Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Chest Fat, Bitch Tits, Chesticles, Gynecomastia, Lipomastia and Co.: Infinite Ways to Name it, 45 Ways to Prevent It

Image 1: Luckily "gyno", or in this case lipomastia, does not always look that bad. Oftentimes it is more subtle, yet still annoying a psychological burden for men suffering from it. This pictures alone should be reason enough to give all the 45+ contributing mentioned in this article a wide, wide berth (image from  cosmeticsurgerybangalore.com)
If you type "gynecomastia" into your favorite search engine, your chances to find one of the major fitness and bodybuilding forums among your first hits are about 99%. This indicates that gynecomastia, lipomastia, "bitch tits", "fat tits" and whatever else many people use to measure by the same yardstick is much more prevalent than you would think if you conducted a survey on the street. The reasons for that are manifold. Men, who frequent those bulletin boards are oftentimes more conscious about their looks than Mr. Average, they are also more prone to be exposed to exogenous hormonal agents that can contribute to the development of the aforementioned unaesthetic pathologies. Most importantly, though, gynecomastia is something you don't talk about. You have it, you suffer, but you don't talk publicly about it - after all, that would just make you even more unmanly! Right? No, false! Utterly false!


In fact, the widespread implicit understanding that the above statement was right is a damn good reason for me to do the opposite and talk, or rather write about causes (today's installment) and ways to get rid of this humiliating condition (next installment updated!).

Why does my chest look like that, god damnit?

According to the currently accepted scientific paradigm, gynecomastia is a result of hormonal imbalances; mostly an overabundance of estrogen, which stimulates the glandular tissue of the male breasts and thus contributes to its growth and, in some cases, cancerous degeneration. The underlying reasons for these imbalances, on the other hand, are manifold and only partly understood. And while we will have a closer look at numerous individual factors in the following paragraphs, exogenous estrogens and estrogen like substances, an increased metabolism of androgens and an inhibition of the degradation of estrogens in the liver are probably the worst offenders (if you are interested in male health, I highly recommend, you also last week's article on "Natural Hormone Optimization: 10 Things to Avoid for Optimal Androgen Levels").
"Prolactin gyno" - does it exist? Although I suspect that >60% of the "prolactin gynos" you read about on the pertinent bulletin boards are in fact mediated by high estrogen levels, there is scientific evidence for the occurrence of abnormal tissue growth in patients with prolactin-secreting tumors (Giminez-Roqueplo. 1999) - it thusly appears possible that compounds which either interact directly with the respective receptors or the administration of which will produce abnormally high prolactin levels, could lead to the development of gynecomastia in men. In view of the antagonistic relationship of prolactin and dopamine and the complicated interactions between dopamine and testosterone levels, it is yet well possible that this is just another instance of hypogonadism, in this case as a result of elevated prolactin and suppressed dopamine production.
These imbalance do not inevitably lead to an actual increase in breast tissue, though. Minor imbalances or chronic low exposure to synthetic or natural estrogens / estrogen-like compounds will often produce a general often subtle feminization of the male body, which is accompanied by an increased deposition of body fat in the chest area. In more severe cases, this can be a very pronounced accumulation of dense adipose tissue right under and around the nipples. And while these pseudo-gynecomastias or lipomastias may be totally benign, the humiliating "chest fat" is oftentimes just a companion or forerunner of pathological changes in the neighboring breast tissue.

A necessarily incomplete overview of the worst offenders

In the following overview that does not make any claims of being complete, I will thus not even try to make predictions like "... is more likely to cause lipomastia" or "... will rather induce gynecomastia". Moreover, you should also keep in mind that all of the pathologies, drugs and supplements can contribute to the development of gynocomastia, lipomastia and plain "chest fat", yet none of them, not even those for which a causal relationship has been established, will inevitable lead to the growth of the highly unaesthetic and potentially hazardous tissue overgrowth in the chest area!

