Gynecomastia is a medical condition affecting boys and men in which the breasts grow abnormally large. According to the Langone Medical Center at New York University, approximately 65 percent of pubescent boys and one-third of adult men over 18 experience gynecomastia to some degree. Several herbs have been found to promote or even cause gynecomastia as a side effect, including lavender, tea tree and dong quai. Others have been found to relieve it, including tumeric and kudzu and herbs that contain polyphenol antioxidants. Herbs influencing the balance of testosterone and estrogen in the body may also have an impact on gynecomastia one way or the other.
Among the possible causes of gynecomastia are aging, hyperthyroidism, anabolic steroid use, obesity and a testosterone deficiency. Symptoms of breast enlargement are sometimes accompanied by tenderness of the breasts. If you suspect you may be experiencing gynecomastia, get examined by a doctor, ideally one with experience in endocrinology, immediately. One possible cause of gynecomastia to rule out as quickly as possible is a tumor. Treatment for non-tumor-related gynecomastia typically involves eliminating the underlying cause, such as a particular herb.
Herbs That May Promote It
A 2007 study in "The New England Journal of Medicine" determined that repeated topical exposure to the oils of the herbs lavender and tea tree were responsible for prepubertal gynecomastia in three boys. A 2001 report in the "Singapore Medical Journal" described a man whose gynecomastia developed after he had consumed pills containing the Chinese herb dong quai, or angelica.
Herbs That May Relieve It
A 1997 study in the "American Journal of Chinese Medicine" found that a common Chinese herbal blend called gegen-tang alleviated pain from gynecomastia in four patients with liver disease, although no measurable reduction in breast size was noted. The primary active ingredient in this blend is Pueraria, or kudzu root. Herbs that help burn excess fat may also reduce breast size associated with gynecomastia. Such herbs may include green tea, grape seed, guggul and other herbs containing polyphenols, a type of antioxidant associated with fat loss.
Testosterone and Estrogen
When estrogen levels are disproportionately high compared with testosterone levels, gynecomastia can result. Likewise, increasing testosterone levels may help alleviate gynecomastia symptoms. Anecdotal reports exist on several Internet support groups for men with prostate cancer who say they successfully relieved gynecomastia pain resulting as a side effect from androgen-suppression therapy by taking the herb tumeric. A possible reason for this effect is tumeric's testosterone boosting action. Other herbs with reported testosterone-boosting properties include passionflower, sarsaparilla, tribulus terrestris and the cordyceps mushroom. Herbs with phytoestrogenic properties, contrarily, may mimic estrogen's effects on the body, including increasing breast tissue. Such herbs include red clover, alfalfa, licorice, saw palmetto, ginseng and black cohosh.
- NYU Langone Medical Center; Gynecomastia; Diane W. Shannon
- The New England Journal of Medicine; Prepubertal Gynecomastia Linked to Lavender and Tea Tree Oils; Derek V. Henley, et al.
- Singapore Medical Journal; Gynaecomastia and the Herbal Tonic Dong Quai; S.Y. Goh, et al.
- American Journal of Chinese Medicine; Effect of Gegen-Tang on Painful Gynecomastia in Patients With Liver Cirrhosis: A Brief Report; Y. Motoo, et al.
- PSA Rising; Tumeric; Jacqueline Strax