- 7 possible causes of gynecomastia
- 10 foods to avoid with gynecomastia
Sure, if a guy is fat and has them, to be blunt that’s his own fault. But obesity is only one of many causes.
Whether skinny or fat, young or old, any man can encounter this problem if their testosterone levels get out of whack.
For some, their entire chest can resemble feminine breasts. When people refer to moobs, this is what they are talking about and it is the most severe form of gynecomastia, which is the scientific term for the condition.
For other men, the problem is isolated to just the nipples sticking out, which is typically from excess glandular tissue underneath the areola. Suspected foods that cause puffy nipples will be the same as those for gynecomastia, as both are the same condition but in different forms.
What is the best diet if you currently have this condition or want to prevent it?
Before we go over the surprising things that you are probably eating daily which can lower your testosterone, make sure you are aware of the non-dietary offenders, too.
Foods that cause man breasts are extremely unlikely as the primary culprit, but they might worsen the condition.
7 possible causes of gynecomastia
1. Hormonal imbalances
This can happen at any age, from infancy to seniors. Most often though, the problem temporarily arises during puberty.
If you have or had gyno as a teen, you’re not alone. “Up to half” of boys during puberty go through it. Fortunately, the majority of cases cure themselves within 18 months and it’s uncommon for the problem to linger past the age of 17 (1).
Contrary to popular belief, males actually need both testosterone and estradiol (estrogen), but it has to be in the right balance. When it’s not, a side effect might be breast tissue growth.
There are gynecomastia foods to avoid because they may promote higher estrogen levels. More on that in a minute.
2. Poor diet
Does soy cause man breasts and infertility? When we say poor diet, we are not even talking about a phytoestrogen-rich food like tofu and soy milk.
Rather, we’re talking about what you don’t eat which may be causing man boobs.
Malnutrition, yo-yo dieting, or an otherwise inconsistent and unhealthy diet can lead to a mild case of gynecomastia, possibly even a major one.
Why? When your body doesn’t have the proper nutrients it needs, one of the first hormones to be affected is testosterone production.
Guess what? Estrogen production is not affected. That remains the same even though malnutrition.
So as a man, this is really bad for you – dropping testosterone levels, but your estrogen remains the same!
And remember, you can be fat and still malnourished if you’re eating unhealthy food which is not providing what your body needs to function properly.
3. Certain diseases
Some you would expect to decrease testosterone, like cancer of the testicles. Others not so much, like hyperthyroidism. That’s when too much of the thyroxine hormone is made by the thyroid gland.
Those with diseases of the kidneys or liver often encounter this problem. They’re frequently causing fluctuations in the production of natural hormones.
That brings us to the next possible cause; the prescriptions used to treat certain diseases…
4. Prescription medications
The list of drugs that cause gynecomastia in the Merck Manual is over fifty long (2).
Propecia for hair loss and Proscar for prostate (both finasteride) can trigger the problem, because they work by blocking an enzyme responsible for converting testosterone to DHT.
Diazepam and numerous other drugs which affect the central nervous system have been linked to it.
Medications for heart, ulcers, and even a number of antibiotics have it listed as a known side effect.
If you’re on any prescriptions, the first thing you should do to talk with your doctor to find out if any might be the root cause.
Focusing on foods to eat to get rid of it should be a last resort, not the first. For many guys, the needed cure is simply switching to an alternate prescription which doesn’t have a hormone lowering side effect.
5. Drugs and alcohol
Does marijuana cause man boobs? Yes it can, as it affects the androgen receptors. Amphetamines and heroin do too, among many others.
But how about legal things, like beer, wine, or vodka. Does alcohol contribute to man breasts?
Not only can booze be a major cause, but it can contribute in multiple ways. That is why kicking the can (as in, the beer can) may be one of the best ways to reduce gynecomastia from getting worse. Below we get into the scientific reasons for why this is.
6. Steroids and androgens
Using anabolic steroids for athletic benefits can have many unintended consequences, including moobs.