Pathologies / diseases that are commonly associated with abnormal fat deposition, lipomastia and gynecomastia in men:
  • Hypogonadism - Often but not always characterized by increased FSH, LH and SHBG levels and decreased total and free testosterone, as well as DHEAS levels; one of the most common non-environmental / drug-related reasons is Klinefelter' syndrome, a condition in which men have an extra X chromosome and which is usually associated with hypogonadism and reduced fertility (Yazici. 2010)
  • Obesity - Obesity can contribute to the development of gyno- and even more lipomastia. In that it is not certain whether it is just a corollary factor with hypogonadism as the common denominator, or contributes directly to the development of unaesthetic and/or pathological changes in the breast tissue through an increased aromatization of testosterone into estrogen in the abundant adipose tissue (Wake. 2007)
  • Liver cirrhosis - A cirrhotic liver (either due to alcohol or NAFLD) cannot metabolize the sex steroids properly. This does often result in low free testosterone and high estrogen levels, which can cause increases in chest fat or an enlargement and / or cancerous growth of the breast tissue (Cavanaugh. 1990). Similar effects could by the way arise from the (over-)use of supplements, such as berberine, quercitin, naringine, piperine, schisandra etc., which mess with the cytochrome P450 cascade, an enzymatic cascade that is responsible for metabolizing drugs and hormones (e.g. Gurley. 2012; Guo. 2012; Ho. 2000).
While the former were more or less "organ-related" causes of gynecomastia, the following list contains a handful of drugs that have scientifical evidence to back their causal involvement in the etiology of gynecomastia:
  • Anabolic steroids & prohormones - Either due to increased estrogen levels on cycle, hormonal shut-down and hypogonadism or hormonal imbalances after the cycle, use of compounds that have the potential to induce gynecomastia in PCT (see "hormonal agents" in list below) or (possibly) direct or indirect effects on prolactin (see red box above)
  • Other endocrine agents - Bicalutamide, Diethylstilbestrol, Dutasteride, Ethinylestradiol, Finasteride, GnRH, Goserelin, Leuprorelin
  • Drugs for gastrointestinal disorders - Metoclopramide
  • Diuretics - Spironolactone
In view of the fact, that most people will be aware of the dangers, it yet questionable in how far the commonly overlooked / largely unknown drugs and other offenders with less, but still existend scientific evidence to bolster their involvement in the development of abnormal fat deposition, lipomastia and gynecomastia in men do not pose a much greater threat. You should thus better beware of these:
  • Statins - Roberto et al. report a significantly higher incidence in male gynecomastia among statin users (Roberto. 2012). Interestingly, the relative increase in risk correlated with the ability of the respective drug to inhibit HMG-CoA, or, if you will, it's potency. Intriguingly, gynecomastia is rarely mentioned as one of the myriad of potential side-effects of statin treatment, although the non-corrected incidence rate in the database records Roberto et al. analysed was 1/68 - with 25% of the US population in the 45+ age range being "on a statin", this would translate into roughly 1Mio! cases of statin unduced gynocomastia among the baby boomer generation, alone (this calculation assumes that there are ~70Mio babyboomers, which would be in accordance with data from census.gov). You should also keep in mind that if statins can do that supplements, like red yeast rice, which is actually nothing but a natural statin, are likely to be able to induce gynecomastia, as well.
  • Proton pump inhibitors - Omeprazole, Ranitidine & co.
  • Antineoplastic agents & Calcium channel blockers - Estramustine, Imatinib, Mandipine, Nicardipine, Nisoldipine, Nitrendipine
  • Antivirals & -mycotics - Didanosine, Efavirenz, HAART, Indinavir, Ketoconazole, Nevirapin,
  • Lipid modifying drugs - Bezafibrate
  • Diuretics - Eplenerone, Bumetanidine
  • Hormonal agents - Chlormadinone, Clomiphen, Cyproterone acetate, Follicle-stimulating hormone, HCG, Medroxyprogesterone acetate
  • Immunosuppressants - Cyclosporin
  • Psychoanaleptics & Psycholeptics - Fluoxetine, Haloperidol, Olanzapine, Risperidone, SSRIs, Sulpiride
Despite the fact that for many of these drugs the exact mechanisms have not yet been elucidated, it is likely that in most cases their "pro-gyno effect" is a downstream result of impairments of the HTPA (hypothalamic-thyroid-pituitary-axes), liver function or both and thus eventually mediated by the same fundamental hormonal imbalances that were discussed in the second paragraph of this article.

Prevention is #1, but sometimes treatment is inevitable

Even if you don't have a plenty of skeletons in your closet, no history of legal or illegal drug abuse, no diet-induced NAFLD, are lean, don't use truckloads of useless supplements etc., puberty and "bad genes" alone could have left you with a batch of unwanted tissue in a place where it certainly does not belong. In this case, avoiding all the 45+ aforementioned factors may help not to make things even worse, it will yet not make those ugly little bastards disappear over night; and I guess that alone should be reason enough to come back for part II of this series, in which we are going to take a look at potential treatment strategies - including, but not limited to classic surgical interventions.