Breast health

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Naturopath Siobhan Jordan uncovers the basics of breasts and breast health and explores natural ways to manage breast symptoms.

Breast anatomy 101

Women’s breasts are made up of fat, glands, nipples and a network of ducts via which milk passes from the glands to the nipples. Each breast is comprised of 15 to 20 lobes, containing the milk-producing glands and ducts. Surrounding these is fibrous and fat tissue, which give breasts their unique shape and size. Often, one breast is slightly larger than the other. Lymph glands, nerves and blood vessels are also found in the breasts and although there is no muscle in the actual breast, muscles are found underneath covering the nearby ribs.

Breast health

Common breast conditions

In keeping with women’s life cycle stages (e.g. puberty, pregnancy and menopause), breasts are also subject to change. Breast tissue is affected by hormonal variations associated with pregnancy, lactation and the menstrual cycle. Breast changes also occur during peri- and post-menopause.

Common breast conditions include:
1. Mastalgia (painful breasts)
Often associated with the menstrual cycle, the breasts become painful or tender (e.g. prior to the period). Breast pain may also be related to use of the oral contraceptive pill or hormone replacement therapy.

2. Fibroadenomas
A common cause of benign (non-cancerous) breast lumps, fibroadenomas are most frequently found in women aged 15 to 30 years.

3. Breast cysts
Often painful, these are fluid-filled sacs found in the breast tissue.

4. Benign fibrocystic disease
Otherwise known as fibrocystic breast disease, this condition involves inflammation of the breast tissue, which causes benign (i.e. non- cancerous) lumps.

5. Mastitis
The breast tissue becomes inflamed, resulting in pain, redness and heat. Mastitis is most commonly caused by infection during breastfeeding.

Remember, if you notice any breast changes or symptoms (e.g. pain, nipple discharge) see your healthcare professional for assessment.

Breast health

Natural therapies supporting breast health

Chaste tree
Chaste tree could be considered a wonder herb for women’s health issues including breast health. Research suggests that chaste tree may be helpful in reducing premenstrual mastalgia. Even better, improvements may be seen within the first month of treatment, with progress continuing after the second and third months.

Evening primrose oil (EPO)
With origins in Native American medicine, the oil from this seed is now widely used in complementary medicine, including in women’s health. For example, gamma linolenic acid (GLA), a compound found in EPO, is used in numerous European countries for mastalgia. In terms of research results for EPO and breast health, findings have been mixed and may benefit from further attention. However, there is some research support for EPO in assisting the treatment of premenstrual breast pain.

More commonly thought of for supporting cognitive functions such as memory and concentration, this herb may also offer support for women suffering with premenstrual syndrome, in particular breast symptoms.

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