In this article I’ll be telling you a few things about man boobs. I may go on for a bit, because I wanted to cover everything, but feel free to skip the sections that don’t interest you. If you’re not worried about breast cancer for example, don’t bother reading the section. If you’re 17, you may not be interested in the section on old age gynecomastia – skip it.
Man boobs are a pain to live with. Unfortunately there’s a lot of misleading information out there about what man boobs are and why you get them. Some say it’s in your genes and there’s nothing you can do about it, while others say it’s an accumulation of fat and you just have to exercise and it’ll go away.
The truth is, in most cases it’s a bit of both, and there’s more to the story than just genes and fat. Your best bet, when it comes to getting rid of your man boobs and finally living life as a normal man with a flat chest, is to learn what man boobs are and why you have them. So bare with me while I try to summarize what I know.
What Are “Man Boobs” (aka “Gynecomastia”)
Man boobs and gynecomastia aren’t exactly the same thing. Gynecomastia is the term doctors use to describe a specific type of growth in your breasts. Man boobs on the other hand, can mean a whole bunch of other things.
Here’s the definition of gynecomastia according to an article in the British Medical Journal (BMJ):
“Gynaecomastia is the benign enlargement of male breast tissue (>2 cm palpable, firm, subareolar gland and ductal tissue) resulting from a relative decrease in androgen effect or increase in oestrogen effect. Breast enlargement due to adipose tissue is called pseudogynaecomastia.”
So gynecomastia is when you can feel firm breast glands more than 2 cm wide beneath your nipples. This is ‘true gynecomastia‘. Pseudogynecomastia is when you have excess chest fat, either without any gland enlargement, or with only a very small amount of gland enlargement. Man boobs can refer to either one of these.
In 75% of cases you get enlargement of both breasts (bilateral gynecomastia – either symmetrical or asymmetrical), while in around 25% of cases, only one breast is enlarged (unilateral gynecomastia).
What Causes Man Boobs?
The causes of man boobs can be very complex and there are many different hormones involved. But by far the most important hormones involved are the male sex hormone testosterone and the female sex hormone estrogen. Anything that changes the levels of these hormones, changes their production, or changes the way the body uses or responds to these two hormones, can cause guys like you and me to grow boobs.
Gynecomastia can either be pathological, where it’s caused by a medical illness or drugs, it can be physiological, where it’s seen as a normal process in the body that isn’t associated with any illness, or it could be idiopathic, where no cause is known.
The vast majority of cases are physiological and idiopathic. Though relatively few cases are associated with disease, it’s always important to get it checked out. If you think you might have man boobs, then please go and see your doctor to make sure there isn’t any underlying medical cause.
Here’s how the stats go. Guys who see their doctor about man boobs, are found to have…
- Idiopathic gynecomastia (i.e. no detectable abnormality) – 25%
- Persistent pubertal gynecomastia – 25%
- Drugs – 10-25%
- Cirrhosis or malnutrition – 8%
- Primary hypogonadism – 8%
- Testicular tumors – 3%
- Secondary hypogonadism – 2%
- Hyperthyroidism – 1.5%
- Chronic renal insufficiency – 1%
Remember though that most guys only see their doctor if their condition is pretty severe. Severe gynecomastia is more likely to be caused by some form of underlying disease. This means that the incidence of idiopathic and physiological gynecomastia is likely much higher than the stats show above. One study even suggests that up to 90% of gynecomastia cases are idiopathic.
There are a huge number of different diseases that are associated with gynecomastia. Some of these are listed below. For a more detailed discussion on the various causes of pathological gynecomastia, go here.
- Conditions that reduce testosterone levels (called ‘hypogonadism’), such as Klinefelter syndrome or pituitary gland problems.
- An overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism).
- Liver disease.
- Kidney disease and kidney failure.
- Tumors of the testicles, pituitary gland or adrenal glands.
Another common cause of pathological gynecomastia are drugs. There are many different drugs that can cause gynecomastia. I’ve listed a few for you below. You can have a look at a more comprehensive list here.
- Hormones: estrogens and anabolic steroids used in bodybuilding like testosterone and human growth hormone.
- Medicines that block the action of testosterone, or prevent its production. These are used in treating prostate cancer. E.g. bicalutamide, flutamide.
- Some antibiotics, such as metronidazole, ketoconazole and isoniazid.
- Some anti-ulcer medicines. E.g. omeprazole, ranititdine.
- Some cancer treatments (chemotherapy).
- Some medicines for the heart and treating blood pressure. E.g. digoxin, ACE inhibitors like enalapril, calcium channel blockers like nifedipine, spironolactone and minoxidil.
- Some medicines for psychiatric conditions (e.g. anxiety, depression, psychotic disorders). Drugs include diazepam, fluoxetine (prozac), olanzapine.
- Alcohol (especially beer).
- Illegal drugs: amphetamines, heroin, and marijuana
- Some over-the-counter drugs, herbal supplements and lotions, such as those containing lavender or tea tree oil.
