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Why wearing a bra can be hazardous to your health.

You may remember hearing that wearing a bra can cause breast cancer. This theory was popularized over a decade ago in a book Dressed to Kill by Sydney Ross Singer and his wife, Soma Grismaijer. Although the press ran with the story and sensationalized it, the authors admit theirs was a preliminary observational study they conducted with women based on a sound theory. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Syd Singer isn't saying that bras cause breast cancer--although that's the message the media ran with. He's suggesting that a tight bra can reduce lymphatic draining in the breast. And the longer a woman wears this kind of bra, the more their breasts can become congested with waste products. These toxins can then lead to breast cysts or breast cancer.

Recently, a doctor of integrative medicine who treats a lot of breast cancer patients mentioned this same association to me. So I decided to take a closer look at it. I found that bras may very well contribute to breast cancer, fibromyalgia, and breast pain in a number of ways. I'm not telling you to throw out your bras. But you may want to wear a different kind for shorter periods of time after you hear what I learned.

Bras reduce lymphatic drainage

Breast cancer treatment can contribute to a congested lymphatic system. Many women who have had surgery or radiation get lymphedema, a condition where lymph fluid in their breasts can't drain properly after their lymphatic system has been damaged. Most doctors caution these patients to wear a loose bra with no under-wires. They know that a tight bra can contribute to clogged lymphatics.

Singer and Grismaijer studied nearly 5,000 women in Fiji and found that women who wore their bras for 18-24 hours a day had over 100 times more eases of breast cancer than women who went bra-less! In fact, there was a greater association between breast cancer and wearing bras than between lung cancer and smoking! The longer women wore tight bras, the higher their risk.

Then a study out of the Harvard School of Public Health concluded that premenopausal women who don't wear bras have half the risk of getting breast cancer than women who wear bras. Preliminary information? Yes. Theory? Yes. But one that makes sense.

When your lymphatic system becomes congested, toxic wastes can settle in breast tissues and become re-absorbed. Some of these substances are carcinogenic and could contribute to cancer and other health problems. Tight bras, and bras with underwires, are more likely to cause lymphatic congestion than looser-fitting soft bras or wearing none at all.

Bras contribute to breast pain

Singer and Grismaijer call breast disease "Tight Bra Syndrome." They found that when women with breast cysts stopped wearing their bras, their pain, tenderness, and breast cysts disappeared within days or weeks. Is your bra contributing to breast problems? Stop wearing yours for one month and see if it makes a difference.

Two breast cancer doctors in England heard about the Fiji study and conducted one of their own. They found 100 women with painful fibrocystic breast disease and had them go bra-less for three months. Then the women wore a bra for another three months. Some of their results were captured in a British documentary made for TV, "Bras--The Bare Facts." They were astonishing. Woman after woman commented on a dramatic reduction of breast pain after they stopped wearing bras--some within days; others within weeks. The pain returned in some of them when they resumed wearing their bras. This documentary was never shown in our country.

In a follow-up study, Singer and Grismaijer followed women from the same village in Fiji with the same genetics and diet. The ones who got breast problems were those whose jobs required them to wear bras. The Fijian Health Ministry said it believes this is why their nurses and teachers were starting to get breast cancer.

Bras increase heat

Thermography (infra-red imaging) measures heat in the body. It shows a clear association between heat in the breasts and breast cancer. We know that wearing a bra increases heat in the breasts. Can this heat lead to cancer?

We don't know.

We do know that the body makes more blood vessels to feed cancer cells when their food supply is scarce. These blood vessels create heat that is visible in thermograms. Does breast heat contribute to cancer when it is caused by bras? Let's see what we know about this.

Professor Hugh Simpson, a cancer specialist in Glasgow, Scotland, was intrigued by a possible connection between heat and cancer. He found that the breasts of women at high risk for cancer were hotter than those of women at normal risk as measured by thermography. This isn't conclusive about bras, but you may want to take action now while we wait for more studies.

(For more information on thermography, search my website at, or read about it in my new book, The Health Detective's 456 Most Powerful Healing Secrets, available free when you renew your subscription.)

Bras reduce melatonin

Wearing a bra may be one reason why women don't sleep well at night. Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland. Studies suggest it has anti-cancer properties as well as regulating our sleep cycles. A group of Japanese researchers found that melatonin levels are reduced by a whopping 60% when women wear a girdle and bra. They didn't measure the effect of bras alone, but no reduction of this hormone is good, especially as we get older. You see, melatonin production lessens with age. So you don't want to cut your dwindling supply in half just when you need it the most.

As you know, I like to base my articles on sound, scientific studies. And there are only a few studies on bras and breast problems. But if wearing a looser bra, eliminating under-wires, or going bra-less can reduce breast disease, then join me in getting healthier and feeling more comfortable.

A number of companies are now manufacturing bras they claim increase lymph flow and improve breast health. None has been tested to support these claims. You can find the bras online or try some of these simple suggestions:

* Go bra-less. This encourages lymphatic drainage in breast tissues.

* Avoid bras with under-wires. Wear sports bras. You'll notice they feel less binding and are more comfortable.

* Loosen your bra.

* Go bra-less at home to reduce the amount of time you wear your bra.

* Massage your breasts regularly to help lymphatic drainage. Do not massage them if you have any undiagnosed breast lumps. Massage is contraindicated with breast cancer.

"Bras--The Bare Facts,"

Hsieh, C.C.. and D. Trichopoulos. "Breast size, handedness, and breast cancer risk," Eur J Cancer, 1991.

Lee, Y.A., et al, "The effects of skin pressure by clothing, on circadian rhythms of core temperature and salivary melatonin," Chronobiol Int, November 2000.

Simpson, H.W., "A breast pre-cancer test? Preliminary results based on a breast temperature rhythm abnormality during the menstrual cycle," Br Ca Research and Tmt, July 1990.
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Title Annotation:Health Detective
Publication:Women's Health Letter
Date:Feb 1, 2007
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