Breasts are often thought of as a symbol of femininity and pleasure, but this isn’t the case for all women. For some, their breasts are a source of pain and discomfort. No woman should have to endure this especially when there are so many different dietary and lifestyle changes that may offer relief.
As our breasts change and we discover new lumps and bumps it is important to get them checked up. The only way to determine a cancerous compared to a non-cancerous growth is with testing.
Start with a physical examination with your doctor. The best time to do this is day 7 of your cycle, right after menses when your breasts are less tender and swollen. It’s more comfortable for you and it's easier for your doctor to feel what going on. If the doctor has any concerns they may recommend you have an ultrasound or mammogram and possibly a biopsy.
Fibrocystic breast changes are the number 1 breast complaint for peri-menopausal women. Although it may happen in post-menopause if you are taking hormone replacement.
Fibrocystic breasts contain fluid-filled cysts that feel lumpy and bumpy to touch, most commonly these growths are noticed at the upper outer area of the breast, and these lumps are generally similar on both sides. They can be moveable and may cause skin dimpling and thickening. The most common concern is the pain and tenderness most women experience with them. This tenderness can range from mild to extreme, at the extreme end a woman's quality of life is certainly affected, and touch can be excruciating, even the touch of clothing. This sensitivity is most likely to occur prior to menstruation and for relief to be experienced afterward. Some women will also notice coloured nipple discharge, often with a brownish or greenish tinge.
The exact cause is still up for debate but a significant contributing factor is hormonal change, specifically elevated estrogen over progesterone. This is pretty commonplace in peri-menopause, as we stop regularly ovulating our ability to produce progesterone reduces, leaving us with a hormonal imbalance that is estrogen heavy.
The next hormone to consider is prolactin, prolactin plays a key role in the growth and development of our breasts and too much of it can make all breast-related symptoms worse. If you find you have elevated prolactin, you must check your thyroid function. When trying to get to the cause of your breast symptoms you may find yourself peeling off many layers to uncover the source. Breast issues could be prolactin-related, prolactin increases when thyroid function reduces but thyroid issues are usually secondary to something else going on in the body.
Aside from hormones our breasts can also be impacted by toxins and poor lymphatic drainage. As our breasts contain adipose tissue another name for fat tissue, they make the perfect storage point for all our fat-soluble environmental toxins. A key sign you have been exposed to and are storing toxins here can be an increased cup size at midlife. You may have heard these toxins being called xenoestrogens or endocrine-disrupting hormones. These toxins interfere with our natural hormones signals by either blocking hormones or mimicking hormones. They are found in our air, water, food, personal care products, cleaning products, plastics, gardening supplies, and more. Yes, they are everywhere, but we can significantly reduce our exposure and start detoxifying them from our body. The best way to do this is to swap conventional food for organic food, tap water for filtered water, stop using perfumes, throw out your plastics, and swap your personal care products for chemical-free versions. If you would like to know more about how to do this I co-created a program with Building Biologist Joanne Lia, called Healthy Homes for Healthy Hormones.
Back to detoxification, this is where your lymphatic system comes in, think of it as your trash removal system. Our breasts and underarms are heavily saturated with lymph nodes. Swelling is a sign of poor lymphatic draining. In this case, you may benefit from a lymph-draining massage, there are healthcare professionals that specialise in this form of care and there are also resources you can google to teach yourself a self-lymphatic breast massage practice.
Did you know diet can play a huge role in the health of your breasts?
Many studies back the link between coffee and breast pain. The culprit is methylxanthines and unfortunately, these are also found in chocolate and teas. The good news is that most women experience significant reductions in breast pain when they cut their coffee.
Alcohol is also problematic, correlation studies have found that women who regularly consume alcohol have an increased risk of experiencing breast pain. (While we are here I have to mention cigarette smokers also have a higher incidence of breast pain.)
On the bright side these foods have been found to be helpful, Flaxseed- freshly ground and sprinkled over food, aim for 2 tablespoons daily, cruciferous vegetables especially broccoli, the allium family especially garlic and onion.
Minerals to the rescue
Iodine deficiency is thought to disrupt the natural life cycle of breast cells, promoting breast swelling, heaviness, and tenderness. An interesting note is that the breasts contain the second highest concentration of iodine in the body after the thyroid. Kessler in his 2004 study on iodine and fibrocystic breast symptoms found that high-dose iodine was more effective than low-dose iodine or placebo in reducing breast pain and discomfort. (Please do not self-prescribe high-dose iodine. You need to first rule out the presence of thyroid antibodies before commencing treatment as iodine can promote the increase in these antibodies. Please work with a practitioner if you have both breast pain and autoimmune thyroiditis.)
Zinc has a role to play in all aspects of prolactin production, storage, release, and action. I like to test zinc, and copper at the same time to check out their ratio. Copper has an infinity for the breasts and an elevated copper-to-zinc ratio may increase the risk of breast cancer developing.
Vitamin E reduces the production of pain-forming prostaglandins, and it is one of the most popular nutrients to consider for reducing breast pain. It may also help support progesterone levels.
Correlation studies have found women with low selenium levels to be at greater risk of developing fibrocystic breast changes than women with normal blood selenium levels.
The B vitamin family may assist with lowering and detoxifying excess estrogen. B6 specifically helps to suppress the rise in prolactin levels while assisting to balance other reproductive hormones like estrogen and progesterone.
Magnesium helps to preserve progesterone and to encourage the breakdown of excess estrogen.
There are so many other nutrients, oils, and herbs that may help. The key message is relief is available. You may like to start by trying some of the dietary or lifestyle changes and consider booking a consultation to personalise a treatment plan for you and fast-track your results.