Published on April 3rd, 2015

Is Soy Causing Moobs?

In the vernacular, they are known as “moobs”, “moobies”,”breasticles” or “bitch tits.”   The medical term is “gynecomastia.”   Whatever, they’re called, so many of our boys and young men are growing breasts that surgeons report a booming business  in breast reduction operations.

Why is this happening?   The New York Times and other major media report that no one knows for sure why gynecomastia is on the rise though many think the environmental estrogens found in plastics, pesticides, drinking water and supermarket meats and poultry should take the blame.   Widely noted is the fact that in the past “moobs” rarely were found outside the bodybuilding community, where steroid use led to breast development.    Today, however, they are appearing in fit and unfit young men alike.

Many of these boys and men have increased fatty tissue because of overweight or obesity.   Although this gives the appearance of “moobs,” it is not the same as true enlargement and is diagnosed as pseudogynecomastia.   Doctors also report that fifty percent or more of boys experience at least periods of hormonal imbalance where “moobs” appear but then flatten out in a few months.   True gynecomastia is a more long-term condition, and it can occur in boys and men who are underweight, overweight and normal weight.

Why is this happening?   Environmental estrogens — sometimes called xenoestrogens —  are clearly contributing to the man boob epidemic.   Unlike estrogens produced in the body by the endocrine system, environmental estrogens are endocrine disrupters that can throw hormonal balance out of whack and cause estrogen dominance in both males and females.   Food treated with pesticides and herbicides, plastics, cleaning products, drugs, electronics and tap water all contribute to the environmental estrogen overload.    And so does consumption of soy.

Although weight loss and exercise may be indicated, five important steps to prevent and reduce moobs are to:

  • Choose organic vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes to reduce consumption of pesticides and herbicides
  • Eat “real foods” instead of processed, packaged and fast foods to reduce exposure to plastics.
  • Choose pastured, free-range and grass-fed meats and poultry.    Pesticides and herbicides from the grains and soy fed factory farmed animals end up in meat, milk and eggs.  So do growth hormones.
  • Filter water to reduce exposure to fluoride, chlorine and estrogenic pharamceutical residues from birth control pills and HRT (hormone replacement therapy)
  • Practice safe soy.

Why practice safe soy?   All soybeans contain isoflavones, a type of phytoestrogen (plant estrogen).   Scientists first linked phytoestrogens 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.  Indeed reversals occur sometimes simply 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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 For more information about the health dangers of soy, read my book The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food.

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