Nutri Centre nutritionist Cassandra Barns shares some diet tips.Man boobs (as modelled by Simon Cowell and Jack Nicholson) are an increasingly common side effect of modern lifestyles. While they can be down to a medical problem, often they’re caused by diet and lack of exercise. There is plenty men can do to reduce their chance of developing man boobs and to get rid of them.
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Why do some men get man boobs?
“The medical name for this condition is ‘Gynaecomastia’,” explains Cassandra. It’s an enlargement of male breast tissue that’s actually quite common. It can occur at any time between adolescence and old age. It’s thought to be down to hormone imbalances, such as high oestrogen and/or low testosterone.
“This can be caused by medical conditions or by medicines being taken so it’s always worth speaking to a GP.”
Non-medical reasons for man boobs
Cassandra tells us that there is a theory that exposure to excess oestrogens, or 'xenoestrogens' (chemicals or other substances that act like oestrogens in the body) in our environment and the food that we eat may contribute to this problem. Other chemicals known as 'endocrine disruptors' may also be a factor as they may lower production of testosterone in the body, or reduce the breakdown of oestrogen.
These include phthalates, which are used in the production of plastics and easily released into the environment; bisphenol A, used in some plastic bottles and food packaging and in the linings of food cans; and some pesticides.
“Being overweight or obese can also be a factor,” adds Cassandra. “As well as the extra fatty tissue itself, fat cells secrete an enzyme called aromatase, which converts other hormones to oestrogen. So the more fat cells we have, the more oestrogen we can have circulating in the body.”
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Cassandra’s advice to avoid moob triggers
1. Avoid unfiltered tap water - This may contain chemicals such as phthalates and bisphenol A. Unfortunately, commercially-available bottled water in plastic bottles may not be much better due to the plastic itself. The best option – if you can afford it – is to invest in a good quality water filter, either the type that is plumbed in or a good kitchen-top water filtration system such as EVA.
2. Go for organic foods where possible. This includes animal products, as organic meat and dairy production uses fewer chemicals in animal feed (the animals have to be fed on organic foods), and also restricts or bans the use of hormones to promote growth or milk production. Organic fruit and vegetables may also be a much better option as artificial fertilisers and pesticides are banned or restricted. If you have to go for non-organic fruits and vegetables (for reasons of expense or availability, for example), wash them carefully to remove chemical residues, and prioritise buying organic for those that cannot be so easily washed or peeled, such as leafy vegetables and broccoli.
3. Try to avoid foods in plastic packaging - This is due to potential release of endocrine-disrupting chemicals into the food. This is difficult nowadays as most foods in supermarkets come in plastic packaging – if you can, shopping locally from markets and farm shops may help you avoid this, or if shopping at a supermarket choose loose fruit and veg, and pick meats and fish from the fresh counters rather than the pre-packaged stuff. Avoid at all costs heating food in plastic containers, especially soft plastics such as cling film. If you buy heatable foods – for example 'ready-meals' – in plastic containers, put them into a ceramic or other dish or pan to heat them.
4. Weight loss may be advisable with gynaecomastia – if you are overweight, it’s worth either seeing a nutritional therapist for a weight loss programme or following a sensible low glycaemic index– check out Patrick Holford's “Low GL Diet Bible” (£14.99).
5. Avoid having a lot of soya products. Soya foods such as tofu may be a popular option for vegetarians to provide a source of protein or a 'meat-replacement' in meals; and soya milk and yoghurts may be popular among those who avoid dairy products for any reason. However, soya is a source of 'phytoestrogens' – natural plant compounds that may behave like weak oestrogens in the body. This may be beneficial for certain people – especially women around or after menopause, who may benefit from extra oestrogen; but certainly not for men with moob problems. Occasional soya is unlikely to be a problem but if you eat or drink it often, try alternatives to vegetarian protein and soya milk alternatives like oat milk, coconut milk or nut milks such as almond.
6. Avoid as far as possible chemicals in toiletries and in the home, such as household cleaning products. There are many more ‘natural’ options for both of these categories that minimise the use of chemicals: for cleaning products for example, check out the “Ecover” or “Earth Friendly” ranges.
Can supplements help?
As gynaecomastia can have several causes, first head to the doctor to rule out any underlying health conditions and if you’re severely concerned, speak to a nutritionist about your diet. If you embark on a weight loss plan, supplements can help ensure you’re getting all the vitamins and minerals you need. Try Solgar’s Thermogenic Complex (£22.35 for 60 capsules), which can be used in conjunction with a healthy low-GI or low-GL diet.
Testosterone supplements are also available, such as Nature’s Plus T-Male, which Cassandra suggests may help men who have slightly lowered levels that aren’t recognised clinically.