Even some legal androgen sources may be an issue. Sold over the counter in the United States, DHEA supplements are a precursor to not only testosterone and estrogen, but other hormones too.
7. Herbal supplements
Even if you are avoiding the potentially problematic herbs and foods in your diet, they can still be a cause if you are using them in other ways; shampoos, lotions, skin care products, etc.
Your skin is like a sponge and absorbs whatever you put on it. That’s why nicotine patches and other medicines are applied that way.
10 foods to avoid with gynecomastia
We don’t want to give you false hope. There is really no such thing as foods that help get rid of gynecomastia without surgery. At least if it is a problem you have permanently had for many years.
That being said, some things you eat might worsen the condition and you will want to cut those out of your diet.
If it is a problem which has only recently manifested itself, then it might be possible to get rid of puffy nipples or pectoral plumpness by changing your diet plan. If food was the cause, then by eliminating it from your diet quickly, you will have a better chance of returning to normal.
Unfortunately, you just don’t hear stories or reviews from people who are long term sufferers and then suddenly cure gynecomastia through diet modification. Sorry, it just doesn’t work that way.
Also, be aware that it is still debated as to whether or not the amounts of estrogen (and similar molecules) in diet are really enough to cause problems in growing boys and adult men. There is compelling evidence that it can, but many still disagree. Therefore, food causes are unproven.
With those caveats said, let’s look at the foods and beverages which science has suggested might play a role. It’s not certain, but many propose them as being possible or even probable.
1. Flax seeds
The demonizing of soy is almost like an old wives tale. You will hear many sources say you should not drink soy milk, but is there something much bigger you should be worried about?
The reason people say men should avoid soy is because of its high phytoestrogen content.
Are those the same as human estrogen? Nope, they are the plant form.
Since they are so similar on a molecular basis, to some degree they might have the same effect as estrogen when inside the human body.
Flaxseeds have 265% more phytoestrogens than soybeans. There is 379,380 µg per 100g of flax versus 103,920 for the same amount of soy. That’s why flax hold the #1 spot on our list of high estrogen foods.
Great for the gals, but flax is the absolute worst superfood for men. Get rid of it.
2. Dairy milk
Everyone thinks soy is a major offender, but it pails in comparison to actual estrogen in milk!
Actual estrogen coming from animals is likely worse for males than flax seeds or soybeans.
For starters, the phytoestrogen from plants are molecularly close, but not identical to estrogen. On the other hand, cow or chicken estrogen is identical to that found in the human body.
When we eat meats and dairy products, it has been reported that (3):
“…oestrogens are unavoidable constituents in non-vegetarian human nutrition. All foodstuff of animal origin contains oestradiol and its metabolites.”
Oestrogens = estrogran, that’s just the British spelling.
So everything in your diet should be evaluated. It’s not just vegan foods which might promote gynecomastia to get worse.
A German study looked at which foods in their diet were providing naturally occurring sex hormones (4). Here is what they said about dairy products:
“Milk and milk products reflect the hormone profile of female cattle with high amounts of progesterone, which accumulates with increasing milk fat content. Milk products supply about 60–80% of ingested female sex steroids.”
If diet even is a contributor, some speculate it’s only raw foods that cause gynecomastia to worsen.
If that were the case, then why did this study find that 80% of the female hormones were coming from pasteurized (heated) milk products?
Keep in mind that organic, hormone-free milk and cheese only means that additional hormones are not added to the cows. Just like humans, cows will have plenty of hormones regardless.
It makes sense that hormones would naturally be high in milk, since normally, milk is a food which is meant to spur the growth of baby cows.
Plus, remember all milk-producing cows are female, obviously. You wouldn’t expect testosterone from them.
Be aware that “hormone-free” milk production utilizes the same artificial insemination technique, to impregnate cows while they’re still recovering from their prior pregnancy, in order to keep that milk flowing. That causes cows in America to reportedly be milked 10 months per year.
It has been reported that there is 5 times the amount of estrogen in pregnant cows vs. non-pregnant and the levels are 33 times higher as it approaches birth (4).
