There is bad news for all those men out there who think their capacity to guzzle down alcohol is a manly trait. Excess alcohol consumption is one of the most common causes of hormonal imbalances that lead to male breast enlargement. The liver damage caused due to excess alcohol consumption also leads to hormonal imbalances in the body as it adversely affects the liver’s ability to regulate the sex hormones, mainly estrogen and testosterone. It leads to a condition where the level of estrogen or the female hormones become more than androgynous hormones, mainly testosterone leading to male breast enlargement or gynecomastia.
Dr Neeraj Nagaich, senior consultant, Gastroenterology at Fortis Escorts Hospital Jaipur explains that this causes permanent damage to the liver and decreases the metabolic function of the liver. Decreased liver metabolism leads to an increase in the estrogen levels in the blood, which leads to gynecomastia.
How excess alcohol consumption causes gynecomastia
Apart from flushing out toxins from your body, the liver is also an endocrine organ which controls hormone levels, especially that of the sex hormones. Liver damage caused due to excess alcohol intake directly affects liver ability to regulate the estrogen level in the body.
“Excess intake of alcohol can have bad effects which could manifest in number of ways ranging from steatosis (fatty infiltration of liver), steatohepatitis (inflammation) to cirrhosis (late stage of liver fibrosis) which can present with gastrointestinal bleeding, ascites, and jaundice,” says Dr. Adarsh K S, consultant – Diabetes & Endocrinology, Manipal Hospital, Old Airport Road, Bengaluru.
Experts state that alcohol like beer and wine contains phytoestrogens or estrogen mimicking substances that increase the estrogen levels in the body. This when combined with liver damage could disrupt the liver’s tight control over the estrogen levels and lead to multiple hormonal conditions including irregular menstrual cycles and gynecomastia.
Liver damage and testosterone levels
Men with liver damage resulting from excessive alcohol consumption (i.e., alcoholic cirrhosis) often suffer from testicular failure and show signs and symptoms of feminization, such as enlarged breasts and a redistribution of body fat into a pattern that mimics that of women.
Breasts occur naturally in women due to higher estrogen levels. Whereas men have hormones like testosterone that prevent the growth of breasts. “But excess alcohol consumption alters hormonal metabolism, it may hamper the synthesis of testosterone, the male hormone, and increase estrogen levels,” says Dr. Sanjeev Rohtagi, consultant, Surgical Gastroenterology HPB & Liver Transplant Surgery, Manipal Hospital Whitefield. He adds that this causes imbalances between the male and female hormones.
Dr Nagaich adds that any chronic liver disease including alcohol related liver disease can cause gynecomastia. But the tendency of gynecomastia is much higher in alcohol related chronic liver disease. He adds that alcohol also causes fat accumulation in the body, particularly fat deposition in the chest which also causes breast enlargement in men.
Does losing weight reduce gynecomastia?
Dr Rohtagi explains that gynecomastia is the increase in glandular tissues in male and is not just excess fat. So, losing weight will not help with reducing gynecomastia. Reducing weight may help reduce fat but not the glandular tissue and the person may have to undergo surgery.
“Decreasing alcohol consumption will cause some reversal in liver damage,” says Dr Nagaich. He adds that this also reduces calorie intake so overall weight is also managed better. If the triggers leading to gynecomastia are eliminated, gynecomastia also improves.
Precautions to take
Experts state that it is important to avoid excessive alcohol consumption and maintain a healthy body weight and Body Mass Index (BMI). Dr Rohtagi adds that usage of steroids can also increase the risk of developing male breasts.
A healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, a healthy sleep schedule, and a good diet consisting of less carbohydrate intake, less oil, less sugar, avoiding alcohol is important. Dr Nagaich adds that this leads to favorable metabolism and healthy body weight which keeps the liver healthy as well.
Alcohol induced liver damage is one of the main reasons for gynecomastia or male breast enlargement. The liver has a major role to play in the regulation of estrogen and testosterone levels to ensure sex hormonal balance in the body. Experts point out that avoiding alcohol consumption or ensuring its moderate consumption are the best ways to keep your liver healthy.