by Ralph L. Reed, Ph.D.
Fibrocystic breast disease, for many women, is very treatable and preventable. For years, doctors have recommended that women avoid caffeine, high fat diets and so on, and even to take drugs with strong side effects. In some cases this helps, in others it doesn’t. However, recent research has offered new hope because it has shown a strong connection between the wearing of bras and benign fibrocystic lumps, cysts and pain. For example, Dr. Gregory Heigh of Florida has found that over 90% of women with fibrocystic changes find improvement when they stop wearing their brassieres. This exciting new “treatment” has NO side effects, costs nothing, and is something that women try for themselves by making a personal and ALL-NATURAL clothing choice. After this introductory section, this article is comprised of six case histories written by women who found relief of fibrocystic by going bra-free.
There is scientific support for the plausibility of this connection with breast disease. Two published studies have shown that women who wear bras have much higher breast cancer rates than women who don’t wear a bra. A husband and wife research team published a study of almost 5000 women in the book Dressed to Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras (ISBN # 0-89529-664-0, Avery Publishing Group, 1995, also available from Amazon.com). They found that the more hours per day that women wear bras, the higher their rates of breast cancer. Their theory is that bras can bind and constrict the lymphatic circulation. This prevents the natural flushing out of accumulated cancer-causing wastes and toxins from the breast. Fluid pooling could then result in fibrocystic changes (benign lumps, cysts, and pain). This gives a breeding ground for various problems, including cancer.
Another possible mechanism is that bras prevent the natural movement of the breasts and thereby also hamper circulation. People experience something similar when their feet swell and their legs “go to sleep” on long airplane flights (lack of movement, and pressure on the legs). By the way, contrary to a common myth, going bra-less (many women prefer the more positive term “bra-free”) will not make you sag more. In fact, some women actually find that they sag less, presumably because their chest ligaments and muscles improve their tone and strength when they must do the work of supporting the breasts (one doctor said it is a matter of “Use it or lose it.”) Medical research gives plausibility to this theory, since research shows that ligaments depend on weight-bearing and movement for maintaining proper structure and function.
Last year, the Natural Health and Longevity Web Site posted my book review of Dressed to Kill (http://bras.html) Since then, many women from around the world have written to tell of their dramatic results from going bra-free. (By the way, I am not an expert in the field, just an interested lay-person with an interest in prevention. Women should ask their doctor questions about breast disease.) Some of these women who wrote expressed an interest in telling other women about the results that they found, so women would have more all-natural choices in prevention and treatment of fibrocystic disease. This may not be the answer for all women, but many women have found dramatic results. Admittedly, the research is preliminary. But, until further research shows the exact extent of this possible connection with breast disease, women can try this choice and be their own judge about whether it helps them. So, the following is a collection of personal case histories from the experts, the women with experience.
“I am 39 years old and have been diagnosed with fibrocystic breasts. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at a very young age and had one total masectomy on her right breast. She had a lumpectomy on her left breast. I like to try and stay informed on anything that relates to breast cancer and fibrocystic breast disease.
The end of May 1997, I purchased a magazine called Natural Way. There was an article in the magazine connecting bra wearing with cancer and fibrocystic breast disease.The article made so much common sense. I think the thing that stood out most was how the lymphatic system wasn’t able to work properly cleaning out the breast tissue of toxins when wearing a bra. This caused a back up of toxins in the breast tissue, causing lumps and pain.
I am not a big busted woman but my breasts would get so sore and lumpy that some days I couldn’t even walk down a flight of stairs without noticing the pain in my breasts. I could not sleep on my stomach. I wouldn’t let my husband touch them unless I was making him check my lumps. It scared me. It also scared my husband. It would gradually get worse when my period was due. I tryed taking the Motrin the doctor prescribed. I tryed cutting things out of my diet such as caffiene and fats etc. . . . Nothing relieved the pain and the lumps.
The article in Natural Way suggested going bra-less. At the time I did not know what a huge difference this would make in my life. I thought I would give it a try because it couldn’t hurt. I noticed a significant difference the month of June. My breasts were dramatically less painful and I had no lumps. The month of July I had absolutely no pain and no lumps. I could usually tell when my period was due because I would have such bad pain and would get lumps. I had none of that and I haven’t had any since. It’s absolutely amazing to me. There is no doubt in my mind it was my bra.