Yes, soy is still a potent source.
The good news is that whose measurement was just mentioned – raw edamame – is a food you rarely eat (if you do, they shouldn’t be part of a diet to control or reduce gynecomastia).
Rather than edamame, most guys instead eat heavily processed and cooked things made from them. All of which measure significantly lower.
Though don’t assume that means a raw food diet is the culprit. As you will soon find out, some of the highest sources are thoroughly cooked/pasteurized.
If you’re eating tofu and tempeh, those are 27,150 and 18,308, respectively (per 100 grams).
To put that in perspective, flax is around 1,300% higher than tofu and 2,000% higher than tempeh.
The one thing that everyone beats up on, drinking soy milk, is actually only 2,957. Yes, that means flax is nearly 130x more potent of a source than soy milk!
Yes, we really want to emphasize the need to avoid foods with flax. It’s touted as being healthy because of the omega 3 content, but that doesn’t matter if it’s a testosterone lowering food for men!
4. Multi-grain breads
Okay, here’s some more advice which probably goes against virtually every other nutrition and health website you’ve ever visited.
Make no mistake though, we’re not saying you should eat Wonder Bread instead. Refined grains like white bread will spike your blood sugar and that too can adversely affect your hormone levels.
Rather, what we are saying is to simply be aware that some multi-grain breads actually have a higher concentration of phytoestrogens than soy milk.
4,798.7 µg per 100g of multi-grain bread, to be exact (remember soy milk was 2,957).
Why is that? Because milled flour removes the outer bran of the grain. It is this bran, which depending on the grain, might contain a high amount of phytoestrogens.
Multi-grain breads contain lots of non-milled flours – where the outer bran is still intact.
5. Protein powders
After you hit the gym, are you chugging a protein shake?
If you’re using whey or casein protein powder for your muscles, remember that is derived from milk.
Even though whey powder is a highly concentrated derivative, fortunately it should contain less estrogen than milk. Why? Because the hormones in milk are mostly found in the fat.
Since protein powders get rid of most fat during processing, in theory at least, it should mean most of the estrogen is removed.
But not much research has sought to find out exactly how much is left in these bodybuilding supplements.
Different types of milk have been examined. Even fat-free milk is said to still contain around 1/3 the amount of estrogen as whole milk (5).
This is why moob sufferers may want to stick with plant-based protein powers which are also soy-free. Two of our favorites are Warrior Blend and Sunwarrior Classic. There is nothing in them suspected of being bad for testosterone levels.
Can eggs cause gynecomastia? That German study claimed that dairy account for 60-80% of the ingested female sex hormones, with the remaining 20% to 40% including eggs and meat.
The study claimed that eggs are:
“…a considerable source of hormonally active steroids and their precursors.”
They were said to contribute between 10% to 20% of dietary hormone intake.
Eggs are another food that fitness buffs and bodybuilders love. High intake of those, combined with whey protein, makes you wonder how much in total is being consumed.
This is not a scientific observation, but you can ask just about any gynecomastia plastic surgeon and he will probably tell you that current and former bodybuilders are major customer base for the operation.
Granted, professional bodybuilders are known for using illegal anabolic steroids to enhance muscles and those are a confirmed cause of man boobs (eggs are not).
But what about your average Joe bodybuilder who never used steroids and has gyno?
Adding up the dairy + eggs percentages doesn’t equal 100%, so what’s responsible for the remainder?
Sadly, they report it’s meat and fish.
Remember, those are not the amounts in raw food forms, but rather how much hormones the researchers believed people were getting from typical preparation.
Obviously, if you’re not a vegan, then you’re going to have those in your diet. So among them, which are the worst foods that lower your testosterone’s natural influence, by raising levels of female hormones?
Upon reviewing the foods measured, it appears the fatty tissues had the highest amounts of estradiol and estrone – 0.13 and 0.28 μg per kg, respectively, in the fat of calves as an example. Their muscles had 0.11 and 0.80.
Progesterone followed the same pattern.
