Gynecomastia is the name of benign enlargement of breast tissue in men. The symptoms also include breast sensitivity and rubbery or firm tissue in the area around the nipple. Gynecomastia can affect one or both breasts. These symptoms develop because of alteration in sex hormones balance. Additionally, in some cases, gynecomastia may develop due to increased hormonal sensitivity of breast tissue. Factors causing gynecomastia include aging process, drugs, poor nutrition and some other disorders like cirrhosis, renal failure, hyperthyroidism, pituitary tumours and other. Moreover, gynecomastia may occur in infancy, puberty and old age as a result of normal changes in sex hormone levels. Approximately 24%-65% of men have gynecomastia. In fact, one in four men is affected by gynecomastia between the ages of 50 and 80.
Estrogen is a group of sex hormones primary found in women but produced in men as well. These hormones promote various functions including the formation of female reproduction system and regulation of the menstrual cycle. Moreover, these hormones play an important role in pregnancy and stimulate breasts growth. Although estrogen is primarily female sex hormone, it is produced in men too. It is necessary for maturation of sperm and healthy libido. However, the concentration of estrogen in male organism is much lower and it has to be in balance with testosterone (primary male sex hormone). If this hormonal balance is altered and estrogen level becomes higher than testosterone level, gynecomastia develops. Estrogen stimulates breast growth in men similarly as in women. This is because both genders have the same breast tissue and the same structure of hormonal receptors.
Protein powder is a dietary supplement that can be made of various protein sources, including whey, casein, soy, egg and rice. A lot of men use these supplements hoping for rapid muscle growth. However, it still remains disputable whether protein powder supports muscle growth or not. Some studies suggest a promoting effect of this dietary supplement and there are some that deny it.
Casein and whey protein are extracted from cow milk. According to the Harvard Gazette, in modern farms cows are milked several hundred times a year. Inevitably, for much of that time cows are pregnant. During pregnancy cow endocrine system produces estrogen and this hormone gets into the milk. Milk from a cow which is in the late stage of pregnancy contains approximately 33 times more estrogen than milk from a cow which is not pregnant. There is a hypothesis suggesting that casein and whey protein powder contains estrogen and may cause gynecomastia. However, there is other opinion that estrogen levels in protein powder are too low to have physiological effect on human body. All in all, casein and whey protein powder may be related to gynecomastia but it depends on many circumstances including age and hormonal sensitivity.
The other type of protein that bodybuilders use for muscle growth is made of soybeans. Soy proteins contain high levels of phytoestrogen. Phytoestrogen is biologically active substance naturally found in plants. The chemical structure of phytoestrogens is similar to the structure of estrogen. Therefore, it has the same hormonal effect on human body as estrogen. A group of Chinese scientists studied the effect of soybean phytoestrogen on the reproductive system of Chinese mini-pig boars. The results revealed that particular amounts of soybeans phytoestrogen reduced testosterone levels and had negative effect on testicular tissue.
If you notice symptoms of gynecomastia (swollen and sensitive breasts, changes in tissue around the nipple) you should definitely visit your doctor. Although these symptoms are typical to gynecomastia, they can also accompany other disorders such as breast cancer, dermoid cyst, lymphangioma or hypogonadism. Your doctor will perform necessary tests to confirm the diagnosis of gynecomastia and recommend you a treatment.