Teenage boys and older men are most likely to suffer with man boobs (or gynaecomastia to give the condition its proper name). Sometimes both or just one breast is affected, and extra tissue can be located just around the nipple or the entire breast area. While some men opt for surgery, there are a variety of ways you can tackle the problem.
What causes gynaecomastia?
There are a variety of things which can cause a man's breasts to swell and become larger than normal. Hormone imbalance is often to blame. All men produce some of the female sex hormone oestrogen but most have much higher levels of testosterone, which stops the oestrogen from causing breast tissue to grow. An imbalance between the sex hormones can lead to higher levels of oestrogen, which can cause breast tissue to grow. A visit to your GP will help determine whether hormones are to blame, though sometimes the cause of the imbalance is unknown.
Puberty and older age
Boy's hormone levels vary great during puberty. If the amount of testosterone drops, oestrogen can cause breast tissue to grow. Many teenage boys have some degree of breast enlargement, and the condition usually disappears as boys get older and hormone levels become more stable. Hormones also change in older age, when men produce less testosterone. Older men also tend to have more body fat, which can cause more oestrogen to be produced.
One in four adults are now obese in the UK, and men who are overweight are more likely to suffer with man boobs. The more body fat you have, the more oestrogen your body produces. Your body fat should be less than 22% to be considered healthy – any higher than that and you risk developing man boobs.
Diet and exercise advice
Losing weight and exercising regularly is the best way to lower your body fat and lose the man boobs. Doing lots of press-up or chest presses alone won't solve the problem. To burn fat you need to do regular cardiovascular exercise, such as interval training or spinning classes, mixed with weight training to improve definition. For instance, building up your back muscles will improve your posture and simply standing up straight can make a surprising difference to the appearance of your chest.
A healthy diet will not only help you lose weight, but can help restore any hormonal imbalance. To help reduce oestrogen levels, add berries, grapes, melons, pineapples, broccoli, cabbage and green beans to your diet. Cutting back on alcohol, sugar, and refined processed foods can also make a big difference.
Less common causes
According to NHS Choices, gynaecomastia can also be caused by side effects from medication, such as anti-ulcer drugs or medication for heart disease, street drugs, such as cannabis or anabolic steroids, excessive alcohol consumption, Klinefelter's syndrome, a rare genetic disorder, lumps or infection in the testicles, or a more serious health problem, such as liver disease or kidney failure.
Treatment for gynaecomastia
Your GP will be able to advise if treatment is appropriate. There are two types of treatment for gynaecomastia: surgery to remove the excess breast tissue and medication to adjust a hormone imbalance.
Male breast reduction surgery is not usually available on the NHS, unless there is a clear medical need for it. If you have suffered from the condition for a long time and it is causing you pain or distress, your GP may refer you to a cosmetic surgeon to discuss the possibility of surgery. However, this would only happen if you have tried other treatment options and they have proved ineffective.
Gynaecomastia is not related to breast cancer but if you are worried about breast swelling, or the area is very painful or there is a definite lump, always see your GP.
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