In pork, by far the highest concentrations were seen in the liver. That makes sense, given how fatty the organ is.
For cows/beef, the measurements in liver were not provided because of an error with the chromatography instruments, but it would presumably follow a similar trend.
Birds like chicken and turkey appeared to have similar levels of estradiol and estrone, but turkey ranged higher for progesterone.
Some chicken meat was as bad, as laying hens had 7.78 μg of progesterone per kg versus the 8.18 seen in turkey. But eggs had almost 3x the concentration than both of those.
As mentioned at the start, there’s no such thing as a gynecomastia food cure if it’s a longstanding problem. However in fear of it worsening, it seems like carefully selecting the types and cuts of meat you eat would be a good idea.
In short, it seems that avoiding the fat content in meat is what should be prioritized in a man’s diet plan.
8. Protein bars
We’ve already talked about powders, but how about bars?
In some ways, protein bars may actually be worse.
Why? Because every marketer of whey powder touts how “pure” their product is.
Since it is so refined – at least the higher end brands – in theory that should mean more of the fat get filtered out (but remember even fat-free milk contains 1/3 the estrogen content as whole milk).
The problem with protein bars is that that many of them do use whey and they’re not as inclined to use the super high-quality type, since it’s being mixed in with a lot of other ingredients and flavors.
Basically, subpar whey is not as noticeable when it’s mixed in with chocolate and other things. Manufacturers know this.
Even if you are buying dairy free protein bars, you still need to be on the lookout for soy protein isolate. Since it’s a cheap vegan protein, a lot of bars will sneak that in versus higher quality plant-based sources.
NuGo bars are delicious, but most of their flavors include soy protein isolate. Not exactly what you would call a testosterone booster, right?
Then there’s flax you have to keep an eye out for.
Being a “superfood” a lot of protein bars are now including it, seemingly oblivious to it being an ingredient better suited for women (even though it’s actually men who are probably buying more of them, since we’re more inclined to bench press).
The men here at Superfoodly love the taste of the plant-based Probar Base which has 20 grams of protein, but since they include flax seeds in them, we only consume that brand on rare occasion (plus they’re loaded with sugar, another major drawback).
For a nipple puffiness or gynecomastia diet plan, what do we recommend?
They’re hard to find in-stores, but you can buy them online easily; D’s Naturals No Cow Nutritional Bars.
They use brown rice and pea protein, along with almonds and other good stuff which is testosterone friendly. Each flavor has around 20 grams of protein per bar and they’re lower calorie relative to competitors.
Last but certainly not least, we come to something which might be the worst… alcohol.
Does alcohol cause gynecomastia? Many online sources say beer and estrogen in men is a complete myth, but apparently they haven’t studied the latest research.
We will walk you through it.
Nearly 40 years ago, a study was published in the Yale Journal of Biology titled “Feminization of chronic alcoholic men: a formulation” (9).
The hypothesis was that the reason for man boobs (and similar feminine side effects like infertility) was that frequent drinking makes your liver fat, which contributes to estrogen production.
But they found estrogen levels to not be elevated even in cirrhotic men (those with liver disease from drinking). Testosterone levels were not abnormally depleted.
Then a study a few years after that titled “Alterations of Testicular Morphology in Alcoholic Disease” found that male testicles began shrinking before liver disease even kicked in, which further goes against the fatty liver cause theory (10).
So if fatty liver from drinking isn’t the cause, what is?
More recent research looked at it from a different angle. Maybe it’s not that men who drink produce more estrogen, but maybe they are getting more estrogen-like compounds from the alcohol they drink.
In 1999, researchers discovered what has been said to be one of the “most potent” phytoestrogens, 8-prenylnaringenin (8-PN) (11). It is said to be up to 50 times more potent than the genistein in soy.
Guess what’s a rich source of 8-PN? Hops, which of course is a key ingredient in beer making.
The next study is why people claim the hops estrogen myth (but they didn’t read the study after that one).
Even though raw hops had a lot, the next study demonstrated that the levels of 8-PN in brewed beer were actually quite low, too low to be of real concern. As a result, folks concluded estrogen in beer hops was just another myth.
