In fibrocystic breast disease, breasts become swollen or develop lumps when the menstrual cycle brings about hormonal changes. The lumps, which occur alone or in a group, are not dangerous; they can be fluid-filled tissue sacs (cysts) or thickened milk glands. Although the condition is called a disease, it can be considered almost normal, affecting up to 70 percent of women in their reproductive years.
Because excess estrogen in the body is believed to contribute to fibrocystic breasts, several alternative therapies focus on normalizing the levels of this hormone.
Nutritional Therapy for Fibrocystic Breast Disease
With diet and supplements, nutritional therapy works to prevent breast swelling and lumps. A high-fat diet can encourage the body to produce too much estrogen. Hence, in cases of fibrocystic breast disease, eating only low-fat foods is recommended. Ideally, all animal products (including chicken, fish, milk, and cheese) should be eliminated from the diet. However, if animal foods are consumed, only use them if they're free of synthetic hormones. Increasing the intake of vegetables and whole grains can help the body get rid of excess estrogen.
Several researchers have linked the chemical methylxanthine with provoking the lumpiness and inflamed cysts of fibrocystic breasts. Avoiding foods with this chemical may reduce symptoms, but it may take a complete menstrual cycle before any change is noticed. Foods that contain methylxanthine include:
- coffee (both caffeinated and decaffeinated)
- root beer
Vitamin E can serve several functions for women with fibrocystic breasts: It can ease inflammation, neutralize free radicals, and stabilize hormone levels. It's often taken in supplement form. The B vitamins may also be helpful.
A naturopathic physician may prescribe daily vitamin E supplements, but high doses of vitamin E are not recommended for women with high blood pressure.
Herbal Medicine for Fibrocystic Breast Disease
Herbs can stabilize the levels of hormones in the body and encourage the peak functioning of the liver (which breaks down estrogens). Dong quai, a Chinese herb also called angelica, contains plant estrogens that lower the level of estrogen in a woman's body. It is commonly taken in capsule form. Dong quai is also high in vitamin E.
Chasteberry (also known as chastetree or vitex) directs its actions toward the brain's pituitary gland to trigger the production of hormones that cause the production of progesterone in the ovaries. Typically, the seeds are used in tincture or powdered (capsule) form.
Several other herbs can stimulate liver function, including:
- yellow dock
- dandelion root
Hydrotherapy for Fibrocystic Breast Disease
Several forms of hydrotherapy, applied to the breasts, can stimulate blood circulation, helping to deliver nutrients and other beneficial substances to the cells and to clean away waste products. These treatments can also ease pain. Castor oil, made from the leaves of the castor oil plant, is commonly applied to the breasts as a warm pack (as you would an ice pack). The cold-pressed oil contains a substance that stimulates cells important to the immune system. Alternating hot and cold compresses may also help. A naturopathic physician may recommend placing castor oil packs on the breasts once a day when symptoms are severe.
Other Therapies for Fibrocystic Breast Disease
- Aromatherapy for Fibrocystic Breast Disease -- Essential oils that target the actions of the liver can be very effective. They include carrot seed, celery seed, and rosemary.
- Bodywork for Fibrocystic Breast Disease -- Gentle massage of the breasts and surrounding areas can stimulate blood circulation and promote healing.