A couple of weeks ago, my daughter and I decided to do an all day shopping trip. I debated whether or not to wear a bra. I knew I would be trying on clothes and I wasn’t sure if I would feel comfortable taking my clothes on and off without some coverage. I decided to wear the bra and figured I could take if off if it bothered me. I was fine for the first couple of hours. I really didn’t notice the bra because it was one of those no wire or no padded kind. It was just one of those that just covers you and does nothing else but keeps you in place. As time went on I noticed small pains along the side of my breasts, going into my armpits. It wasn’t like I was consciously waiting to see if I would get the pain back by wearing the bra. As a matter of fact, for the first few hours, I fell right back into bra wearing with the same casualness as I had before I stopped. The pain was real. I took the bra off. The pain left.
In my situation, there is no doubt my bra caused my problem. The connection between bra wearing and fibrocystic disease is real for me. I urge every woman who has this problem to try going bra-less for a month. It couldn’t hurt.”
“I am writing to tell you about my recovery from fibrocystic breast disease and the incredible peace of mind I now enjoy knowing that my breast health is as optimal as I can achieve.
My mother died at age 59 from Metastatic breast cancer. The year she died, I was 32 and became pregnant with my first child. During the first trimester, my fibrocystic condition became quite alot worse with marked tenderness of the breasts and pain during physical activity. I found a mass on the side of my left breast which seemed to be growing rapidly over a 3 month period of time. A mamogram was inconclusive and an ultrasound showed a mass rather than a cyst which could be drained off. I underwent a biopsy which was negative. The rest of the pregnancy was completely uneventful albeit painful with regards to breast tenderness, etc. I nursed my son for 9 months and this helped my fibrocystic condition a GREAT deal. The tissue was much softer and non-tender.
Three years later, I had a second child. Pregnancy proceeded in exactly the same manner with the same amount of tenderness, etc. as the first time. Fortunately, no distinct masses formed however. Once again, nursing helped decrease symptoms and I found that my breasts were much better than they were even before my first child.
Throughout the course of both pregnancies and during the next 2 years thereafter, I was being followed by a local surgeon specializing in breast diseases. I had been given the diagnosis of fibrocystic breast disease which came with unlimited followup medical exams, annual mammograms and no cure.
A few years ago I came across a book entitled Dressed to Kill which points out cultural differences among women around the world and correlates one fashion culture in particular, the wearing of bras, with the increased incidence of breast diseases in those countries. I took his advice and removed my bra permanently. At that time I was developing a small lump on the lateral aspect of my right breast, very similar to the one that had been removed from the left breast. Within a week or so of discontinuing bra wear, I noted that this lump was shrinking in size; I also noted that the tenderness I usually associated with pre-menstrual changes was absent. The condition of my breasts at this time based on subsequent followup exams (by a different doctor now) is “excellent”.
I work in the medical field and often relate my experiences to my female patients who seem to have similar symptoms. It is interesting to note that only a handful actually follow my recommendation of not wearing their bras for a period of time. Of note, however, 100% of those that have followed this advice have noted improvement.
Thank you for your efforts to educate women with regards to this very treatable condition.”
“As I think about writing this, I realize I am now the age at which my mother had a benign cyst tested for breast cancer. I remember watching “The King and I” on the hospital waiting room TV on my 11th birthday. Somehow the concern becomes more personal.
Where to start: First the personal history. I started wearing a bra when I was 13. I didn’t find them very comfortable, and was easily influenced by the Women’s Movement of the era to not wear one if possible. As I entered the professional workforce, I was required to wear one during the day, but it became part of the ritual of homecoming to remove it.
For most of my life, I had a very good warning system for when my period was about to begin. A week before, my breasts would begin to swell, as much as another cup size, sometimes to the point of aching and being extremely sensitive to contact. The ache came from the glands swelling and hardening. Various doctors were concerned by this if I didn’t schedule my annual examinations to be other than “that week”. I would return for a follow-up in two weeks, and the hard lumps were gone, and the doctors would relax. I came to expect the cycle. The “sometimes” turned into “typically” about five years ago. One week a month, I was somewhat miserable. But when the tenderness in my breasts disappeared, in the space of less than an hour, I knew my period was beginning. Sometimes I could get some relief by having my husband massage my breasts. What seemed to help the most was a deep, hard massage, like working out a charley horse. Something to get the “juices flowing” through the tissue.
One day at work, in the midst of my tender week, I felt a sharp, severe pain in my right breast, on the outer side. A lump was centered in the pain. Massage did not help. I make an appointment, the doctor suggested a connection to caffeine and sent me for a mammogram. I called the next day for my mammogram results (nothing shown). She said to call back if pain in my breast happened again.
