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Effectiveness of Herbal Supplements on Male Breast Enlargement



I am taking saw palmetto, red clover, fenugreek and licorice to go from male breasts to female breasts. Will this work and how long will it take?


Dear reader,
Your question about the use of herbal supplements for breast development is a very good one.  In short, no evidence-based data exists to show that taking herbal supplements will stimulate breast development and taking herbal supplements to do so may not be successful and potentially cause drug interactions or unwanted side effects.
A 2003 article reviewed that breast or "bust-enhancing" products are widely advertised.  So far no clinical trials have been published that an speak to the efficacy or effectiveness of any of the claims made that herbal products can or will enhance breast development.  These products can contain a variety of ingredients, including grains, hops, saw palmetto, dong quai, chaste-tree berry, wild yam, kava, fennel, black cohash, and fenugreek. (1)
Some of these herbal preparations have chemical compositions similar to estrogen or progesterone and are biologically and hormonally active substances.  However, no data has been published to substantiate claims of breast development using herbal products.
Taking herbal supplements should be done with care as some supplements can interact with medications causing undesired side effects.  For example, multiple herbal products -- coenzyme Q10, danshen, devil's claw, dong quai, ginseng, green tea, papain, and vitamin E -- interact with warfarin, a blood thinning medication used for treatment of blood clotting disorders. (2)
The internet is a great source of information for general health, and often is a safe, anonymous means for patients to obtain information about a variety of health topics.  However, the information provided should be reviewed with a critical eye.  In a study by Gordon et al, the researchers found that although there were many health sites on the internet that are endorsed as authoritative by lay publications as resources for information about breast augmentation, most sites did not provide information on product safety or surgical complications for breast augmentation procedures. (3) 
Transgender patients may choose "natural" phytoestrogens (plant based estrogens) for hormonal transitioning, but the risk/benefit ratio is uncertain.  Additionally, herbal hormone regimens when used in concert with traditional pharmaceutical programs will likely obstruct, instead of heighten feminization.  These weak estrogen-like molecules do not augment, but compete with the pharmaceutical regimen (author's emphasis, 4)
Use of herbal supplements should be discussed with your doctor.  Medical hormonal therapies such as estradiol and sprinolactone can be safely administered by a qualified, trained physician with experience in caring for Transgender patients diagnosed with Gender Identity Dysphoria.  The Gay Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) has an online Provider Directory which may help you find a health care provider who can help you with your transitioning needs.  You can search for primary care providers, specialists, therapists, dentists, and other health professionals in your area.  The service is free and you do not need to register.  
1. Fugh-Berman A.  "Bust-enhancing" herbal products.  Obstet Gynecol. 2003 Jun; 101(6):1356-9
2.  Heck AM, DeWitt BA, Lukes AL.  Potential interactions between alternative therapies and warfarin. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2000 Jul 1;57(13):1221-7
3.  Gordon JB, Barot LF, Fahey AL, Matthew MS.  The Internet as a Source of Information on Breast Augmentation.  Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. Volume 107(1), January 2001.  171-6.
4.  Transgender care website: Herbal hormones

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Senior Instructor of Medicine
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University