Man boobs, also known as gynaecomastia, is a condition which causes men to have excess breast tissue.
This can vary from a small amount of extra tissue to a more prominent breast. It affects with one or both breasts.
While it is unknown what percentage of men this affects, one survey found almost 11% of men think about diverting attention away from their “breasts” when they get dressed.
What causes man boobs?
Gynaecomastia is caused by a number of factors, according to the NHS.
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A hormone imbalance
Man boobs can occur due to an imbalance between sex hormones oestrogen (associated with breast growth) and testosterone (which limits breast growth).
While all men produce some amount of oestrogen, if they produce too much and not enough testosterone, this can result in excess breast growth.
Being very overweight is linked to gynaecomastia for two reasons. Firstly, because it increases oestrogen levels, causing breast tissue growth. Secondly, carrying excess fat will then cause this existing breast tissue to swell.
Boys’ hormone levels can vary as they go through puberty, causing temporary breast enlargement which often disappears as they get older and hormone levels stabilise.
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Men produce less testosterone as they get older, and carry more body fat. this can lead to excess breast tissue growth.
How do you get rid of man boobs?
In extreme cases, men have sought male breast reduction surgery in order to resolve the problem.
However, the NHS funding for these surgeries is limited: a 2015 study found just 200 had had the procedure in the last five years.
If you are looking to fund the procedure privately, it can cost around £3,500 to £5,500.
Alternatively, Elliott Upton, personal trainer at Ultimate Performance, has suggested a number of other changes you can make in order to reduce the appearance of your “moobs” as well as improving your overall health.
“Our first step is always to minimise oestrogen issues in those for whom this is a problem,” he explains.“Testosterone is converted to oestrogen primarily in the fat cells, so the best solution is to lose body fat and get as lean as possible.”
Eating a whole food diet is your first step to reducing a hormone imbalance, Upton explains.
First off, avoid processed foods. “When you take in chemicals from things like alcohol, processed foods or factory-farmed meats, you are taking in the chemicals that are used to produce them which will likely increase your oestrogen levels and potentially exacerbate the problem,” says Upton.
You might want to avoid eating dairy too: “Milk and dairy are not ideal when you have an already-high amount of oestrogen, as they are potentially full of hormones which have been used to keep the female animals pregnant and producing milk,” says Upton.
Instead, he advises swapping to grass-fed meat products and organic dairy – which do not contain added hormones.
You might also want to think about increasing your levels of zinc, a mineral which can help to raise your testosterone levels. Shellfish, nuts and seeds are all good sources. You can also take zinc supplements.
Aerobic exercise can increase testosterone levels in overweight and obese men, according to studies – so working out is a good place to start to reverse the hormonal imbalances which lead to gynaecomastia in the first place.
It will also help you target the excess fat stores which make man boobs appear larger.
As you cannot target a specific area for fat loss, focussing on overall fat loss is the way to go, explains Upton.
“If you want to get a leaner body, which will likely help improve your hormonal profile and the appearance of man boobs, focus on heavy compound exercises like deadlifts, squats, pull-ups and row variations, which both burn more calories and recruit more muscle fibres overall,” he advises.
He recommends pairing up upper and lower body exercises to make “supersets”. For instance, do a set of bench presses, which work your arms, alternated with split squats, which work your lower body, before resting.