By naturopath Margaret Jasinska
Gynecomastia means overdevelopment or enlargement of breast tissue in men or boys. The breasts become larger and often grow unevenly. The condition is often caused by changes in levels of the female hormone oestrogen and the male hormone testosterone, but there can be other causes as well.
Gynecomastia is fairly common, especially in older men who are overweight. Although not harmful, breast development in men can signify underlying hormonal and metabolic problems which could be harmful.
What causes male breast development?
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 oestrogen. Therefore overweight men may be turning a lot of the testosterone in their bodies into oestrogen. Oestrogen 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 oestrogen 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 oestrogen can accumulate. Men who eat a lot of sugar or carbohydrate have lower levels of testosterone in their bloodstream. This is common in those with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes.
Other potential causes of gynecomastia include:
- High consumption of alcohol (especially 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