Fibrocystic breast changes are widespread, with up to to 80% of women experiencing symptoms at some point in their reproductive years. While common, fibrocystic breast disease is not dangerous and non-cancerous.
If you’ve got breasts and they have ever felt painful, heavy, lumpy, or uncomfortable leading up to your period, you may have been experiencing the symptoms of fibrocystic breasts.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what fibrocystic breast disease is, the link to our hormones, common symptoms, and what natural solutions may bring you some relief.
You should be checking your breasts regularly for any changes. This article is not a replacement for medical advice. If you notice a new lump or changes in your breasts, it is always advisable to see your healthcare professional for a full assessment.
What Is Fibrocystic Breast Disease?
Fibrocystic breasts can be tender and feel lumpy and sometimes ropy when examining the tissue. Fibrocystic breast changes are a combination of fluid-filled cysts (sacs) and fibrous (scar-like) tissue in the breast tissue in response to reproductive hormones.
These cysts may be so tiny that you can’t feel them with your fingers, but they can make your breasts very tender. Or, they can grow large enough to feel with your fingers. These cysts tend to fluctuate in size throughout the month and are generally larger around the time of your period and shrink afterward.
It most commonly affects women ages 20-50.
Symptoms Of Fibrocystic Breast Disease
If you have fibrocystic breasts, you may experience:
- Breasts that change in size
- Lumpy-feeling breasts
- Discomfort or pain
- Swollen, heavy sensation
- Thick ropy tissue
Breasts That Change In Size
If your breasts swell a little just before and during your period, this may suggest the presence of numerous tiny cysts. They will typically feel quite tender or painful as well.
Breasts can change cyclically as part of a normal menstrual cycle so changes in size isn’t an alarming symptom. I recommend reading this article if you’re experiencing non-cyclical changes and tenderness.
If you find you get noticeable lumps that you can feel with your fingers, gently assess these so that you can give your doctor as much detail as possible. Fibrocystic breast cysts are usually soft or rubbery and can be moved about with your finger. You’ll notice that they typically get more prominent just before or during your period, then reduce in size after your period begins.
Sometimes, the connective tissue in your breasts can become fibrous or dense. This may also create a lumpy or nodular feel to your breasts.
Heavy, Uncomfortable, Or Painful Breasts
Fibrocystic breasts are often heavy, uncomfortable, and might feel quite dense (rather than soft) when you touch them. Many people experience cyclic pain in the breasts, which means the pain comes and goes with their period.
Are Fibrocystic Breasts Really A Disease?
No. Fibrocystic breast changes used to be called fibrocystic breast disease, but the classification has changed. The breast changes that come and go with your period are considered quite normal by the medical community, even though they can be uncomfortable.
What Causes Fibrocystic Breast Changes?
There are a few theories about the exact cause of fibrocystic breast changes. Primarily, the changes are related to fluctuating reproductive hormones in our monthly cycles. Estrogen, progesterone, prolactin, and testosterone may all play a role in fibrocystic breast changes.
Because of the hormonal changes of pregnancy, fibrocystic breasts can sometimes get worse during this time too.
Fibrocystic breast changes may occur due to excessive estrogen.
Estrogen and progesterone are responsible for helping the uterine wall to thicken, which creates a nice squishy place for a fertilized egg to implant if you were to become pregnant.
Estrogen and progesterone also influence the breasts, along with another hormone, prolactin. It is usual for the milk ducts to widen a little just before your period, to prepare for a possible pregnancy and subsequent breastfeeding.
If your estrogen levels are excessive, the gentle widening of the milk ducts may be exaggerated, leading to cyst formation.
If you don’t become pregnant, estrogen and progesterone levels should drop. The uterine wall (endometrium) then breaks away and is released as your period. Once the hormone levels drop, your breasts are no longer stimulated and symptoms tend to resolve.
The right balance of these hormones can help you feel great throughout your cycle with minimal breast discomfort.
Even a tiny imbalance of estrogens and progesterone could enhance the symptoms of fibrocystic breasts.