As sore as my breasts were, I wanted to keep them from moving and would wear my underwire bra. Yes, I had red marks and sore spots from the wires, but isn’t that what every woman has to deal with? I’d rather just not deal with bras any more than I had to.
The next spring (just last year) was when I heard about the bra research. Within a couple weeks, I got a copy of Dressed to Kill and read it on the bus commute. As I read, I became more aware of the sensations of my bras. It became the ritual to remove the bra before leaving work, so I wouldn’t have to wear it on the bus home, already unpleasant in the unair-conditioned space in the summer heat. At the end of the week it took me to read the book, I made the decision that I would no longer wear a bra. I know the book stated the most risk is from wearing a bra for more than 12 hours per day, but as mentioned before, I am easily swayed to not wear bras. I had a week left before I was scheduled for a 4 week vacation. I would dress in such a way as to hide my “swing” and deal with the issue when I returned.
I have now not worn a bra since July 1996. To deal with the work dress issue, I have purchased silk camisoles for a layer of warmth and to obscure the view. (I wanted to deal with it before anything was said.) The physical side effects? Dramatically less swelling on a monthly basis. The glands will firm up, but not into the hard masses they used to become. The tenderness is much less noticeable, definitely not the contact sensitivity that used to occur. Several months ago, I noticed one morning the beginning of the tenderness, expecting it to increase over the next few days. That afternoon my period started! I have learned to keep a closer eye on the calendar, since my early warning system has shut down. My periods are just as regular as they ever were, being somewhat susceptible to stress, plane flights, workloads, etc.
All in all, I am happy with my decision, and am very glad to have heard about the bra survey. In talking with female friends, I have lent the book to some, just discussed it with others, and some have taken to wear a bra less. One friend knew of a friend in nursing who has noticed a connection between the cancer patients and bras, but wasn’t sure how to put anything together. I will try to follow up on that; both women may find it interesting. And in memory of Ellie Mae Clampett (from the Beverly Hillbillies), let me know if you hear of someone needing a lace-covered, double-barreled sling-shot, I have a few left!”
“I first saw Sydney Singer, co-author of Dressed to Kill (Avery Press, copyright 1995) on the Today show (australia’s) a year ago (1996). It was six months before I found the book or discovered more on his and Soma’s fascinating theory, but it remains to my mind, extremely valid and possibly one of the most valuable scientific insights in recent years. Immediately after seeing Singer on television I stopped wearing bras (I took to wearing vests over my t-shirts at college). I had a lump in my left breast that wouldn’t go away and was particularly painful every month. The doctor considered biopsy but was reluctant. After seeing Sydney on television and not wearing a bra for 4 or 5 weeks, it was gone. I suspect there will be numberous other “coincidences” as Singer’s theory eventually gains more credibility.
I have discovered that since reducing my bra-wearing to the point where I no longer wear one at all, and replacing it with a much looser and kinder undergarment, that much of the lumpiness and discomfort in my breasts (which I had come to accept, due to medical advice, as “normal”) is gone. It seems to me that doctors take it for granted that breast tissue is naturally lumpy. Is it — really? Or only because of bras? A couple months back I was still wearing a bra a few hours a day and loosely, and even in spite of these reductive measures my breasts were still experiencing tissue discomfort, especially pre-menstrually. When I stopped wearing bras, the “natural” lumpiness of the breast dissappeared.
Recently I discovered the cropped jockey-type singlets (similar to ones worn at aerobics); the ones made for nightwear seem the best and least elastic, and provide modesty without the discomfort of bras. The crop tops I have chosen to wear are fairly free of elastic tension, nevertheless I reduce my wearing of said undergarment to just the few hours of the day when I am out and about. It certainly is a fantastic improvement of lifestyle, given my previous almost-religious wearing of a tight D-cup bra 12 hours a day. After wearing bras for so long I don’t understand how I possibly could have; when I put one on today the sensation of discomfort is instant. I do know I won’t now
Today I try to convince all my women friends and whomever I meet that bras are dangerous to our health. Conversion, given our western culture and social pressures, is not immediate but many of the women I speak to agree that bras are uncomfortable and place dangerous pressure on our bodies. Presently I am working on an article for a magazine or alternative newspaper based on bra cancer, and hope to have it completed in the next few months. Singer and Grismaijer’s research has changed my life – and my health – and I am certain it will continue to do so, for millions of women. Given personal experiences, bra cancer definitely warrants further investigation.”
