By Chris D. Meletis, N.D.
Breast pain—mastalgia as doctors call it—is the most common breast-related complaint among women.1 One common type of breast pain is the cyclic type—in other words your breasts hurt every month, usually one to two weeks before your period. Although in many cases this pain is moderate, you might be one of 30% of women whose breast pain is more severe.2 In these cases, it puts a damper on your quality of life and can lead to depression and anxiety.
So what causes monthly breast pain? The fact it usually appears the last two weeks of a menstrual cycle indicates that imbalanced hormones are the culprit. In particular, estrogen dominance—the presence of excess estrogen and low progesterone levels—is likely to blame.3
In fact, breast tissue is hormonal tissue. Problems in this part of your body are a red flag that you may need to work on your hormonal health by supplementing with natural progesterone and monitoring levels of other hormones. Fibrocystic breast changes, the presence of lumps in the breast, can also cause monthly pain.
The good news? The pain might be your body’s way of telling you that it needs certain nutrients. Replenishing those nutrients as well as other botanicals and fatty acids can help soothe your monthly discomfort.
Are You Getting Enough of This Important Breast-Health Nutrient?
Most people think of the thyroid gland when they hear about iodine. However, iodine is extremely important to breast health, too. Iodine deficiency leads to undesirable changes in the breast such as fibrosis (the thickening and scarring of tissue).4 What’s more, supplementation with molecular iodine has improved fibrocystic breasts.5
Researchers also conducted a randomized, placebo-controlled, double blind study of 111 women who had moderate or severe breast pain for at least 6 days of their menstrual cycle and who had fibrosis in their breasts.6 In this study, the women taking 3 or 6 mg/day of iodine experienced significant declines in pain by the third month of the trial. In fact, the pain significantly decreased in more than half of the women taking the 6 mg/day dose.
What Else Does Your Body Need?
A randomized, controlled double-blind trial in women with monthly breast pain linked to fibrocystic breasts found that 1 gram/day of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), 750 μg/day iodine, and 70 μg/day selenium allowed the women to reduce their pain medication.7 This effect was not seen in the study subjects taking the control formula. The women given the dietary supplements also had less nodules in their breasts. Evening primrose oil, vitamin E, and flaxseed are other nutrients your breasts may need.8
One botanical that soothes monthly breast discomfort is chamomile. After conducting a double-blind, randomized, controlled clinical trial in 60 women with monthly breast pain, the researchers concluded that chamomile was well-tolerated, safe, and effective.2
If you have monthly breast pain, consider getting more exercise, since studies have shown this helps reduce the pain.1 Or, if you’re under stress, practice relaxation techniques.9 It’s also possible you’re drinking too much caffeine9 or eating too much chocolate, practices which may make the pain worse.10
Another Type of Breast Pain
In addition to monthly breast pain, there’s another type that occurs in one in five women who are breastfeeding.11 This type of pain is linked to mastitis, inflammation of the breast tissue. Sometimes, women who have mastitis also have an infection. You should see your doctor if you have this problem. But you can also use probiotics such as Lactobacillus.11 Ideally, it’s best to be proactive and use these probiotics while you’re pregnant to ward off possible future problems.12 But starting probiotic supplements when you’re already breastfeeding is helpful, too.13
You Haven’t Got Time for the Pain
Let’s face it. Modern women are busy. You’re probably working, taking care of kids, and trying to take care of yourself, too. If you’re experiencing monthly breast pain that interferes with any of your daily activities, try the suggestions in this article to find some relief.
About Dr. Meletis
Dr. Meletis is an internationally recognized naturopathic physician, an accomplished author, and respected educator in the field of natural medicine. Dr. Meletis was honored as a ‘Naturopathic Physician of the Year’ by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians for his commitment to education and helping those in need. His mission is simply, “changing the world’s health, one person at a time”.
He has authored 14 books on subjects ranging from natural medicine interactions to fertility enhancement and has published over 80 articles in publications such as Natural Health and Natural Pharmacy. Dr. Meletis has served as the Dean of Naturopathic Medicine and Chief Medical Officer for the National College of Naturopathic Medicine (NCNM) for seven years and later as the school’s Senior Science Officer. He sits on several medical advisory boards and has worked with Oregon Health and Science University on a grant from the National Institute of Health to further educate MD graduates on natural medicine.
2. Saghafi N, Rhkhshandeh H, Pourmoghadam N, et al. Effectiveness of Matricaria chamomilla (chamomile) extract on pain control of cyclic mastalgia: a double-blind randomised controlled trial. J Obstet Gynaecol. 2018 Jan;38(1):81-4.
3. Peters F. Multicentre study of gestrinone in cyclical breast pain. Lancet. 1992 Jan 25;339(8787):205-8.
4. Shrivastava A, Tiwari M, Sinha RA, et al. Molecular iodine induces caspase-independent apoptosis in human breast carcinoma cells involving the mitochondria-mediated pathway. J Biol Chem. 2006 Jul 14;281(28):19762-71.
5. Ghent WR, Eskin BA, Low DA, et al. Iodine replacement in fibrocystic disease of the breast. Can J Surg. 1993 Oct;36(5):453-60.
6. Kessler JH. The effect of supraphysiologic levels of iodine on patients with cyclic mastalgia. Breast J. 2004 Jul-Aug;10(4):328-36.
7. Mansel RE, Das T, Baggs GE, et al. A Randomized Controlled Multicenter Trial of an Investigational Liquid Nutritional Formula in Women with Cyclic Breast Pain Associated with Fibrocystic Breast Changes. J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2018 Mar;27(3):333-40.
8. Jaafarnejad F, Adibmoghaddam E, Emami SA, et al. Compare the effect of flaxseed, evening primrose oil and Vitamin E on duration of periodic breast pain. J Educ Health Promot. 2017 Oct 4;6:85.
9. Eren T, Aslan A, Ozemir IA, et al. Factors Effecting Mastalgia. Breast Care (Basel). 2016 Jun;11(3):188-93.
10. University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. https://uihc.org/health-topics/fibrocystic-breast-disease-faq Accessed September 10, 2018.
11. Bond DM, Morris JM, Nassar N. Study protocol: evaluation of the probiotic Lactobacillus Fermentum CECT5716 for the prevention of mastitis in breastfeeding women: a randomised controlled trial. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2017 May 19;17(1):148.
12. Fernández L, Cárdenas N, Arroyo R, et al. Prevention of Infectious Mastitis by Oral Administration of Lactobacillus salivarius PS2 During Late Pregnancy. Clin Infect Dis. 2016 Mar 1;62(5):568-73.
13. Maldonado-Lobón JA, Díaz-López MA, Carputo R, et al. Lactobacillus fermentum CECT 5716 Reduces Staphylococcus Load in the Breastmilk of Lactating Mothers Suffering Breast Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Breastfeed Med. 2015 Nov;10(9):425-32.