If you’re taking one of the drugs in the list above, then there’s a good chance your man boobs will go away once you stop taking the drug. So see your doctor about coming off the drug, or changing it to something else.
Pathological gynecomastia is uncommon, but you’ll never know what you have unless you get it checked out by your doctor. If you have a medical illness causing you to grow man boobs, your highest priority should be to treat that medical illness.
In most cases, when the root medical cause is treated, the gynecomastia goes away soon afterwards, all by itself. If you have pathological gynecomastia, the methods for reducing man boobs that I’ll be discussing in later articles can help, but the most effective thing you can do is to treat the medical condition if it’s treatable.
Treating your medical condition is the only method of action I recommend you take. Get it treated, or at least get it looked at by a qualified medical professional, then come back to this site if your man boobs are still there.
A Quick Primer on Breast Cancer…
A lot of guys with gynecomastia worry about breast cancer. Know that breast cancer and gynecomastia are not the same thing. The main difference is that gynecomastia is benign, i.e. it doesn’t spread and invade other parts of your body, cancer does. Gynecomastia doesn’t need to be treated, unless there is an underlying disease process, where the disease needs to be treated, or the gynecomastia is causing pain or you just don’t like the look. Cancer needs to be treated.
Another important difference is that gynecomastia is damn common. Anywhere from 33-66% of guys suffer from some form of gynecomastia or other. I know that Hollywood, men’s magazines and the media in general will have you believe that 99% of guys walk around with perfectly chiseled pecs and six pack abs, but in reality, way more guys than you think, are walking around with man boobs, they’re just good at hiding ’em, and won’t for any sum of money, take their top off for a men’s magazine cover role.
Male breast cancer on the other hand, is very rare. It happens in about 1 in 100,000 men in the United States.
The best way to find out if you have gyno or breast cancer, is to go see your doctor. Your doc can usually tell from a simple examination, though he/she may send you for more tests (imaging, biopsy, etc) if they have reason for concern.
Some guys have asked me the question – “If I have gynecomastia, does this increase my chances of developing breast cancer?” Well the studies suggest gynecomastia does not increase your chances of developing breast cancer, unless you have a condition called Kleinfelter’s syndrome. Kleinfelter’s is a rare genetic disorder that happens in 1 in 500 to 1 in 1,000 live male births.
Now I don’t mean to alarm you, but the number of men getting breast cancer has been increasing over time. It went up from 0.86 to 1.08 per 100,000 from 1973 to 1998. The chances of you getting breast cancer are increased when you are exposed to high levels of the female hormone estrogen. And a common cause of gynecomastia is high estrogen levels. Though the studies haven’t found any statistical link between gynecomastia and male breast cancer, the theory would suggest gynecomastia can increase your chances of getting breast cancer.
So what does this mean?
It means you gotta get rid of those darn man boobs! Your life very well could depend on it.
There are 3 periods in a man’s life when he is very likely to grow breasts:
1. As a baby:
Around 60-90% of newborn babies have gynecomastia because of estrogens transferred to them from their mother. It usually goes away completely after the first year.
If you are of this category, then damn, you sure as hell learned to read fast. You don’t by any chance star in Family Guy, do you?
2. As a teen:
Gynecomastia in puberty is called ‘pubertal gynecomastia’. It occurs in 48-64% of kids during puberty. It can start as early as the age of 10, with most cases starting between ages 13 and 14.
Since pubertal gynecomastia is so common, I’ll talk about it in more detail below.
3. In old age:
You can grow man boobs in old age because of naturally declining testosterone levels. The highest incidence is from ages 50 to 80.
Studies suggest that testosterone levels in men are rapidly declining in recent years because of our exposure to environmental chemicals. Many guys who are in their 30s and 40s are finding they have testosterone levels that are equal to what a 60 year old man would have had just a couple of generations ago.
As a result, man boobs caused by a so-called ‘natural’ decline in testosterone with age is becoming more and more common in people younger than 50.
The good news is, whether you are in your 30s or 70s, you can make some important natural lifestyle changes that can more than double your testosterone levels in just a few weeks
Pubertal Gynecomastia (Adults Should Read This Too)
When you hit puberty your testes produce increased levels of both testosterone and estrogen. In kids who suffer from pubertal gynecomastia, all that happens is that the estrogen increases earlier/quicker than the testosterone. It can take up to 2-3 years for the testosterone to catch up and for the man boobs to go away.
Pubertal gynecomastia is seen as a ‘normal’ thing to happen in kids. If you’re in your teens and you see your doctor about man boobs, then chances are he/she will just do a quick examination and tell you “it’s perfectly normal, just wait it out and it’ll go away in a few years”.
I actually totally disagree with this. I’ll tell you why in a minute.
It is true that in most cases it will go away completely if you just wait it out. In 75% of cases, the excess breast tissue disappears within 2 years without treatment, and a good 90% of kids would have lost their man boobs after 3 years without treatment.
What that means though, is that in 10% of cases – in 1 in 10 kids – man boobs don’t go away, and tend to last into adulthood. This condition is called ‘persistent pubertal gynecomastia’. The bigger or more severe your man boobs, the more likely it is that your man boobs will persist into adulthood.
