By Kayla Daniels
So many of our young men are growing breasts that the word “moobs” — short for “man boobs” — has entered the popular vocabulary. While the word itself sounds amusing, it’s a heartbreaking trend for young men and their families, and a booming business for surgeons who specialize in breast reduction surgery. It’s anywhere from $4,000 to $9000 depending on the procedure and the area of the country, not to mention the surgeon’s reputation and self esteem.
Why is this happening? Environmental estrogens are surely a factor. But so is soy. Young men at the highest risk are those who were given soy infant formula during infancy and/or who regularly drank soy milk during their childhoods and teenage years. Such boys are not only at risk for “moobs” but may show other estrogenic signs as well, including lowered quantity and quality of sperm, undersized genitals, undescended testicles, and other reproductive system problems.
Scientists first linked phytoestrogens (plant estrogens) with lowered sperm count and other reproductive problems in the 1940s when they diagnosed clover disease in sheep. Red clover contains a type of phytoestrogen known as coumestans, which are similar in their effect to the isoflavones found in soybeans.
When sheep graze heavily on red clover, they can develop red clover disease, which causes normal male sheep to became infertile and castrated males — called wethers — to experience teat enlargement and nipple discharge.
Rodents, primates and humans experience similar feminizing effects if their reproductive development is disrupted by estrogens that either interact directly with the testes or that affect plasma gonadotrophin or sex hormone concentrations.
Soy industry spokespeople tend to downplay side effects from estrogenization and testosterone-lowering by claiming phytoestrogen consumption to be protective against prostate cancer and atherosclerosis. Although the possibility that soy foods or supplements could prevent these deadly conditions makes headlines, few men hear that the downside is demasculinization, which in some men manifests as gynecomastia.
Although many studies link soy consumption to masculinization, few have looked at “moobs.”
A study for the National Cancer Institute completed at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, however, reported that soy-eating men experienced “nipple discharge, breast enlargement and slight decreases in testosterone.”
Although the researchers concluded these side effects were inconsequential and few men would see visible “testicle shrinkage” or “massive breast enlargement,” the bottom line is the subjects of the study showed feminization from high soy phytoestrogen consumption. Whether their “moobs” came in large or small, their development signified estrogenization, lowered testosterone levels and overall hormonal imbalance.
Can gynecomastia be reversed naturally? It depends, but cleaning up the environment and the diet to remove environmental and phytoestrogens are critical first steps. Many clinicians such as Kim Schuette of Biodynamic Wellness in Solana Beach, California, report reversals(in a letter in the Spring 2015 issue of Wise Traditions) just from eliminating soy milk and soy foods from the diet.
That’s the good news, but sadly, not all boys will be so fortunate. In addition to the obvious factors of dose and duration, a key issue is timing. The “windows of vulnerability” for phytoestrogen exposure is wide, and goes from conception to adulthood. High risk windows are in utero, infancy, shortly before puberty and during puberty. That said, men remain at some risk for “moobs” throughout their lives and so would do well to take it easy on the soy.
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Thanks to Kayla Daniel for this article. She discusses the effect of soy on hormone production and provide references in Chapters 26-29 of her book The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food (New Trends, 2005).