Gynecomastia is the word used to describe the enlargement of male breast tissue. Resulting in so-called ‘man-boobs’ or ‘gyno’, the condition is much more common than most people think.

Breast tissue is found in all males, although many are unaware of its presence as it is usually too small to be seen or felt.

Just as in women, male breast tissue responds to hormones. The ‘female’ hormone estrogen tells the breast tissue to grow, whilst the ‘male’ hormone testosterone keeps the breast tissue small. The balance of these two hormones determines whether breast tissue grows.

At puberty, levels of estrogen rise in girls, causing breast tissue to grow. In men, the balance is usually in favour of testosterone, meaning male breast tissue stays small. However, if anything alters this balance, breast tissue will grow and cause gynecomastia.

This most commonly happens during puberty, when the surge of hormones of all types can upset the balance for a time. It is also very common in male babies (who continue to have some of their mother’s hormones in their system) and elderly men, who naturally experience a fall in testosterone levels. In these cases, the change in hormone balance is natural and will usually settle down on its own without further treatment.

normal breast and gynecomastia

Other causes include side-effects of prescribed medication, recreational drugs (especially marijuana and bodybuilding steroids), liver or kidney disease, and much more rarely hormone secreting tumours or genetic disorders.

If a man thinks either prescribed medication or recreational drugs may be causing their man boobs, then it is worth talking to a doctor. A simple change of medication may be all that is needed to treat the condition. With recreational drugs, the first advice is always to stop the drug, and this will hopefully make the swelling settle down.

Prescribed medication that can cause gynecomastia:

  • Stomach ulcer treatments such as cimetidine
  • Treatments for depression (tricyclic antidepressants)
  • Anxiety medications including valium
  • Heart medications including digoxin
  • Some chemotherapy for cancers
  • HAART medication for HIV

For most men, gynecomastia has no sinister underlying cause. It can, however, be embarrassing or distressing, and many men are keen to get rid of it.

How to treat gynecomastia

Most men need no formal treatment for their gynecomastia. In puberty, time will get rid of most breast swelling. This can take time, but within two years, over 80% will have spontaneously settled.

Man-boobs are much more common in men who are overweight. There are two reasons for this:

  1. First, fatty tissue builds up on the chest wall, just as it does in other areas of the body. Officially, when the swelling is caused by only fatty tissue, this is called pseudogynecomastia, but it is often difficult to tell the difference.
  2. The second reason is that fatty tissue encourages the body to produce more estrogen.

In men who are overweight or obese, estrogen levels are higher, and breast tissue is more likely to grow. This means, for men with gynecomastia, if they are overweight, the best thing to do is to lose weight.

When diet and weight loss is done with regular exercise, the results can be excellent. Exercises targeted at the chest muscles improve definition and can help to improve appearances.

If diet and weight loss don’ t work, then other gynecomastia treatment options are possible. These range from dietary changes, herbal treatments and creams, to prescribed medication or surgery.

Treatments for gynecomastia are widely advertised on the internet and are sometimes expensive. Although outstanding results are often claimed, the evidence for many treatments can be hard to find. It’s always important before spending a lot of money to think critically about whether the treatment can really produce the results it claims.

Diet for gynecomastia

Rarely, some foods can cause gynecomastia. Phytestrogen is a substance found in food that is very similar to estrogen. It is found in high levels in soy protein, such as soy milk, tofu and flax seeds.

These foods are sometimes used as protein alternatives to meat, so men following a vegetarian or vegan diet can occasionally consume enough phytoestrogen to cause gynecomastia. If so, then reducing soy intake may cause the man boobs to improve.

If a man thinks this may be the cause of his gynecomastia, it can be worth keeping a food diary to look at how much phyestrogen is being consumed. It’s also worth checking the packaging for commonly eaten processed foods, as soy is often used as a ‘bulking’ ingredient.

The other way diet can influence man boobs is through weight regulation. Eating a high calorie diet that results in weight gain or obesity can lead to gynecomastia or pseudogynecomastia. Combatting the problem by a calorie controlled diet – coupled with regular exercise – is often the best way to cure gynecomastia.

Gynecomastia herbal treatments

Several herbal treatments are espoused to help treat gynecomastia. As with many herbal remedies, finding formal medical ‘evidence’ to support their use is difficult.

Plants including the flowering Tribulus terrestris and turmeric are claimed to increase testosterone whilst red clover and omega 3 (found in fish oil) are thought to reduce estrogen levels. All are suggested to help ‘correct’ the hormone balance in men with gynecomastia and help reduce the swelling.

Similarly, passion flower is claimed to stop the body from breaking down testosterone (therefore increasing the amount of the hormone in the body).

Herbal treatments for gynecomastia:

  • Tribulus terrestrial – increases testosterone
  • Turmeric – increases testosterone
  • Red clover – reduces estrogen
  • Omega 3 – reduces estrogen
  • Passion flower – prevents testosterone breakdown

Advice on how to prepare herbal remedies can easily be found on the internet. Many men may be drawn to these treatments, as they are thought to represent natural remedies. However, care should be taken, as sometimes, herbal remedies can interact with other prescribed treatments. Before starting an herbal remedy, it’s often a good idea to check with a doctor to avoid any unwanted interactions or side-effects.

