June 5, 2017
Although males are not naturally expected to have significantly noticeable breasts, it does happen. This enlargement of the male breast is known medically as gynaecomastia and commonly as male boobs. It can be due to a natural decrease in the male hormone, testosterone, relative to the female hormone, oestrogen, and it can also be a symptom of some underlying problem.
Here are some of the causes of gynaecomastia:
A baby boy may be born with enlarged breasts if significant doses of his mother’s oestrogen, crosses the placenta into his own bloodstream. This usually resolves within weeks.
Males who are born an extra X chromosome (XXY, instead of XY), a condition known as Klinefelter’s syndrome, often exhibit different physical problems including gynaestomastia and small testes. They often also have infertility and behavioural issues too. Fortunately, it is a rare disorder.
Around puberty, both sexes tend to have fluctuating hormonal levels. In boys whose testosterone levels are coasting on the low side, the oestrogen may relatively dominate, thus promoting breast tissue growth. This usually resolves as the male hormones peak.
With old age comes a decline in the production of testosterone, an increase in body fat and consequently, oestrogen levels. These may result in the formation of male boobs and it may affect at least half of men aged 50-70 years!
Many people who are overweight may actually accumulate fat on their chest. However, this is different from gynaecomastia, which, in the strict sense, is an increase in the glandular tissues of the male breast. Obesity can result in an increase in oestrogen production in males and this then may lead to the breast enlargement.
During starvation, the body may significantly reduce the level of testosterone relative to oestrogen. This may result in an increase in the glandular tissues of the breast. Oddly enough recovery from malnutrition (re-feeding) can also promote gynaecomastia.
Certain plant derivatives have been found to promote male breast enlargement due to their oestrogen-mimicking properties. Examples of these herbs include lavender and tea tree oil. Regular use of hair and skin products that contain these can result in acquiring male boobs.
Anti-ulcer medications like Cimentidine; Tricyclic antidepressants; some antibiotics and antifungals; some anti-hypertensives like Aldomet, the ACE inhibitors (lisonopril ,enalapril etc) and calcium channel blockers (nifedipine and co.); HIV medication like Efavirenz; prostate cancer/enlargement medication like spirolactone have been noted to have enlarged male breasts as a possible side effect.
Drug and substance abuse
Regular alcohol, cannabis/marijuana, heroin and amphetamine use can result in gynaestomastia as can the use of anabolic steroids and androgens by bodybuilders and athletes.
Liver or kidney problems
The liver is responsible for the production of many hormones, including testosterone. Liver cirrhosis and other conditions that alter the structure and function of the liver can thus lead to gynaecomastia.
Damage to the kidneys can also affect hormonal function. This is why chronic kidney failure and haemodialysis often result in enlargement of the male breasts.
Cancer of the testes can also throw off the testosterone-oestrogen balance, resulting in gynaecomastia. Apart from testicular cancer, there are some other tumours that may alter the normal hormonal production.
Gynaecomastia in infants and peri-pubertal boys is common and temporal but for many adults, it can be the result of hormonal imbalances from an underlying disorder or as a side effect of medication or street drug use. A consultation with a doctor and some tests may be needed to discover the cause. The solution can range from counselling to switching medication, taking hormonal replacement or even surgery.
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