Prolactin is the hormone responsible for breast growth during pregnancy and for breast milk production.
Some studies suggest that increased prolactin levels are also associated with fibrocystic breasts.
The problem with pinning all the blame on prolactin is that women who experience fibrocystic breast changes sometimes have normal prolactin levels.
The Influence of Your Menstrual Cycle
Fibrocystic breast changes often come and go with the menstrual cycle. You might find that as estrogen and progesterone levels rise in the week before your period, your breasts become fuller, heavier, and more uncomfortable.
When your period arrives, the estrogen and progesterone levels drop, which is when most women report breast symptoms resolve.
Noticeable lumps may become more evident as hormone levels rise, then shrink again when they drop at the onset of your period.
How Are Fibrocystic Breast Changes Diagnosed?
If you notice any breast lumps, it is always advisable to see a healthcare professional assess these.
To diagnose fibrocystic breast changes your doctor will perform a physical exam of your breasts. It may be necessary to undergo additional procedures to diagnose fibrocystic breasts and to rule out other breast concerns such as cancer:
- Fine-needle aspiration (Cysts can be diagnosed if your doctor can pull fluid from the lump with a needle and test it.)
Will Fibrocystic Breasts Go Away?
Because the breast changes are linked to our reproductive hormones, the condition often resolves after menopause.
Do Fibrocystic Breasts Increase Your Risk Of Breast Cancer?
Fibrocystic breast changes are not believed to increase your risk of breast cancer. However, it is essential to check your breasts regularly and contact your healthcare provider about any changes.
When You Should Call Your Doctor About Breast Changes
Be sure to seek advice from a healthcare professional if you notice any of the following:
- If a lump is hard – fibrocystic lumps are usually soft and rubbery
- If a lump doesn’t move – if it feels like it is stuck to the skin or your chest wall
- If the lump is an irregular shape
- If you notice any area of skin on your breast is thick, red, or dimply (like an orange peel)
- If you have discharge from your nipple – especially if it contains blood or has a smell
You don’t have to experience these to reach out to your doctor. Don’t hesitate to ask your provider about anything that’s concerning you.
How Are Fibrocystic Breasts Treated?
Traditionally, women are advised to treat the symptoms of fibrocystic breasts.
This suggests you find ways to make your breasts more comfortable, such as wearing a soft bra, using cold packs, or taking some simple pain relief.
In severe cases, some physicians may prescribe synthetic hormone adjustment therapies. However, the unpleasant side effects of these medicines mean they may not be right for everyone.
If your doctor has prescribed you medication, it’s for a reason. Never stop a prescription without discussing it with your doctor first. The information in this article is not intended to replace your doctor’s advice.
Natural Treatments for Fibrocystic Breasts
There are numerous ways to help optimize ovarian hormones naturally through beneficial supplements, diet, and lifestyle changes.
Working with a health professional who specializes in endocrine (hormonal) health can help you find an individualized solution.
Supplements for Fibrocystic Breasts
The following supplements may help to balance hormones that affect your breasts, which may in turn reduce breast pain.
Chaste Tree Berry
Chaste Tree Berry (Vitex agnus-castus) may improve breast pain by decreasing prolactin levels. It could also play a role in increasing progesterone levels over time, helping to balance the ratio of estrogen and progesterone.
It typically takes at least three cycles to notice a significant effect, although you may experience improvement in symptoms prior to that.
Evening Primrose Oil
Vitamin E has been shown to reduce breast pain and breast nodularity. In one study, a daily vitamin E supplement of 1,200 IU daily for 6 months was found to reduce breast pain. In another study, reduced breast pain was achieved after two months with a dose of 200 IU twice daily.
In one randomized double-blind clinical trial, compared the benefits of vitamin E and flaxseed oil in women with fibrocystic breasts. Both supplements showed equal ability to reduce breast pain. They also reduced the lumpiness (nodularity) of the breasts that is often associated with fibrocystic changes. They concluded there were no difference in terms of the benefits of one over the other.