Gynecomastia home treatments

Creams and lotions for gynecomastia treatment are widely advertised and available on the internet. Topical creams often claim impressive results or to be the latest, most sophisticated treatment available.

Gynecomastia creams often target fatty tissue, using a range of herbal ingredients and natural substances claimed to shrink fat cells, tighten skin, or speed up local metabolism.

Men are often recommended to undertake regular exercise in combination with using the cream, and it may be this causing most of the improvement.

Similarly, pills that can be bought over the internet often target fatty tissue, with ingredients such as caffeine to increase metabolism and herbal remedies to target fatty tissue.

Hormone treatments

Given the underlying cause of gynecomastia is usually an imbalance of hormones, it makes sense that medication that alters hormone levels could help treat gynecomastia. Medication to increase testosterone or block the effects of estrogen exist and are used in the treatment of some cancers.

These treatments are rarely used to treat gynecomastia. This is because their effects are not limited to the breast area. This means they can have side-effects that are difficult to cope with (such as nausea, weight loss or gain and skin rashes, or more serious effects on blood pressure). They are rarely prescribed as treatments for gynecomastia.


Surgery may seem like a radical solution to man boobs; however, if diet, exercise, and time have failed, the gynecomastia is still significant, and the man is keen for a cure, then surgery is often the best option.

Surgery should only be undertaken after careful thought and discussion with the surgeon, who will carry out the procedure.

Surgery always carries the risk – however small – of complications or poor outcome. In addition, surgery for gynecomastia is usually not covered by medical insurance plans, so can be a very expensive undertaking.

However, surgery offers immediate results and excellent long-term outcomes.

Three main operations are done for gynecomastia, and each may be the best option for different men. An experienced surgeon can advise on the best operation for each person and give a good idea of the results that should be achieved.

Surgical options for gynecomastia:

  • Liposuction – uses keyhole surgery to remove fatty tissue
  • Mastectomy – removes the true breast tissue
  • ‘Breast lift’ – removes excess saggy skin in men with severe gynecomastia

6 days after gynecomastia syrgery


Liposuction is the procedure where ‘keyhole’ instruments are used to break down and remove fatty tissue from a particular area. This can be helpful in gynecomastia, where a significant proportion of the chest swelling is caused by fatty build-up.

In many men, their man boobs are a combination of true breast tissue and fat. In men who are overweight, the swelling may be almost entirely fatty tissue.

These men will benefit most from liposuction. Some men may achieve good results from liposuction alone; for many, this is done in combination with surgery to remove the breast tissue.


A mastectomy is an operation to remove the breast tissue. It is usually done through a scar around the nipple. A mastectomy should remove all the breast tissue, meaning gynecomastia cannot come back.

The scars usually heal well; however, immediately following the operation, there is a chance of fluid building up under the wound and causing swelling or possibly infection.

Most men who undergo surgery for gynecomastia will have a mastectomy.

Breast lift

In men with severe gynecomastia, a breast lift may be needed to remove excess sagging skin after the breast tissue has been taken away. Although this makes the operation bigger, longer and, inevitably, more expensive, it can offer the best long-term results for men with particularly large gynecomastia.

The scar for this procedure depends on how much tissue must be taken away, but it will be bigger than for a mastectomy alone. Very few men will need this procedure.

Again, the surgeon undertaking the operation can best advise if it is needed. This procedure is best undertaken by a certified plastic surgeon with experience in male gynecomastia surgery.


Gynecomastia is a common complaint. Developing breast swelling can cause a man significant embarrassment and distress. It is common for men to avoid situations where their chest may be seen, often meaning they avoid exercise or change their activities.

This can lead to the situation getting worse, as cutting out exercise can lead to weight gain, which makes the gyno worse. Many men with gynecomastia are keen to search for a cure.

The best treatment is often time, diet, and exercise. Sadly, none of these offer an immediate solution. However, they offer a lasting solution and, for many men, the best possible results. Losing weight and improving muscle definition in the chest area is the simplest and cheapest way to improve chest appearances and get rid of man boobs.

If this fails, or if men want a quicker result, there are other options available. The first thing many men may be tempted to try are home remedies. Herbal remedies, natural products, or creams and pills bought from the internet are widely available and advertised to produce dramatic results for men with gynecomastia.

However, they can be very expensive, and it is often difficult to find the evidence for their effectiveness. Prescribed medications are rarely recommended for gynecomastia; however, it’s worth talking to a doctor, as other medications may lead to gynecomastia as a side-effect.

For many men intent on treatment, surgery is the best option. This is a significant undertaking and is expensive. However, it offers an immediate and long-lasting cure for gynecomastia, and most men who undergo surgery are very pleased with the result.

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1 Comment

  1. Jason
    May 23, 2018

    I’m pretty fit I have gynecomastia on only one side is surgery my best bet

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