The British are noticing that their women are getting bigger busted with time, shifting from a B to C or D cup since the 1950s. The same is happening in America, at least to my uncalibrated eyes. But why should people change change shape so dramatically over a couple of generations. Evolution doesn't work that fast. Could it just be that people are fatter (sadly true) and that's showing up in the breasts as well?
|Terri Smith, 21, L-cup|
Fat is the first answer most experts will give. Professor Michael Baum, an expert in breast cancer, says: ‘Fat is laid down on breasts as much as thighs or bottoms. We are experiencing an obesity epidemic, so the increase in women’s measurements isn’t that surprising.’So, just plain fat is likely part of the story, but not all of it.
But this is only part of the story. After all, women such as Terri do not appear to be carrying much excess fat elsewhere on their bodies. As Terri says: ‘The rest of my body is quite slim. Yet throughout my teens my boobs went up a couple of cup sizes every year.’
Anna Prince, from Bravissimo, agrees: ‘There is a total misconception that it’s unusual to be big-boobed and small-bodied. We’ve been contacted by more than two million women since we started in 1995, the vast majority of whom are small in the body and big in the bust.’
Dr Marilyn Glenville, a nutritionist specialising in women’s health and hormones, says: ‘It’s clear that we’re not just talking about fat, but increased levels of breast tissue, too.So even though they're growing, women still want them bigger? Good, I encourage that...
‘So we have to look at what stimulates breast tissue growth — and that’s oestrogen, the female sex hormone. Oestrogen is what changes our body shape during puberty.’
The link between increased oestrogen levels and bigger breasts is so clear that there are even ‘breast-enhancing’ supplements on the market — such as Perfect C Breast Enhancer capsules — containing ingredients such as fennel seed and fenugreek, which are said to have oestrogenic properties.
‘Girls today reach puberty earlier than ever before, and are going on to have fewer children and breastfeeding for less time. As a result, we have far more periods than our ancestors would have had and we are exposed to more monthly surges of oestrogen, which stimulates ovulation.’
In addition, today’s young women were born to the first generation of women on the contraceptive Pill. Early versions of the Pill contained far higher dosages of synthetic oestrogen than they do today, and little is known about the long-term impact of this increased hormone exposure on future generations.
Dr Glenville says: ‘Pregnancy and breastfeeding have a protective effect against breast cancer because they control the hormones which stimulate the growth of new cells in breasts. But with more women today putting off pregnancy until later in life and having fewer children, they experience many more monthly cycles than previous generations did, and are exposed to more oestrogen.’So lifestyle changes likely contributed to the trend. That's not surprising. But wait, there's more?
In 2002, research published by the Environment Agency showed that an ‘exquisitely potent’ form of oestrogen — which is believed to have entered the rivers through the urine of Pill and HRT-users — was responsible for changing the sex of half of all the male fish in British lowland rivers, and could be contaminating the water supply.It's the water...
Now, it has been suggested that the influence of these xenoestrogens (literally ‘foreign oestrogens’) could be responsible for the rapid decline in male sperm count and fertility.So, that's not good, right, although we don't seem to be running out of people yet.
... says Dr Glenville. ‘There are many questions still to be answered, but if xenoestrogens are potentially responsible for declining male fertility, they are potentially affecting women, too — and the proof could be in our bras.’Now, there's an upside to it, maybe?
So how do we avoid these surplus hormones? The answer is, we can’t. And it may come as a surprise to know that they are found in everyday items.
‘Pesticides, plastics and cosmetics are my main concerns,’ warns Dr Glenville.
For instance, a xenoestrogen called Bisphenol A (or BPA) is widely used in the manufacture of tinned food, drinks cans, plastic bottles, glass jars, electronic equipment and till receipts — to name but a few items.
The introduction of intensive dairy farming methods to maximise production means that about two-thirds of the milk we consume comes from pregnant cows. To ensure that a dairy cow has a steady supply of milk, she is almost constantly pregnant.
But taking milk from a pregnant cow, especially during the last few weeks of her pregnancy, raises questions about the high levels of oestrogen and other hormones in milk — and how they might affect those who consume milk every day.