Everything you wanted to know about man boobs, but were too shy to ask

Why men get them, how to prevent them and, if you've already got moobs, how to get rid of them

04 February 2018 - 00:00 By shantini Naidoo & Andrea Nagel
Male and female breasts are essentially the same, apart from the mammary gland.
Male and female breasts are essentially the same, apart from the mammary gland.
Image: iStock

Most men don't have an issue with staring at a nice pair of C-cups, except, of course, when they're in the mirror. No matter how New Age or politically correct we are, secretly most of us agree: big boobs on a woman - great. Not so much on a man!

WHY DO MEN GET MAN BOOBS?

We know most men are unlikely to refer to their anatomy as such, but says Professor Carol-Ann Benn, one of South Africa's leading breast cancer experts, male and female breasts are essentially the same, apart from a mammary gland and a bit more fat in some cases.

Pubescent hormones make female breasts grow for the biological purpose of breast-feeding, but up to two-thirds of boys at puberty also develop mild gynaecomastia (abnormal enlargement of the breast in males).

In older males the statistic is one-third and that can be due to medication, steroid use or repetitive trauma to the breast from running, rowing and other sports - even wearing braces, says Benn.

The other non-medical factor is obesity, which is huge in this country.

HOW CAN I PREVENT THEM?

Hit the gym

According to personal trainer Wendy Belora, moobs (if they're not gynaecomastia) can be just fat and extra skin and can be prevented by a workout that reduces fat over the entire body. She suggests the "metabolic burn" - super sets of dumbbell rows, kettle bell or dumbbell goblet squats, dumbbell push-ups and dumbbell skier swings.

Another option is to isolate and focus on that area alone. These exercises work into the pecs: push-ups, plyo push-ups, crossover push-ups, dumbbell bench press, barbell bench press, incline bench press, flyes and incline flyes.

Steer clear of the beer

It goes without saying that a healthy diet helps reduce overall fat, thereby decreasing the moob - so hand over the fried chicken - but there's a far more serious consideration for men: the hops in your favourite India pale ale have a high phytoestrogen content, which has been said to cause a condition known as Brewer's Droop.

Fast food probably won't make you grow man boobs, but it might

There's no evidence to link fast-food consumption directly to moobs - but it does lead to overall body fat and obesity, so try to lay off.

Also, chemical additives like phthalates (plasticisers that sneak their way into the food supply via the industrial machinery used to make processed foods) also have "oestrogen-like effects" on men's bodies.

I HAVE THEM, NOW WHAT?

Plastic surgeon Dr Ridwan Mia says gynaecomastia surgery is a popular procedure, because apart from weight loss and strength training, once you have man-boobs, they are tough to get rid of. But short of going under the knife, what else can you do?

Fat Freezing, or Coolsculpting, is being touted as a great way to target stubborn fat in this focused area. The treatment destroys the fat cells and over the coming weeks the lymph system slowly removes the dead cells.

CAN MEN GET BREAST CANCER?

Yes. Benn says male breast cancer is documented at about two out of 100 reported cases - but stigma makes reporting much lower than the actual occurrence.

Louise Turner, chief operations officer at the Breast Health Foundation, says it's something new to think about in South Africa, particularly given cultural stigmas.

But Benn says that cancer is not more prevalent in moobs. Instead there's a proven relationship between obesity and male breast cancer, linked to oestrogen associated with obesity - and obesity often comes with moobs. Some men with obesity-related fat in the moob will present with cancer.

'Moob awareness' could save your life

So it turns out men should spend more time feeling themselves. Benn suggests ''moob awareness". Men should be educated to check their own breasts, or get their partners to have a feel of their chests.

Some things to look for: nipple discharge, nipple changes, painful swelling or any one-sided breast mass that is firm, fixed or ulcerated should raise suspicion. ''If you're worried," says Benn, get a mammogram and sonar (yes, men can have them) followed by an image-guided core needle biopsy.

Treatment is generally the same as it is for female breast cancer - mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation and sometimes nipple areola reconstruction.

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