By Penelope A. Domogo, MD
Gynecomastia is breast enlargement in males. Males are supposed to have flat chests because they don’t have enough estrogen to make their breasts grow big. The classic feature of gynecomastia is male breast enlargement with rubbery or firm glandular chest tissue palpable under the areola (this is the dark skin surrounding the nipple).
If you remember our previous discussions on male and female hormones, estrogen is the female hormone and testosterone is the male hormone. These are produced naturally by our bodies at the proper time and in the right amount and right quality. For want of a better term, these hormones are called sex hormones because they determine the biological difference between males and females. This is not their only function, though. They determine the primary and secondary sex characteristics of a person. The primary sex characteristics are the sex organs while the secondary sex characteristics are those bodily changes that happen in puberty or adolescence. For females, estrogen enables them to grow, among other things, bigger breasts, more fatty tissue and have menses, in preparation for their reproductive role as mothers. For males, testosterone deepens their voice, gives them more body hair, bone mass and muscle, etc. It’s more muscle, not more breast tissue, that God gave to males. Breast tissue is mainly fat. If you like a more glamorous term, it’s adipose tissue. So if men’s chests are big like Mr. Philippines, it’s because they have developed their chest muscles through hard work carrying heavy weights.
Then why would males have developed breasts? Logically, we think of hormones. It couldn’t be because of their shampoo or is it? Scientists, like us (ehem), theorize that this breast enlargement in males result from an imbalance of estrogen and testosterone. “In addition to directly stimulating breast tissue growth, estrogens indirectly decrease secretion of testosterone by suppressing luteinizing hormone secretion resulting in decreased testicular secretion of testosterone.” (Wikipedia) The next question is “What causes this imbalance of hormones?” Nature gives us a perfect balance of our hormones in a proportion that no human has ever discovered thus we are forever theorizing. Our growth and development is controlled a lot by these hormones. There might even be other substances in our body that we don’t know of. I believe only our Creator really knows who and what we are. Anyhow, in terms of the sex hormones, what science has discovered so far is that these hormones have to be in a balanced proportion. So if there’s breast enlargement in a male then we just have to think of an excess of estrogen in that person.
Now, where would that excess estrogen come from? From the air? Nope. We get excess estrogen from our food. Plants don’t have estrogen so this excess estrogen must be from animals. And what are we eating from animals? Their meat. Whether it is fresh, inasin, etag, tocino, longanisa, ham or burger, adobo or chinawis, it is still from an animal. What else are we eating from animals? Their eggs. Yes, Virginia, chickens and ducks and itik are part of the animal kingdom. Remember your class in biology? Now, there is another popular food produced by animals. That’s milk and other dairy products- cheese, margarine, butter, cream, ice cream, yoghurt. What many people don’t realize yet is that the present mode of production of meat, eggs and dairy is so much different now than when we were kids. In the past, pigs and cows subsisted on grass or “ange” and chickens on “moting” (tiny broken rice). Now, although our cows in the Cordillera are still grass-fed, we know that feeds make the pigs and chickens grow abnormally fast and fat. Do some research and you will see how dairy farms abroad inject hormones to the mama cows so they will produce more milk to sell to the demanding public. That milk will eventually find itself on the shelves of the sari-sari store. Feeds also magically make virgin hens produce eggs. All these feeds contain hormones that will eventually enter our bodies when we eat the meat, eggs and milk of these animals.
What else is being discovered? In the pursuit of more profit, we now have a lot of food additives to prolong shelf-life of products, to retain nice colors so you will be attracted to buy, to make food creamier, softer, etc, etc. These are the preservatives, food colorings, flavorings, etc, etc. You might want to attend a seminar on food processing to know some of these and why people continue to use such dubious chemicals & sell to other people. Researches are being made on some of these food additives and the bad news is that some of these mimic estrogen (of all substances!). Clair Hicks, a professor of food science at the University of Kentucky and spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists, a nonprofit scientific group, said “We need to be mindful of these food additives because they could be adding to the total effect of other estrogen mimicking compounds we’re coming into contact with.” (Environmental Health News, 3/27/2009)
It is no surprise then that there’s an increasing prevalence of gynecomastia as the years roll by. Unlike diabetes and high blood pressure, gynecomastia is very visible. It cannot be hidden so we cannot say that we haven’t diagnosed this before. Besides in the past, people didn’t even wear toppers so a man with large breasts would be a legend and we would be hearing about him unto this day. I haven’t heard of such. In the local scene, just attend our fiestas and watch the performers. We see nowadays breast enlargement and these are among overweight boys. These we haven’t seen before.
Gynecomastia can also be an effect of testicular cancer which decreases the amount of testosterone or metabolic disorders that disturb the hormonal balance. But these are rare cases. Thank goodness.
What then do we do? Let us just take effort not to alter the natural balance of hormones by eating as natural as possible. Let us not add extra hormones to what our bodies are already producing. Start by eating a plant-based diet because that’s how our body is designed. Choose fresh organically-grown plants as much as possible and as natural as you can find them, like boiled camote instead of camote bread; ginisang kalunay instead of kalunay chips. For occasional animal products, choose organic and you will be severely limited by nature. That’s good for you and me and our families. Let us trust nature to take care of the balance.**
“If you will wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.” Ecclesiastes 11:4