And so here I am, and all my life I've been bound up in this incredibly uncomfortable contraption with an actual metal wire in it. I mean who the heck thought this was a good idea? Sure, let's pinch off the circulation in my chest under my heart and near my lymph nodes with a wire and wear this thing up against one of the softest parts of my anatomy as often as possible to make sure that when I'm 90 years old I won't have saggy boobs (sigh).
So, was that really the motivation....? Like I'm going to really care when I'm 90....
What if bras aren't good for you?
This all started because I ran across a book called Dressed to Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras by Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer. In this book I read about this idea that bras really aren't that great for women. They may restrict lymph flow and the book suggests a link between wearing bras and breast cancer due to this restriction, which causes an accumulation of toxins in the breasts in conjunction with other factors.
To be honest, though, I didn't find any other independent research in support of this theory (although, be advised, I wasn't searching medical journals). In fact, if you google "breast cancer and bras" you get an article by Cheeseslave which actually discusses this same book (article was posted about a year ago). In addition, Cheeseslave's article includes a video interview with Dr. Cheri-Lynn Burk CCT of the Las Vegas Thermography Clinic, who states very emphatically in this interview to ditch the bra because it restricts the lymph. This is an interesting and fairly short interview that would definitely be worth watching.
The google search will also return a few other links refuting the idea of a connection between bras and cancer or referencing it as a myth.
So what did I think of this book?
In my opinion, the theory discussed and conclusions and arguments presented were thought-provoking and even persuasive--so much so, in fact, that I got through the first half of the book fairly quickly (it was hard to put down for the most part) and while I am not 100% convinced of this direct correlation between bras and breast cancer, I did find the argument extremely compelling and the information presented in the book to be worth reading and relevant to anyone with an interest in this topic or cancer in general.
The second half of the book was a lot tougher for me to get through. It discussed the findings in detail, sample questions, and included a discussion of cultural factors.
Overall, I believe the book is a good read for any woman and at 171 pages, a fairly short read at that. The following points were especially interesting, in my opinion:
- The cause of breast cancer is complex and involves biological, environmental, and cultural factors in conjunction; however, the standard cancer research and doctor is specialty-based, which does not allow for a synergistic examination of causes.
- A signficant amount of cancer research is being performed on animals with the purpose of concluding opinions about people, when the species of organism you are studying should be the same as the one you want to learn about since cancer affects various species differently. In other words, there is an unknown relevance to humans of non-human studies.
- "Human breasts have developed over hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years without constraint. It has been biologically impossible to adapt to bras in the short time since their invention."
- The death rate from breast cancer has not changed significantly since the 1930s; however, the incidence rate has increased.
- The authors discussed numerous risk factors and were able to draw a connection to all (in one way or another) to a blocked or diminished lymphatic system. Furthermore, all known risk factors account for only 30% of breast cancer cases, which leaves 70% completely unexplained.
- The authors included a thorough, but straightforward, explanation of the lymphatic system and indicated that cancerous cells appear in our bodies all the time, but are destroyed before they get out of control when we have a normal functioning immune system.They suggest that a chronic mild impairment of lymphatic function may occur with the use of bras. This may cause a reduction of cellular function and accumulation of toxins and degeneration.
- The authors offer some convincing arguments for the constrictive clothing theory including a 1990 Japanese Study whereby the breasts were made to swell under severe brassiere constraint (that sounds horrific!!) and another 1991 USA Today article entitled "Dress for Health, Not Style" basically citing various medical reasons why tight clothing in general, although not specifically bras, should be shunned.
- The authors state that lymph (fluid in our lymphatic system) is moved around in our bodies as we breathe, and as our muscles contract, and by our pulse. This illustrates how sensitive the lymphatic system is to touch and pressure, which seems to support the "constrictive clothing" theory.
The second part of the book presents a summary of the authors' actual experiment and results including questions, answers, and their analyses, in summary. While reading this part of the book, I had the underlying question, "is this correlation reasonable"? That is, does this experiment truly support a direct causal relationship between bras and breast cancer, or are other factors at play here? Honestly, I was not convinced that bras had been definitively isolated as a "cause", but it doesn't seem like the authors are trying to say it is the only cause, but rather, that it is a cause in conjunction with other factors. And, I am open to that line of thought after reading the book. You will have to read the book and decide for yourself if this case has been made.
Whether or not you believe there is a connection between wearing a bra and breast cancer, I think the suggestions below, discussed in the second half of the book, are all worthwhile.
- Reduce toxin exposure - choose quality foods (i.e., drink filtered water and eat organically grown fruits and vegetables); choose clothing made of natural fibers; be aware of the fact that our skin absorbs many chemicals through contact with our clothes (many laundry detergents contain perfumes and dyes and new clothing is often treated with chemicals).
- If you must wear a bra - reduce the amount of time the bra is worn each day (less than 12 hours is preferred); do not wear a bra to sleep; avoid bras with underwires or other uncomfortable construction features, push-up bras, and/ or sports bras, which can constrict the breasts.
- Assist your lymphatics - massage, exercise, deep breathing (and singing), quality food choices, and a positive attitude can all assist your lymphatic system to operate most efficiently.
One of the reasons I really liked this book is that it seemed to wholeheartedly support a "traditional" lifestyle and it stressed how important it was to limit our exposure to toxins. It also stated in a few places how important the breath was to eliminate toxins in the body by stimulating the lymph system.
So what's the take-away?
The whole crux of their argument is really this--- "Tight clothing may simply serve as a handicap to our immune system because of its effect on the lymphatic system. In combination with other noxious stimuli and events, such as toxins, stress, poor diet, and so forth, the constriction of our bodies by clothing can set up a protracted process of degeneration, possibly leading to cancer."
So overall I don't really have any definitive answers to the questions posed above regarding a definitive link between bras and cancer or even whether bras obstruct lymph flow. But there is some circumstantial evidence out there that is quite compelling and I encourage you to research the issue and come to a conclusion for yourself. In the meantime, why not try a little more relaxed style, even just once or twice....?
And, ladies, if there's even the smallest chance that there is a connection between breast cancer and bras, then why are we wearing them???
Do you think you'll read the book? Does it seem within the realm of possibility that there could be a link between bras and breast cancer? Do you wear a bra? I'd love to hear from you--please leave a comment!
Watch for Part 2 of this post (click here for part 2), which includes my Top Ten List for Ditching Your Bra and Top Ten List for at least Ditching Your Underwire Bra! In addition, Part 2 includes summaries and select reviews on various wire-less bras available today.
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