Why Being in Great Shape Doesn’t Prevent Gynecomastia
April 16, 2021
You might be surprised to read that anywhere between 40-60% of men develop some form of gynecomastia, otherwise known as enlarged male breasts, or more commonly called “man boobs.” So although not a favourite condition amongst most men, it is not uncommon.
Gynecomastia can be caused by a number of different factors, and in some cases the condition is ideopathic, meaning we don’t know the underlying reason it appears. In cases where we do know the cause, hormonal imbalances, particularly when men overproduce estrogen, can cause them to produce an excess amount of breast tissue.
It very commonly occurs during puberty (in about 30% of adolescent men) when men experience increased hormonal changes. When gynecomastia occurs during puberty it does in many cases go away once the hormones have stabilized, but in some cases it remains. Gynecomastia can reappear again in men aged 50 and up for these reasons, when men are impacted by hormonal changes once again.
But here’s the thing with gynecomastia: it really doesn’t discriminate. Although it most commonly occurs in the age groups we just mentioned, it can really happen at any age to any man. You can be young or old, tall or short, thin or not. You can even be in the greatest shape of your life, a body builder even, and still have gynecomastia.
Gynecomastia and Exercise: Some Misconceptions
There are a few misconceptions about gynecomastia and exercise that we first want to debunk.
The first being: can you get gynecomastia if you’re in great shape? Absolutely. At The Plastic Surgery Clinic we’ve treated many men in fantastic shape who suffer from gynecomastia—even body builders.
This fact though leads to another misconception, that exercise or bodybuilding can actually cause gynecomastia. To that, our answer is no. Because gynecomastia can often look like developed or built chest muscles, there’s a misunderstanding that it’s actually too much exercise or muscle building that can cause male breasts.
The thing with gynecomastia is that when men have overdeveloped breasts, this is not caused by an increase in muscle mass, but rather in an excess of glandular tissue or fatty tissue, or a combination of both. So it’s definitely not the working out that causes gynecomastia. That said, if you are a body builder it is true that certain drugs, like steroids, could cause gynecomastia, so you want to stay away from those and naturally build up that muscle, but exercise in itself won’t cause gynecomastia.
On the flip side, there’s also the misconception that you can get rid of gynecomastia or man boobs by exercising. Unfortunately, no. Again you can be super fit, and exercise a ton, but once diagnosed with gynecomastia, no matter how hard you exercise, it won’t get rid of your male breasts.
Why? Because again, in this case it’s not excess weight you are trying to get rid of. If it’s excess weight you carry in your chest area, then certainly you’d most likely be able to get rid of the bulk of that with exercise. But because it’s excess breast tissue we’re dealing with, the only way to address gynecomastia is by surgically removing the excess glandular and/or fatty tissue.
And beyond that, we’ve even met some patients who have turned to exercise in the hopes of treating their gynecomastia, only to discover the increased muscle mass they build in the chest further emphasizes their overdeveloped breast tissue. This experience can be a huge disappointment, where you invest time, energy and effort into looking your best only to discover a lot farther down the road you’ve achieved the opposite result of your goal.
Gynecomastia Surgery, or Male Breast Reduction Procedures
No matter how fit you are, gynecomastia can induce a lot of anxiety for a lot of men, from making you feel super self-conscious, to limiting the kinds of clothes you might want to wear, and having an effect on your personal relationships. The great news is that although gynecomastia can only really be addressed with surgery, as far as surgeries go, it’s a simple procedure, and in the right surgical hands will leave you with imperceptible scarring.
At The Plastic Surgery Clinic in particular, our surgeons developed a special technique where instead of making the incision around the nipple in order to remove the excess glandular or fatty tissue, they actually only make a tiny ¼ inch incision on the outside of the chest, making it so that you really have pretty much no scarring following the procedure. It basically looks like you’ve had a mole removed.
As for the procedure itself, depending on whether you need gland or fat removed, the gland is typically cut away with a scalpel, whereas the fat is removed via liposuction, so you may have a combination of these two techniques. In more severe gynecomastia cases, where the removal of gland and fat might leave you with some excess skin, we may recommend contouring the area by removing the excess skin as well.
The operation takes about an hour, and you’ll need to take one week off of work. And definitely no strenuous exercise or body building for at least six weeks!
There is something to keep in mind if you think you might have gynecomastia. This is true for any surgery, but for gynecomastia in particular, the only way to diagnose whether you actually have gynecomastia is with an in person consultation with a board certified doctor or plastic surgeon. This is because it’s only with an in-person exam that a surgeon can properly evaluate you and discuss your history personally to give you the most accurate information.
So if you think you have gynecomastia or if there’s something that’s bothering you about your chest, come talk to us. Like we said, it can happen to anyone, even if you’re in the best shape of your life.