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Old 03-06-2002, 07:18 PM   #3
Suzanne 3FC
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Miracle herbs for your bustline?

Byline: Tyler, Varro E Volume: 53 Number: 7 ISSN: 00328006 Publication Date: 07-01-2001 Page: 119 Type: Periodical Language: English

Dr. Tyler reveals the truth behind the promises

What goes around comes around! Nearly a century ago, magazine ads featured Dr. Charles's Flesh Food for "building firm, healthy flesh" and "developing the bust" and Sargol for making "puny, peevish people plump and popular." At the time, medical authorities noted that the so-called "flesh food" was nothing more than a useless blend of Vaseline, starch, and zinc oxide.

Today, as then, cleavage-heavy ads in women's magazines feature products that promise "natural breast enhancement" from herbs that "stimulate your breast glands." What do we actually know about these products, and what evidence do we have that they work?

Here's my answer: precious little, at least in a positive sense.

There's Just No Proof

Probably the oldest American herb touted for breast enhancement is saw palmetto, the fruit of the small palm Serenoa repens. Late in the 19th century, it gained a folkloric reputation for slowly but surely causing breast enlargement with long-term use. Even then, it seemed odd to medical authorities that this herb was supposed to enlarge the breasts but shrink the prostate.

Studies tell us that saw palmetto is a useful treatment for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), but as far as I can determine, no clinical evidence supports the claim for breast enlargement. In his book The Green Pharmacy (Rodale Press, Inc., 1997), my friend and colleague Jim Duke notes anecdotal information to support fenugreek seeds and sprouts (Trigonella foenum-graecum) as breast enlargers. He points out that fenugreek contains diosgenin, a precursor of semisynthetic estrogen, and that the herb was a key ingredient in Lydia Pinkham' s Vegetable Compound, an age-- old tonic for various "female complaints."

While it's true that the steroid diosgenin serves as a precursor of estrogen in the lab, there's absolutely no evidence that it is converted into any active hormone, whether you take it orally or apply it to the skin. The use of diosgenin in products intended to cause hormonal effects is based on a misunderstanding of this important distinction.

And though Lydia Pinkham's famous compound was recommended for a slew of ailments, breast enlargement wasn't one of them. As far as I can tell, its reputation for bust building came from the song "The Ballad of Lydia Pinkham," sometimes sung by ribald college students. According to the ditty, after a swig of the compound, Mary Bender "was able to fill her blouse."

Here's the final nail in the coffin of the notion that fenugreek is a breast enlarger: The seed is a favorite spice in south India and Sri Lanka, where it is used in abundance. I'm sure that women there probably consume far more on a daily basis than the 300 or so mg obtained from the standard 3 tablespoons-a-day dosage of the Pinkham remedy. Yet, as a group, women from that part of the world aren't noted for their big bustlines.

Other herbs sold for breast enhancement include damiana (Turnera diffusa var. aphrodisiacs), dong quai (Angelica polymorpha var. sinensis), blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus), kava (Piper methysticum), dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale), oat bran (Avena sativa),

wild Mexican yam (Dioscorea species), motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), and cumin (Cuminum cyminum), just to name a few. I have two words for all these herbs: Forget it. There' s just no clinical proof, so I don't recommend their use as "bosom buddies."

Where Danger Lies

Ads for some enlargement products claim that they're "clinically proven, " but you never see references to studies in reputable peer-reviewed journals. Likewise, the terms "doctor approved" and "safe and effective" are commonly used, but details are never provided.

I'm concerned that precious little attention is paid to the safety of these products. Let's face it: They claim to enhance the growth of breast tissue.

If this is true, and I hasten to emphasize that this is completely unproven, how do we know that it applies only to healthy breast tissue and doesn't increase the number or size of malignant cells? No data supporting the safety of such products currently exists.

You don't need a PhD to know that genetics plays a major role in the development of our physical attributes. Although surgically inserted implants will certainly boost the bustline, swallowing herbal pills or rubbing on creams will leave you flat (chested).


Author Affiliation

Varro E. Tyler, PhD, SCD, is America's foremost expert on herbs and plant-derived medicine. He is dean emeritus of the Purdue University School of Pharmacy and Pharmacal Sciences in West Lafayette, IN, and distinguished professor emeritus of pharmacognosy. He is also the author of more than 350 scientific articles and 30 books, including a new edition of Tyler's Honest Herbal, written with herbalist Steven Foster (Haworth Herbal Press, 1999).

Tyler, Varro E, Miracle herbs for your bustline?. , Prevention, 07-01-2001, pp 119.
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