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What is fibrocystic breast disease?
In Western countries, a large percentage of women experience benign but often painful cysts and lumps in their breasts. Their breasts feel lumpy, "ropy", or "granular", as if full of little nodules. Some women can even feel the presence of larger cysts.
These cysts occur when a breast duct becomes blocked, and then fills up with fluid like a balloon filled with water. The area surrounding the blocked duct then has a tendency to form scar tissue, and that is the fibrous component of the fibrocystic disease.
This generalized breast lumpiness is known by several names, including fibrocystic breast condition, fibrous breasts, fibrocystic breast disease, fibrocystic changes and benign breast disease. There even exist several types of fibrocystic breast condition.
Unfortunately, many women and even doctors think that fibrocystic breast disease is a "normal" condition for women. However, large, palpable cysts have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, not to mention the pain the women experience, so women need to be concerned about pain and cysts in their breasts and not let it go on thinking it is "normal".
An easy experiment to reduce pain: take your bra off!
Fortunately there is an easy solution that works for many women in reducing breast pain and fibrocystic lumps: many women have found that by wearing undergarments less restrictive than bras (camisoles, tank tops, etc.) they can dramatically reduce or eliminate fibrocystic cysts and pain. Medical anthropologists Sydney Singer and Soma Grismaijer, and also Dr. Gregory Heigh, have found that around 90% of fibrocystic patients improve when they quit wearing bras. Singer and Grismajer are authors of a study of over 4000 women that found that women who do not wear bras have a much lower risk of breast cancer ("Dressed to Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras" Avery Press, 1995).
In this link you can read some case histories of how women who got help from fibrocystic cysts and pain by taking off their bra.
There is some evidence that simple breast massage can help. This would make sense, as similar to not wearing bras, you can improve the lymph flow within breasts by massaging.
There exist studies that link low iodine levels to fibrocystic breast disease. Also, there is evidence that the low breast cancer rates in Japan are due to their high iodine intake (form seafood). It is not only our thyroid that needs iodine -- breast tissue (and other glands) do as well. Increasing your iodine intake is definitely something worthwhile as it can help breast pain and fibrocystic breast changes.
What about diet?
Besides making sure you have enough iodine in your diet, you can also consider eating a high-fiber diet that emphasizes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts. Omega-3 fats and vitamin E can also be helpful.
One study studied a high dose vitamin A in women who did not get help for their breast pain from eliminating caffeine, and 80% of them had a dramatic reduction in the pain level. It is safer to get vitamin A from consuming betacarotene, since high doses of vitamin A can be toxic. Vegetables that are bright red, orange, yellow, or dark green contain high amounts of betacarotene.
The British study bra-freedom as a treatment
In year 2000, two breast surgeons started a study including 100 women at two breast clinics (all of whom had breast pain) and found that over half of the premenopausal women with pain found relief when they quit wearing bras for three months. For some the pain relief was very dramatic, changing their lifes. When they resumed bra wearing for the last three months of the study, the pain returned. Besides the pain data, the doctors also showed video thermography footage that dramatically demonstrated the heat build-up from bra wearing, and they discussed the possible connections with cancer causation.
They also made a documentary film that was shown on nationwide television in Britain. You can read a partial trascript of the documentary concerning bra wearing and breast pain.
Natural progesterone treatment
Doctor John Lee has treated many patients with fibrocystic breasts with natural progesterone. He argues that the cause for the pain and cysts and lumps is an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone - either too much estrogen or too little progesterone, or both - and that environmental estrogens cause this, or at least make the situation worse.
This condition is called estrogen dominance. It may be worth your while to try natural progesterone therapy alongside with avoiding foreign estrogen-like chemicals to treat breast pain and fibrocystic breasts.
Breastfeeding lowers risk
And, if you can, breastfeed! One study found that lack of breastfeeding was a risk factor for having post-menopausal breast pain and fibrocystic changes. Breastfeeding definitely lowers the risk of breast cancer: it reduces the time your body is exposed to high estrogen levels as occur during the mestrual cycle (and probably through some other mechanisms as well).
Iodine and Fibrocystic Disease
Fibrocystic Breast Disease
Breast Thermography - an alternative to mammography, totally non-invasive.
Treatment of benign breast disease with vitamin A. Prev Med. 1984 Sep;13(5):549-54. In this study, 9 out of 12 patients greatly benefited from a high dose of vitamin A.
Risk of breast cancer in women with palpable breast cysts: a prospective study. Edinburgh Breast Group. Lancet. 1999 May 22;353(9166):1742-5.
Intracystic epidermal growth factor level is predictive of breast-cancer risk in women with gross cystic disease of the breast.
Int J Cancer. 2001 Jul 20;95(4):260-5.
Adolescent diet and incidence of proliferative benign breast disease. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2003 Nov;12(11 Pt 1):1159-67. This study found that the intake of vegetable fat, vitamin E, and fiber during teen years were inversely associated with risk of proliferative benign breast disease.
Dietary and reproductive factors associated with benign breast disease in Mexican women. Nutr Cancer. 2002;43(2):133-40. Consumption of citrus fruit, non-citrus fruit, dairy products, and food sources of lignans were associated with lower risk of benign breast disease. (Lignans are found most abundantly in flaxseed; wheat bran, rye, buckwheat, millet, soy beans and oats have small amounts.)
Mastalgia: a 3 year Australian study. Aust N Z J Surg. 1994 May;64(5):329-31. Lack of previous breast feeding and low levels of regular physical exercise were identified as two significant factors in the history of those attending the [mastalgia] clinic.
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