In her essay, “A Few Words About Breasts,” Nora Ephron (the same person who wrote When Harry Met Sally and You’ve Got Mail) bemoans her flat-chested past: “I would sit in the bathtub,” she writes, “and look down at my breasts and know that any day now, any second now, they would start growing like everyone else’s. They didn’t…I suppose that for most girls, breasts, brassieres, that entire thing, has more trauma, more to do with the coming of adolescence, of becoming a woman, than anything else.”
Proving the old adage that the grass is always greener on the other side, it turns out that many a man would gladly have traded places with Ms. Ephron. In fact, about 40 percent of all men suffer from a condition known as gynecomastia — male breasts. The condition is so very bothersome to the afflicted that male breast reduction has become the fastest growing cosmetic surgery in Great Britain. The numbers of those undergoing the surgery aren’t impressive, with only 581 such operations in Great Britain last year, up from 323 in 2008 — but that does represent an 80 percent increase, and the previous year also saw such a spike. In the US, male breast reductions aren’t increasing so fast, but the numbers are far more notable, with 18,000 reductions for men on the records in 2008.
We’ve seen an increase,” Dr. Robert Cattani, a plastic surgeon and on the board of the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery, says, “In the last five years, I personally have done 200 to 300 male breast reductions per year.” Perhaps the US would rival the upswing in Great Britain if health insurance covered the procedure, which it doesn’t.
Is some X factor making men’s breasts bigger than they were a few years ago, or are men simply becoming more vain? At least some sources blame the media for the spike in surgeries. Men discover they have a problem when they read an article about “man boobs,” and in that same article, they may discover they can do something about it. Cosmetic surgeon Dr. Rajiv Grover, an official of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons says, “Many men are feeling the pressure from men’s magazines that weren’t even being published five or six years ago.”
While most sources insist that men’s bodies have not changed radically enough to explain the surge in surgeries, others point to the obesity epidemic. Dr. Grover comments, “Quite a few cases are caused by obesity. [It should also be noted that obesity means elevated estrogen levels, which we’ll talk more about in a moment.] And we often say to men to look at their lifestyles before thinking about the scalpel.”
But other factors can also cause gynecomastia. For one thing, underlying diseases like breast or testicular cancer can be the cause. So can certain prescription medications. Even recreational drugs, from heroin to marijuana, have an estrogenic effect that results in the growth of breast tissue. Even some herbs and essential oils stimulate breast tissue growth — especially lavender and tea tree oils.
According to breast surgeon Dr. Sharon Rosenbaum-Smith of St. Luke’s-Rooseval in New York, “Most of the time, it’s just normal variance but you have to rule out underlying causes. Guys’ boobs do go up and dowelt Hospitn in size as they gain or lose weight, just as women’s do. But if you’re a pot smoker and you are overweight, just changing your lifestyle may mean you wouldn’t need to have a breast reduction.”
Finally, you can throw everything else aside and take note that as men age, their estrogen-androgen balance tends to shift. In fact, the average man at age 65 has more available estrogen in his body than the average 65-year-old woman. Keep in mind: more estrogen means bigger man boobs. Surprising, but true! So instead of lopping off breasts, men might not only make lifestyle changes, but specifically work on re-balancing their hormones. At the least, if you suffer from this condition, you might consider using a men’s progesterone creme to lower your estrogen levels. You also need to free up your bound testosterone and prevent its conversion to dihydrotestosterone. A good men’s formula will be helpful here. See chapter 10 of Lessons from the Miracle Doctors for more information.
Given that the surgery costs an average of $3400 — and that’s only to pay the surgeon, not counting hospital fees, costs of drugs, and anesthesia — and that it entails considerable risk, including pain, possible infection, and even death — the lifestyle change route certainly seems the wisest. Plus, making those lifestyle changes puts you in better overall health. And by the way, if it’s your appearance that worries you, hacking off breast tissue won’t improve your overall look above the neck or below the waist, but rebalancing hormones and losing weight sure will.