Fibrocystic breast disease, while benign, can be quite uncomfortable. If you're suffering from breast discomfort, tenderness, swelling, and pain, consider these home remedies.
Home Remedies from the Spice Rack
Kelp. Kelp and other sea vegetables, such as nori and dulse, are good sources of iodine. Studies suggest that an iodine deficiency can predispose women to having breast lumps. While you can find these vegetables in some food markets, kelp and dulce are also available in powdered form and can be used in cooking as a salt substitute.
Salt. Two weeks before your period, hide the salt shaker. During the menstrual cycle, women tend to retain water, which in turn causes their breasts to feel heavy and become sensitive. Salt only increases this uncomfortable bloating. Be aware of the hidden salts in processed foods, too, and save that pizza order until after your period.
Home Remedies from the Stove
Hot compresses. Less shocking than ice packs, but equally soothing to swollen breasts, is the hot compress. Run hot water over face towels and place them on your chest for a few minutes. Re-warm when necessary. A heating pad will hold the heat longer, as will a homemade rice bag. To construct a rice bag, fill a clean, thick sock with a cup of uncooked rice, close the opening with a knot, and place in the microwave for 30 seconds or so. (Watch it carefully, since you don't want popped rice!) Remove, test the temperature, and place on your breasts. Note: Some women find alternating heat and cold, applying heat first for 30 minutes, then cold for ten minutes, helps minimize pain.
Home Remedies from the Supplement Shelf
Essential fatty acids. Several studies have looked at the beneficial effects of evening primrose oil on fibrocystic breast disease. Evening primrose oil is an excellent source of the essential fatty acid linolenic acid and its chemical derivative, gamma linolenic acid (GLA). Typical dosages used in the studies were 1,500 mg twice a day. (This would amount to taking 6 of the 500 mg capsules commonly available at health food stores.) Borage oil and black currant oil are more concentrated sources of GLA, so you need to take fewer capsules. For example, 3 or 4 capsules per day of borage oil may be sufficient. However, always discuss dosages with your physician before taking any of these oils.
Vitamin A/Beta-carotene. Some studies have shown that vitamin A can reduce breast pain in women with moderate to severe symptoms. There is a risk to taking high doses of vitamin A, however, because it can build to toxic levels in the body -- the body stores it, rather than flushing it out, because it's fat soluble. It's safer to eat a diet high in beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A, with yellow, orange, red, and dark green vegetables and fruits. This is because beta-carotene is water soluble, so any excess intake is harmlessly excreted.
Vitamin E. In several controlled studies, vitamin E was found to be quite helpful in reducing the pain and tenderness, as well as the size, of breast lumps. Vitamin E can be found in vegetable oils, nuts, green leafy vegetables, and some fortified cereals. Or you can take a daily supplement of 400 IU.
Do's and Don'ts
- DO forget the bare-breasted look of the '60s. A well-fitting, supportive bra helps ease breast tenderness by immobilizing the breasts and eliminating the feeling of heaviness. If your breasts swell considerably before your period, don't try squeezing into your regular size. Buy the next size up.
- DO take a pregnancy test, especially if you experience breast tenderness for the first time. Breast tenderness and swelling can often be a first sign of pregnancy.
- DO exercise regularly, eat a low-fat diet, and maintain an ideal weight. Body fat is the producer and storehouse of estrogen, the reproductive hormone often partially responsible for changes in the breasts. Being excessively overweight can predispose you to breast discomfort.
- DON'T smoke.
- DO stop using herbal cosmetics and remedies, especially those made with ginseng. These can have steroidal effects similar to estrogen. If you find that your breast condition improves after eliminating the herbs, stick with the herb-less products.
There are many things you can do at home to monitor your health and ease the symptoms of various ailments and illnesses. Visit these links for more information.
- To see all of our home remedies and the conditions they treat, go to our main Home Remedies page.
- Regular self-exams can help you spot the early warning signs for skin cancer, testicular cancer, and breast cancer. To learn more, visit How to Administer Self-Exams.
- Menstrual discomforts can be a monthly nuisance, but some home remedies can ease the discomfort. Learn more in Home Remedies for Menstrual Problems.
- PMS causes bloating, moodiness, and general discomfort for many woman. Learn how to use home remedies to ease those symptoms in Home Remedies for Premenstrual Syndrome.
David J. Hufford, Ph.D., is university professor and chair of the Medical Humanities Department at Pennsylvania State University's College of Medicine. He also is a professor in the departments of Neural and Behavioral Sciences and Family and Community Medicine. Dr. Hufford serves on the editorial boards of several journals, including Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine and Explore.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.