If you’ve had bothersome breast pain that’s been diagnosed as nothing serious and are now wanting to know what to do about it, this article is for you.
This article will address what you can do to alleviate the two most common causes of benign breast pain:
- Cyclic breast pain occurring around your period. Cyclic pain due to the natural response of the milk-making glands to hormone changes that signal you didn’t conceive and so its now time to reabsorb all that specialized cellular machinery. It’s a complex process and sometimes it hurts. Fortunately, the pain usually goes away after a week or so, after the shut-down has occurred. Sometimes the pain doesn’t go away, and that brings me to number two.
- Persistent breast pain is usually due to fibrocystic changes, a condition in which normal glands that become lumpier and more tender than usual. We used to think fibrocystic changes were associated with later cancer development, but that’s no longer believed to be the case.
The most well known treatments for both types of breast pain are taking anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen, and avoiding hormone supplementation (like birth control pills) and excessive caffeine intake. These work fairly well to reduce pain but the lumps and sensitivity usually don’t go away completely.
I know this from personal experience. Several years ago, I started treating myself to an extra cup of coffee in the afternoon and after a couple weeks of this I started feeling the pain. I dealt with it by chalking it up to too much caffeine and ignoring it. Then the pain got worse. Eventually I was worried enough to get checked out, and when I did fortunately everything was fine. But I’d worried so much about things not being fine that I’d managed to find the willpower to cut back to just one cup. That sort of helped. Anyway I wasn’t worried anymore and figured I could live with it.
How I (accidentally) found a natural cure!
Then I did a nutrition profile on myself and one of the things that came out low was Iodine. So I checked out what foods contain iodine. There were a lot: eggs, milk, fish, seaweed. But digging a little deeper I found that most of those foods were only high in iodine if the soil where they grew, or where their food grew, was also high in iodine. The only one that seemed like it would reliably be high in iodine was seaweed. Fine. Seaweed is super salty and I often crave salty snacks.
I went to whole foods and found a ton of seaweed snacks, but most of them had vegetable oil and were too expensive. Finally I noticed sacks of Dulse, each with enough iodine per ounce to provide a week’s supply. (This stuff here.) I tried just chowing some down after a workout, which was do able. Then I got a tiny bit creative and added it to our usual dinner salad but altered the dressing to make it more Asian-ish by using soy sauce, ginger and peanut oil instead of the usual olive oil and garlic, in addition to balsalmic. Yum. Especially with peanuts, castlevestrano olives, and butter lettuce in the mix.
Then Costco started carrying these Gimme Organic roasted seaweed snacks that have sesame oil instead of just vegetable oil, although they also do have some sunflower oil. Turns out they’re super yummy and addicting. So I downed a pack daily for a month or two.
Then I learned Iodine helps fibrocystic breast pain.
I heard this at, of all places, a medical education lecture. Here’s exactly what they said:
The iodine story is interesting insofar as iodine is something that most of us clinicians don’t think about because iodine is rather ubiquitous in our diet. It was placed there [in the form of iodized salt] to prevent goiter and that’s done a very good job of doing that. But it turns out that that level of which we consume iodine…while it’s fine for thyroid function, turns out it may not be fine for other organ function. Work done in the 70’s and progressing really until the late 2000’s has shown clearly that as we’ve increased iodine consumption, we have found an excellent impact on breast pain.
Suddenly, I remembered my boobs. They hadn’t bothered me in a long time! This even in spite of the fact that I’d discovered an AMAZING brand of coffee and started drinking ungodly amounts for breakfast. It appeared that not only does iodine help reduce pain, it also helped me enjoy more coffee.
A quick Medline search uncovered research supporting the use of iodine for breast pain. Here’s a couple I found:
I also ran into an article suggesting that selenium helps the body use iodine better, and it happens that I’d been eating Brazil nuts daily on a regular basis for about as long as I’d been eating that seaweed, and just 3 Brazil nuts have about 70% of the total RDA for selenium.
Here’s my favorite app for checking nutrition content of foods: Cronometer.com
Because it seemed likely that few foods other than seaweed reliably contain iodine, I recently started checking iodine levels in all my patients with thyroid disease. So far, ALL have had iodine deficiencies, and iodine levels are lowest in those who are vegan don’t get eggs, dairy or fish, which do contain some iodine.
The take home message is, breast pain can be a signal that you might be low in iodine. Getting more iodine is not only good for your thyroid, it’s good for breast health as well.