“I discovered a large breast tumor right after losing my job. I had been a managing editor for a publishing company, and of course I wore a bra at least 10 hours a day. The mammogram showed it was benign, but I was expected to have follow-up mam’s every six months. I only had one follow up, mainly because I was becoming suspicious of mainstream medicine and also because when I lost my job, I lost my insurance. I was not able to find a job, and being home, I didn’t wear a bra very often. The lump went away.
Then I landed a teaching job at a private school and I finally got my wish, and moved to the beach. I started having relationships, going out, and wearing a bra. I did develop lumps again. The doctor said they were benign and I should try giving up coffee.
Later, I no longer had to work in public, because I stayed home and began a career in art. I have almost never worn a bra since, and I have never detected another tumor or any kind of lump and never any pain. It has been about six years since I have worn one at all.
Hope this helps; it’s been very therapeutic for me. See ya.”
“Things have changed for me for the better. I had to go for my yearly check up and also because I have had severe pain in the breast. Every year my test always comes back with Fibrocystic Breast. Well it seems the older I am, the more pain I have. I have CFS/Fibro for the last 9 years and that is a pain in itself.
I heard about not wearing a bra to treat fibrocystic breasts and at first I felt funny but I did try and have been braless, and now I have one less pain to worry about. I no longer have the pain under my arms, I dont have to unhook my bra to get comfortable, and best of all my husband can hug me without me saying “easy Hon it hurts”. For me that is worth going without a bra. I would have never believed that could be true. Well I found these nice camasoles that are very attractive and comfortable and I dont have to feel that there is nothing under my sweater or blouse. How wonderful it is to be bra free. There are so many things that are prettier and more comfortable than a tight bra. I have no lumps under my arms and can have my arms down without any pain.
I am 55 years old and for the first time in about 30 years I dont have any pain in my breast and I am not afraid when friends and my hubby go to hug me that I am going to feel pain. I can relax and enjoy the hug without stiffning up and expecting it to hurt.
I don’t know if this letter will mean anything to you I just felt I had to tell you this cause it is one less pain I have to deal with. Also it is one less fear I have of having breast cancer like my mother. My mom always bought us the best of bras. Who would think no bra was the best? Thank you for listening and for having an article on the web.”
“Sometimes you have to open your eyes a little wider than usual to see past your own prejudices. At least that is the lesson I learned from my experience. First, let me tell you a little about myself, my name is Joan, and in less than a year I will be forty. Ever since my first period, now 18 years ago, I had been plagued monthly with symptoms including: very painful cramps, water weight gain, and very, very tender breasts. Over the years I have learned to deal with many of the symptoms, ie. exercise to reduce cramps, careful use of pain medication (ibuprofen) when absolutely necessary, and watching my caffeine and salt intake to minimize the bloating. While these were not cures, they at least made my life a bit more comfortable than it used to be. The one thing, however, that nothing helped with, was those tender and painful breasts. For years I locked my two 40 D cup breasts away in a bra in the hope that supporting them would alleviate the problem. I would also flatten them into a sports bra prior to going to my aerobics classes.
My eyes were pried open just a little bit more one day when a friend told me about the apparent connection between bras and benign breast disease. I mulled over the information, and promptly forgot about it. A few months later, my friend brought the subject up again, along with some intriguing stories of the benefits that she and other women received when they shed their elastic restraints. I remember thinking to myself that that is all well and good for those who may be endowed with bit a less, but if I were to unleash my breasts into the world, I would be tripping over them in no time! Then I received some bad news, it seemed my aunt, the one with which I share the closest physical resemblance to, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Now this is a woman who would go into New York City once a year to have her “undergarments” specially fitted to her figure. Hmm.. Lets just say, my eyes opened a little more at my sudden “genetic” predisposition to breast diseases in general. So, I figured, it can’t hurt t otry life without a bra for a little bit, say, a couple of months.
That was 6 months ago, and my eyes are wide open now. The monthly breast tenderness is gone, in fact, it was totally relieved by the second month. As for tripping over them, NO WAY, in fact they are the firmest they have ever been in my life. Even during my aerobics class (I was sure I would have to wear a bra there), and granted it did feel a bit weird not wearing one in class for a while, but I think that was the most important place not to wear it! The way my friend put it, and I believe it now, is that breasts need exercise just like any other part of your body, and muscles underneath can go a long way to prevent sagging if they are given a chance to work. The one simple act of not wearing a bra has relieved my premenstrual and menstrual tenderness, and had the added bonus of improving my bustline. If it should turn out that this is also healthier for my breasts in the long run, so much the better.”“PS. my aunt is doing good too, mainly because they caught it so early!”