Then research raised the concern that another type of phytoestrogen in hops, isoxanthohumol, might be converted in the liver to the more potent 8-PN (12).
But that study involved mice and when people were tested, the liver conversion was not seen.
So all is safe? Maybe not.
More recent research claimed that “a conversion efficiency of 90% was achieved” by human intestinal bacteria (13).
That seems to explain why 8-PN is reportedly found in beer drinkers days later, because their gut bacteria continue to convert it.
It also may explain why the use of hops is such a popular ingredient in so-called breast enhancing dietary supplements for females.
But wait, it gets worse…
Remember we said there was more than one reason why booze should be avoided, possibly above all other foods?
Over 20 years ago, the U.S. government (NIH) put out an “Alcohol Alert” to drive home the message that alcohol can have very bad side effects on men’s health (14).
The document contains many frightening statements, however the part about it being a gynecomastia cause is something to not ignore.
“Alcohol is directly toxic to the testes, causing reduced testosterone levels in men. In a study of normal healthy men who received alcohol for 4 weeks, testosterone levels declined after only 5 days and continued to fall throughout the study period. Prolonged testosterone deficiency may contribute to a “feminization” of male sexual characteristics, for example breast enlargement.”
Does alcohol lower testosterone permanently? If it is toxic to the testicles as the NIH says, then it could have a lasting effect if that causes permanent damage to how your body makes and regulates hormones.
But wait, there’s more.
Alcohol is empty calories. Perhaps some of the worst empty calories are those from beverages, since it’s so easy to overdue versus eating food, which at least makes you feel full.
It’s hard to maintain a healthy weight when you are consuming empty calories.
As we all know, not only is being overweight linked with the occurrence of man boobs, but weight gain can also worsen their appearance in otherwise skinny men. This is true even when the problem is just in the nipples.
Conclusion? Based on the research, there is more evidence to suggest that if there is one food men should avoid, it’s the consumption of beer.
That will be easier said than done, since it also happens to be the drink of choice for most guys.
In the table above showing hormones from food, the meat and fish were lumped together in one category. How much is coming from fish? They said:
“The plasma contents of steroid hormones in fish vary widely dependent on the season and reproductive stage. Basal concentrations are about 0.5-3 ng ml, peak concentrations reach 100 and more ng ml (at time of spawning).”
Such a wide range is not very helpful. It’s near impossible to know where the salmon you’re eating for dinner falls within that range.
On average though, is there estrogen in fish at levels which are high?
Versus meat, there’s even less research on fish, so answering the question conclusively doesn’t appear possible as of today.
For that reason, trying to reduce or get rid of gynecomastia by eliminating fish in your diet would be premature.
However setting that aside, there is another reason they may be foods men should not eat, at least in excess.
Xenoestrogens are man-mad chemicals which have estrogenic and antiandrogenic (demasculinizing) effects in the human body. They might decrease testosterone production or replicate the effects of estrogen. Neither of those things will help to reduce puffy nipples in men.
If recurring long term exposure to them damages your sex organs, the outcome may be lower testosterone permanently.
One example of a xenoestrogen is BPA, but there are many others you probably haven’t heard of before. Unfortunately, these pollutants make their way into bodies of water (6):
“Recent observed feminization of aquatic animals has raised concerns about estrogenic compounds in water supplies…”
But what’s more worrying are actual hormones in the water. Estradiol is “at least 10,000-fold more potent” than most xenoestrogens in the environment (7). How much is thought to be coming from farm animals is a staggering number (8):
“…animal breeding represents a major source of steroids in the environment: about 82 tonnes of estrogens are produced yearly by livestock in the European Union and USA…”
The study cites estimates that “animal waste contributes 90% of total estrogens in the environment.”
Since poultry and cow manure has been found to contain high amounts of estrogen, you may want to think twice about eating fish which may be contaminated by farm water runoff.
Freshwater fish from inland lakes and streams might be examples of this.