It is extremely common for a woman who feels a lump in her breast to suspect the worst — only to find out from her doctor (with much relief) that it is a noncancerous lump, or cyst, caused by fibrocystic breast disease. Since it involves lumpy, dense breast tissue, fibrocystic breast disease can make breast exams difficult to perform, although it does not put women at greater risk for breast cancer.

Fortunately, diet and a variety of natural remedies can help reduce the symptoms of fibrocystic breast disease and minimize the development of lumpy, dense breast tissue. Here’s what you need to know…


Fibrocystic breast disease is a condition in which breast tissue becomes inflamed. Lumpy breasts also can be caused by infection, injury or benign masses such as fibroids.

It’s estimated that about half of all women will experience symptoms of fibrocystic breast disease in their lifetimes. It usually affects women between the ages of 30 and 50, but it can occur at any age. Symptoms vary — some women experience breast tenderness and pain two weeks before menstruation, while others experience symptoms unrelated to their cycles.

Factors contributing to fibrocystic breast disease include…

Hormonal imbalance, particularly estrogen dominance (when estrogen is high relative to progesterone), is one of the main causes of the condition. Hormonal imbalance also can be caused by low thyroid hormone or low progesterone production.

Poor diet, particularly one deficient in fruits and vegetables and high in caffeine, can cause fibrocystic breasts.

Nutritional deficiencies, including lack of iodine, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E, also can play a role in abnormal breast tissue.


Fibrous tissues can be reduced with dietary changes. Here are the foods I do and don’t recommend…

Do eat: Plant foods, including legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seaweed, which are high in fiber and antioxidants that reduce the effects of excess estrogen. (Extra estrogen causes an inflammatory response in the body.) To maximize intake of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, eat cold-water fish, such as salmon or sardines, at least twice weekly. Consider consuming two or more servings weekly of fermented soy foods (tempeh, natto or miso), which have a hormone-balancing effect.

Do not eat: Caffeinated products, including coffee, tea, soda and chocolate. Some studies have shown that a caffeine-free diet can reduce abnormal breast tissue. Also minimize your sugar intake, since sugar promotes inflammation.


For women with fibrocystic breast disease, I often recommend trying the following natural treatments, either separately or all together. Except as noted, there are no side effects, and you can take these supplements for two months to give your hormones time to become balanced. If your symptoms improve, you can stop taking them. If symptoms return, take the supplements again.

Vitex agnus-castus (chasteberry). If I were to prescribe only one herb to balance hormones and enhance women’s health, this would be it. Vitex acts on the brain to stimulate the ovaries to ovulate, producing more progesterone and lessening estrogen dominance. In a German study of women with premenstrual breast pain, vitex significantly reduced breast pain within two menstrual cycles. Vitex is helpful for women of all ages, but do not use it if you are pregnant or taking birth control pills. Dose: 160 milligrams (mg) to 240 mg daily of a standardized extract. You can try it for three months. If it helps, keep taking it. If you experience digestive upset, nausea or headaches, stop taking vitex.

Vitamin E. This vitamin reduces breast tenderness because of its ability to break down and weaken estrogen molecules. Dose: Take 800 international units (IU) to 1,200 IU daily of d-alpha tocopherol for two months to see if tenderness diminishes. If it does, you can continue to take vitamin E at this dose indefinitely. Since vitamin E has a blood-thinning effect, check with a doctor if you take blood-thinning medication.

Gamma linolenic acid (GLA). This fatty acid, known for its anti-inflammatory properties, helps to produce progesterone. It can be taken on its own or as an ingredient in evening primrose oil or black currant oil. Dose: 200 mg to 400 mg daily of GLA.

Iodine. A Canadian study found that iodine supplementation reduced symptoms of fibrocystic breasts in about 70% of participants. It helps normalize thyroid function, which affects hormone balance. Dose: 300 micrograms daily. Consult with your doctor if you take medication for a thyroid condition.

Indole-3-carbinole (I3C) and Diindolylmethane (DIM). These substances are from cruciferous vegetables that support detoxification of excess estrogen in the body. Look for products that contain both ingredients. Brand to try: CDG EstroDim by Orthomolecular Products (800-332-2351,

Natural progesterone cream. When symptoms of fibrocystic breast disease persist despite trying the remedies above, I usually recommend natural progesterone cream, which helps reduce estrogen dominance. Although it is available in health-food stores, I prefer that patients get it by prescription from a holistic doctor to ensure that they get the right dose. Have a doctor monitor your hormone levels during treatment.

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