Have you ever wondered what causes some men to develop breasts? It’s a fairly common problem in older men, particularly if they are overweight. Although not harmful, breast development in men can signify underlying hormonal and metabolic problems which could be harmful. Needless to say, gynecomastia can be responsible for a great deal of emotional trauma, depression and low self esteem.

What causes male breast development? The condition is generally caused by too much estrogen or not enough testosterone. Estrogen is a female hormone and testosterone is a male hormone. Men and women make both these hormones in their bodies, but sometimes the correct balance gets disturbed. A number of factors can cause this.

What causes gynecomastia?

As men age, their testosterone level naturally starts to fall. It doesn’t fall as dramatically as in women who reach menopause, but nonetheless, testosterone does decline. Overweight men, diabetic men and men with an unhealthy liver usually have lower testosterone than slim and fit men. This occurs for a number of reasons; fat cells (particularly those around the abdomen) contain an enzyme called aromatase. This enzyme converts the testosterone in the body into estrogen. Therefore overweight men may be turning a lot of the testosterone in their bodies into estrogen. Estrogen stimulates the development of breast tissue.

The liver has an important role to play in breast development too. It is the liver’s job to break down excess estrogen that isn’t required and then excrete it from the body. If the liver is sluggish, or fatty, or inflamed, it cannot do this job properly and estrogen accumulates. Men who eat a lot of sugar or carbohydrate have lower levels of testosterone in their bloodstream because their liver manufactures more sex hormone binding globulin. This is a carrier molecule that transports testosterone around the bloodstream. It also makes the testosterone unable to carry out its normal functions.

Other causes of gynecomastia include:

  • High consumption of alcohol (particularly beer) or marijuana
  • Steroids such as prednisone or dexamethasone
  • Over active thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism)
  • Liver disease such as cirrhosis or cancer
  • Problems with the pituitary gland in the brain, or adrenal glands
  • A side effect of some medication used to treat epilepsy

How is gynecomastia treated?

The best way to treat this condition is to address the underlying cause. Some men attempt to increase their testosterone level by using testosterone cream, patches or injections. These remedies are often not successful because if a man is overweight and has an unhealthy liver, the supplemental testosterone will just get converted into more estrogen. This can worsen the original problem and may also raise the risk of enlargement of the prostate.

The following strategies are usually more effective:

  • It is vital to improve the health of the liver. The liver plays a major role in hormone metabolism and fat metabolism. If your liver is healthy you will find it significantly easier to maintain a healthy body weight and your liver will break down excess estrogen effectively. The eating principles in the book Fatty Liver: You Can Reverse It will help to keep your liver working well regardless of whether you have a fatty liver or not. The liver tonic Livatone Plus contains herbs and nutrients to support healthy liver cell function. NAC boosts the liver's detoxification capacity.
  • Type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance and syndrome X all promote fat accumulation around the abdomen. This is the most dangerous part of the body to carry excess weight because of the increased risk of heart disease. Fat cells in the torso also make more aromatase, which increases estrogen production. People with excess fat around their torso usually have elevated blood insulin levels. The herbs Gymnema sylvestre, bitter melon, and the mineral chromium, plus the other nutrients in Glicemic Balance capsules all help to lower insulin, thereby making fat loss easier.
  • If weight loss is a challenge for you, try to increase the amount of protein and healthy fats in your diet. Examples of good sources of protein include seafood, poultry, whey protein powder, eggs and red meat (preferably pastured). Examples of healthy fats include olive oil, avocados, coconut oil, macadamia nuts and pastured ghee. Protein and fat help to keep you full, and when combined with plenty of fresh vegetables, help to facilitate weight loss.
  • Exercise helps to raise testosterone in men, particularly muscle strengthening exercise such as lifting weights. Exercising regularly also makes losing weight easier; it improves sleep quality and mental outlook.

These strategies can help to improve your health, but if you are concerned about any symptoms you experience, please consult your doctor.

The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.