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Breast-Enlarging Herbs: A Bust?

Some herbs used for breast enhancement may help.

Down through the ages, women have taken many herbs in hopes of increasing the size of their breasts. A report in the medical journal Obsetrics and Gynecology reviewed the evidence and found no studies showing that any traditional breast-building herb performs as hyped. Of course, an absence of scientific evidence does not mean there's clear evidence of no effect. Some of the herbs used to enhance breast size may, in fact, have more going for them than folklore.

Wild yam (Dioscora villosa) contains potent plant estrogens (phytoestrogens). Estrogen causes fluid retention and stimulates breast tissue growth, which is why many women who take estrogen-based birth control pills report weight gain, and breast swelling. This herb's estrogenic effect explains its use in breast enlargement. Its phytoestrogens may cause fluid retention and possibly some breast enlargement.

Chaste tree berry (Vitex agnus-castus). From ancient times into the 19th century, Europeans believed (incorrectly) that the small, dark, peppercorn-like fruits of this shrub suppressed women's libido, hence the name. Chaste tree was first associated with women's breast by the ancient Greek physician,
Dioscorides, who recognized its effect on the female reproductive system, notably the herb's ability to increase milk production in nursing mothers.

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Modern research has shown that chaste tree affects the pituitary gland, increasing production of luteinizing hormone and decreasing secretion of follicle-stimulating hormone. These changes, in turn, affect the balance of women's sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone, reducing estrogen level and increasing the level of progesterone. These changes don't enlarge breasts, but they help treat premenstrual syndrome. In fact, chaste tree has become THE herb for PMS.

Back cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) Black cohosh owes its medicinal action to several compounds in its root (aceteine, formononetin, and triterpenes). In the 1940's, German scientists discovered that these compounds act like estrogen. By the 1950s, a commercial extract of black cohosh, Remifemin, was used widely in Germany as a treatment for PMS, menstrual cramps, and hot flashes of menopause. Reminfemin is now available in the U.S. But recent research shows that it's not truly estrogenic. Black cohosh suppresses secretion of luteinizing hormone (LH) secreted by the pituitary gland. LH is involved in the menstrual cycle, menopause, and female reproduction, so black cohosh has effects that appear estrogenic, but it's action is different, so it can be used by women who can't take estrogen. These days, black cohosh is not widely touted for breast enhancement. But if you're experiencing menopausal complaints, try Remifemin. It might help.

Today, saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is THE herb to treat benign prostate enlargement. But when this plant first attracted medical attention in the 19th century, it was more widely used for breast enlargement. It's not clear why. Saw palmetto is not estrogenic. And it's a diuretic, meaning it rids the body of excess fluid. Most traditional breast-enlarging herbs help the body retain fluids.

The all-time favorite breast-enlarging herb is fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum). Its seeds contain a compound (diosgenin) that's estrogenic. Fenugreek's phytoestrogen content supports the folk American practice of eating the seeds for breast enlargement. However, if you want to try this, sprout the seeds. Noted Maryland herbalist James Duke, Ph.D. explains that fenugreek sprouts contain much more diosgenin than the unsprouted seeds. He's recommended the sprouts to women interested in nonsurgical breast augmentation and says he's received several thank-you notes from satisfied users who reported noticeable breast enlargement.

San Francisco journalist Michael Castleman, M.A., has written about sexuality for 36 years. more...

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