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Home > Living Well > Health Library > Fibrocystic Breast Disease (Holistic)
3 grams of an herbal evening primrose oil supplement every day may help alleviate symptoms
Lower estrogen levels by eating fewer high-fat foods, especially from animal sources
Rule out the possibility of breast cancer by performing monthly self-exams and visiting your doctor for regular medical exams
Fibrocystic breast disease (FBD) is a term given to a very common group of benign conditions affecting the breast in younger women.
Both breasts become tender or painful and lumpy, and these symptoms vary at different times in the menstrual cycle. Despite the fact that signs and symptoms of FBD appear to be quite distinct from textbook signs and symptoms of breast cancer, any lump in the breast should be diagnosed by a doctor to rule out the possibility of cancer.
Exercise may decrease breast tenderness. In one study, women who ran 45 miles per menstrual cycle reported less breast tenderness as well as improvement in other symptoms, such as anxiety.1
FBD has been linked to excess estrogen. When women with FBD were put on a low-fat diet, their estrogen levels decreased. After three to six months, the pain and lumpiness also decreased. The link between dietary fat and symptoms appears to be most strongly related to saturated fat. Foods high in saturated fat include meat and dairy products. Fish, nonfat dairy, and tofu are possible replacements.
Some, but not all studies have found that women with FBD drink more coffee than women without the disease. Eliminating caffeine for less than six months does not appear to be effective at reducing symptoms of FBD. However, long-term and complete avoidance of caffeine does reduce symptoms of FBD. Some women are more sensitive to effects of caffeine than others, so benefits of restricting caffeine are likely to vary from woman to woman. Caffeine is found in coffee, black tea, green tea, cola drinks, chocolate, and many over-the-counter drugs. A decrease in breast tenderness can take six months or more to occur after caffeine is eliminated. Breast lumpiness may not go away, but the pain often decreases.
Our proprietary “Star-Rating” system was developed to help you easily understand the amount of scientific support behind each supplement in relation to a specific health condition. While there is no way to predict whether a vitamin, mineral, or herb will successfully treat or prevent associated health conditions, our unique ratings tell you how well these supplements are understood by some in the medical community, and whether studies have found them to be effective for other people.
For over a decade, our team has combed through thousands of research articles published in reputable journals. To help you make educated decisions, and to better understand controversial or confusing supplements, our medical experts have digested the science into these three easy-to-follow ratings. We hope this provides you with a helpful resource to make informed decisions towards your health and well-being.
3 StarsReliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2 StarsContradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1 StarFor an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.
In double-blind research, evening primrose oil (EPO) has reduced symptoms of FBD, though only slightly. One group of researchers reported that EPO normalizes blood levels of fatty acids in women with FBD. However, even these scientists had difficulty linking the improvement in lab tests with an actual reduction in symptoms. Nonetheless, most reports continue to show at least some reduction in symptoms resulting from EPO supplementation. Based on this research, many doctors recommend a trial of 3 grams per day of EPO for at least six months to alleviate symptoms of FBD.
Since many women with FBD and cyclical breast tenderness also suffer from PMS, there is often an overlap in herbal recommendations for these two conditions despite a lack of research dealing directly with FBD.
In one double-blind trial, a liquid preparation containing 32.4 mg of vitex and homeopathic ingredients was found to successfully reduce breast tenderness associated with the menstrual cycle (e.g. cyclic mastalgia). Vitex is thought to reduce breast tenderness at menses because of its ability to reduce elevated levels of the hormone, prolactin.
Doctors typically suggest 40 drops of a liquid, concentrated vitex extract or 35–40 mg of the equivalent dried, powdered extract to be taken once per day in the morning with some liquid. Vitex should be taken for at least three menstrual cycles to determine efficacy.
Some doctors use iodine to treat FBD symptoms. In animals, iodine deficiency can cause the equivalent of FBD. What appears to be the most effective form—diatomic iodine—is not readily available, however. Some people are sensitive to iodine and high amounts can interfere with thyroid function. Therefore, supplemental iodine should only be taken with the guidance of a healthcare practitioner.
While several studies report that 200–600 IU of vitamin E per day, taken for several months, reduces symptoms of FBD, most double-blind trials have found that vitamin E does not relieve FBD symptoms. Nonetheless, many women take 400 IU of vitamin E for three months to see if it helps.
1. Prior JC, Vigna Y, Sciarretta D, et al. Conditioning exercise decreases premenstrual symptoms: a prospective, controlled 6-month trial. Fertil Steril 1987;47(3):402-8.
Last Review: 06-08-2015
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