Now the reason you should read this section even if you’re an adult and long past puberty, is that as I mentioned earlier, persistent pubertal gynecomastia is responsible for 25% of all cases of gynecomastia in adult men.
The thing is, the number of guys with persistent pubertal gynecomastia is increasing over time. More and more kids are finding that their man boobs don’t go away after 3 years. This is part of the reason why there is such a huge increase in the number of guys undergoing male breast reduction surgery in recent years. In the UK for example, the number of guys having male breast reduction doubled from 2006 to 2011. In the US, male breast reduction surgery is now the 4th most popular cosmetic procedure for men.
If pubertal gynecomastia is such a ‘normal’ thing to happen, why on earth would its incidence be increasing over time?
Is it evolution? Have we evolved into more feminine beings over a span of 5 years? Well we know that’s not true, because evolution takes millions of years to happen. What’s more likely is there are environmental factors that are increasing your chances of getting pubertal gynecomastia, and increasing the chances of pubertal gynecomastia persisting into adulthood.
In future articles, I will highlight some important environmental factors and lifestyle changes that will not only help to reduce the chances of your man boobs persisting into adulthood, but will also help to get rid of your man boobs sooner than if you were to just “wait it out” as your doctor recommends.
Factors that increase the chances of your man boobs lasting longer than 2 or 3 years is being overweight and having excess environmental exposure to estrogen and estrogen-like particles called ‘xenoestrogens’.
You can help to reduce the chances that your man boobs will last beyond 2 to 3 years, and also help to get rid of your man boobs quicker if you exercise, keep fit and maintain a low body weight. You also need to educate yourself on the topic of estrogen reduction and get good at limiting your exposure to environmental estrogens.
Idiopathic gynecomastia is where no obvious cause can be found. But just because a cause can’t be found, doesn’t mean there is no cause. A big physical change in your body like growing man boobs, doesn’t happen without a cause.
There is some form of biological change that is causing your body to go against its masculine nature by developing a set of breasts. A lot of the times your doctor won’t be able to find any obvious hormonal changes, because man boobs can equally result from problems in the testosterone receptors in your breast tissue, or breast tissue that is hypersensitive to normal levels of estrogen. These localized receptor and breast sensitivity issues can’t be tested for. We do know however, that they are affected by certain drugs, lifestyle changes and chemicals.
Studies have shown that medical drugs like tamoxifen can help reduce idiopathic gyneocmastia. Tamoxifen works by blocking estrogen receptors in breast tissue. If tamoxifen can reduce idiopathic gynecomastia, then the natural methods I suggest in this website will help you even more.
Just like physiological gynecomastia, the incidence of idiopathic gynecomastia has also been increasing dramatically over the years. Although science hasn’t found a definite causal link with gynecomastia, it’s blindingly obvious to anyone who’s willing to do a bit of research, that rates of gynecomastia are increasing for the same reason rates of breast cancer are increasing in both men and women, and the same reason rates of obesity, prostate cancer, various other cancers, endocrine disorders like thyroid disease, diabetes and huge hosts of other diseases have been increasing in the last few decades.
This particular cause of gynecomastia is a very important one that you must know about in order to get rid of your man boobs naturally. I’ll be discussing it a little later in a future article.
Obesity – Another Common Cause of Gynecomastia
I decided to talk about obesity separately, because I’m not sure which category it would fit into above. Obesity-related gynecomastia is probably more common than all the other forms of gynecomastia put together. It’s pretty natural for a guy to put on excess chest fat as he puts on more weight.
Piling on the pounds causes your body to grow man boobs via multiple different mechanisms. Being fat gives your body such a strong signal to grow man boobs, that it’s near impossible for a guy with man boobs to lose his man boobs naturally without first losing weight. So in a later article, when I discuss natural methods for getting rid of man boobs, the first prescription I’ll give you is weight loss! But don’t worry I’ll show you how you can do it easily.
We know that fat cells contain the enzyme aromatase, which converts testosterone into estrogen. This itself has a double-whammy effect, because man boobs are caused by either an increase in estrogen or a decrease in testosterone. Studies have found a direct link between rising body weight and a decline in both free and total blood testosterone levels. These declines in testosterone levels have been associated with decreased sperm concentrations, sperm motility, and fertility rates.
Fat cells also store estrogen, which means they increase estrogen levels in your body.
How Do You Get Rid Of Man Boobs?
Well that’s a whole topic by itself. I’ll discuss it in detail in a later article. Meanwhile, feel free to browse my site and learn about different exercises you can do to help get rid of your man boobs, and dietary and lifestyle changes you can make.
You may also like to go here to find out about the methods I have been using to help my clients lose their man boobs naturally:
Now I don’t pretend to know everything about man boobs or gynecomastia. If there’s anything you feel I missed or got wrong in the above article, please feel free to let me know in the comments box below. Also, what are your experiences with man boobs? What are some of the other things you’d like me to discuss about losing man boobs naturally?