomastia who have successfully conquered their fears and taken the first step to change their self image. As with any physical condition, you must first find the cause to determine the best method of treatment.
Possible Causes of Female Breasts in Men
It is estimated that approximately 40% to 60 % of the male population is affected with abnormally large breasts well into their adult life. Some of the causes include:
• Obesity – Overweight men may appear to have overly large breasts due to fat deposits, not growth of breast tissue. This condition is known as pseudogynecomastia.
• Hormonal – As men age they may develop an imbalance in estrogen-testosterone levels, tipping the scale in favor of estrogen resulting in breast tissue growth.
• Medical conditions – These may include testicular or breast cancer, impaired liver function or other serious diseases.
• Drug related – Men using anabolic steroid drugs or medications with estrogen may create estrogen dominance.
Ways to Deal with Estrogen Breast Fat
Get into shape – Fat encourages higher levels of estrogen and estrogen encourages fat and water retention. Perform specific exercises to develop the chest region. This type of exercise does not reduce breast size but it does tighten up and reshape the chest area. Suggested exercises include push ups, dumbbell or barbell chest press, and chest flies.
Exercises that boost the metabolism are an effective way to burn fat. Studies have shown that interval training burns fat more efficiently than the typical, long and boring cardio routines we are used to.
Eat healthy – Consume a diet of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Alcohol and caffeine – Drink in moderation
Estrogen – blockers and testosterone boosters – There are many supplements available to help balance the amount of estrogen your body absorbs as well as stimulate testosterone production. For example, Dindolymethane (DIM), a plant compound with health-promoting properties, stimulates more efficient estrogen metabolism. Tribulus extract helps elevate testosterone levels while keeping them within a normal range.
Anti-estrogen drugs – Anabolic steroid drugs are known to be estrogen blockers, however as with any drug, there is a danger of side-effects. It is best to consult with your doctor to determine whether it is suitable for you.
Liposuction – Sometimes suctioning and removal of excess fatty tissue is all that is needed.
Surgery – As a last resort, enlarged male breasts can be reduced by cutting out excess glandular tissue. The procedure is usually done on an outpatient basis and takes an average of two hours. Of course, there are always risks involved when surgery is chosen as the best solution to a health problem. Thorough research is advised before undergoing any type of surgery, cosmetic or otherwise.
If you or someone you know is secretly suffering from gynecomastia, don’t despair. Most importantly don’t live with the pain and humiliation that goes with the condition. As much as it is difficult to talk about your breasts to anyone, consulting your doctor is the first step toward relief. Having the courage to consult your physician is a powerful way to begin the process of healing both physically and mentally.