If you’re choosing to supplement with vitamin E, then you may want to consider adding fresh ground flax seeds to your diet as a way to reap some of these benefits and increase your fiber. You can read more about the benefits of flax seeds in this article about seed cycling.
There are many vitamins in the B-group. The three favorites for fibrocystic breasts are B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folate), and B12 (cobalamin). They all help the process of estrogen metabolism. This means that they help to break down and remove excess estrogen from the body so it doesn’t get the chance to keep stimulating your breasts.
As mentioned, fibrocystic breast changes are often linked to excessive estrogen. So adding some vitamin B to your day could be helpful if you experience fibrocystic breast changes.
Iodine is an important mineral that most people associate with thyroid function. But what people don’t often know is that iodine concentrates in the breast tissue to an even greater extent than the thyroid.
This means that an iodine deficiency may impact the structure and function of the breasts, just as it does the thyroid. Some women with fibrocystic breast changes may benefit from adding more iodine to their diet.
Just because iodine is good for your breasts doesn’t mean more is better. Too much iodine can have negative impacts on your thyroid health and can cause some people with Hashimoto’s to experience a flare. Sticking to dietary iodine and not supplementing above 300 mcg works best for most people.
Calcium-D-glucarate is another important compound with the potential to regulate estrogen metabolism.
Because the body continually makes estrogen, it is essential that your body continually breaks down and eliminates the right amount of estrogen. Calcium D-glucarate may help this process work more efficiently.
What Foods Help Fibrocystic Breasts
Many of the beneficial nutrients listed above can be found in food. I’m always a fan of using whole foods wherever you can to enhance your nutrient intake.
One of the most beneficial shifts you can make in your diet to improve both hormones and fibrocystic breasts is increasing fiber. You can use my free meal plan with recipes to start shifting your diet to include hormone optimizing foods.
Here are a few food ideas to enhance your beneficial nutrient intake.
Foods rich in Vitamin E:
- Green leafy vegetables
Foods rich in Vitamin B:
- Legumes (peas and beans)
- Green Leafy vegetables
Foods rich in iodine:
Foods To Avoid With Fibrocystic Breasts
Some foods are higher in naturally occurring estrogens than others. As mentioned earlier, fibrocystic breast changes may be linked to high estrogen levels.
While the evidence for caffeine elimination doesn’t universally show benefit in all women, some women do report improvement in their breast tenderness and texture. Eliminating caffeine-containing beverages and food like coffee, tea, and chocolate for 4-6 months should be sufficient for you to evaluate if this intervention works for you. Keep a diary so you can track symptoms and understand how caffeine affects your breasts.
Alcohol can have a negative effect on both your period and your breasts. Limiting alcohol intake may help improve your fibrocystic breasts.
Wear a Comfortable Bra
If it feels comfortable to you, wearing a soft and supportive bra might help. Aim for a crop or sports bra without wires or other restrictions. Make sure it’s not too tight! It’s all about comfort.
Warm and Cool Compresses
Applying either warm or cool compresses to your breasts may offer temporary relief for soreness.
Aluminum is commonly found in many antiperspirants and deodorants. Aluminum is a metalloestrogen which means that it can bind to estrogen sites in the body, and the body could respond as though it is true estrogen.
Now, just take a moment to think about it. If we put aluminum directly under our arm (right near the breast tissue) every day, we may be adding estrogen-like activity to the situation every day. Remember how we mentioned earlier that fibrocystic breast changes may be linked to too much estrogen? It’s an important consideration if you struggle with fibrocystic breasts.
My suggestion? Switch to an aluminum-free, natural deodorant like Primally Pure, Schmitts, Native, Humble, or Freedom.
Balancing Your Hormones Naturally
Well-balanced hormones can mean softer, more comfortable breasts. And who doesn’t want that?
Thankfully, it’s not too hard to achieve with some simple lifestyle adjustments and beneficial nutrients.
For more detailed information, my free downloadable guide to balancing your hormones naturally is available to get you started today.
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