Strategies to Heal Common Breast Symptoms

9 Ways to Resolve Breast Pain

by Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Breast Health

Many women experience breast pain. In fact, breast pain (also known as mastalgia or mastodynia) is the number 1 reason women visit clinics specializing in breast care. The burning question that most women with breast pain want answered right away is this: “Is my pain a sign of cancer?” The answer to this is almost always “no.” But, if you have significant breast pain and you are concerned, you should see your health care provider.

Remember to find a healthcare practitioner with whom you do not feel hurried. And be sure to provide them with a full history of your breast concerns. It’s ideal when your healthcare provider can also offer you the emotional support you need when dealing with breast pain.

What Causes Breast Pain?

It’s important to understand that sore, lumpy, tender breasts are common. Breast pain can be cyclical or episodic and can occur before, during, and even after your childbearing years.

The most common type of breast pain occurs premenstrually and is related to the hormonal changes in your body that are part of your menstrual cycle. In other words, your breast tissue actually goes through cyclic changes each month that mirror those that are happening in your uterus.

In the luteal phase of your cycle (the two weeks before your period begins), all women have an increased tendency to retain fluid and gain a pound or two. The difference is that the buildup of fluids and tissue in your uterus passes out of your body in the form of your menstrual flow. But the buildup of fluid and cellular tissue in your breasts must get reabsorbed back into your body before it can be eliminated.

In susceptible women, this slight fluid increase, as well as other hormonal changes associated with the menstrual cycle, can cause pressure or inflammation in the breast tissue resulting in breast tenderness. In fact, the same inflammatory chemicals known as prostaglandins and cytokines that cause menstrual cramps can also cause breast tenderness! These cyclic hormonal changes also explain why women are so often offered a variety of hormonal therapies for their breast complaints.

Some women experience breast pain that is not related to the menstrual cycle at all. Some experts believe this type of breast pain is related to inflammation in the body. This could occur if you eat inflammatory foods that are highly processed, chemical-laden, or high on the glycemic index. Other experts believe non-cyclic breast pain is related to neuroendocrine changes resulting from subtle interactions between our environment, our perceptions, and our hormonal and immune systems. This may also be true. Breast pain has been linked to alterations in steroid and protein hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, LHRF (luteinizing hormone-releasing factor), and prolactin.

Breast pain can also occur when you’re under chronic stress for prolonged periods.

Holistic Treatments for Breast Pain

Many women with cyclic breast pain respond well to dietary change alone. A diet that decreases cellular inflammation and minimizes excess estrogen production may be all you need to resolve cyclical breast pain. If breast pain is a problem for you, here are some additional strategies you can try at home that may give you relief:

  1. Eliminate Dairy. Stop eating all dairy foods for at least one month as a trial run. If it hasn’t helped after one month, then you can add dairy foods again. Over the years I’ve seen this relieve the breast pain of many women.
  2. Cut out caffeine. As with dairy foods, a caffeine elimination trial, usually for one full menstrual cycle, is worthwhile.
  3. Increase intake of Omega-3 fatty acids. Natural dietary sources include free-range meats, eggs from cage-free hens, dark green leafy vegetables, ocean-raised (“wild”) cold water fish, flax seed (one-quarter cup ground seeds, 3–4 times per week), walnuts, and sesame. You can also supplement with high-quality EPA and/or DHA. (Usual dose of DHA is 100–400 mg per day, or 400–800 mg per day for pregnant women and nursing mothers.)
  4. Get plenty of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber from vegetable sources will help, including cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, and turnips.
  5. Add antioxidants. Vitamins E, A, selenium. Take a comprehensive multivitamin/mineral supplement that is rich in antioxidants, including vitamins C, E, B-complex, D, beta-carotene is a must. (This means at least four pills per day.) Antioxidants help the cells in your breasts fight cellular inflammation, which can be a precursor to breast cancer.Get plenty of vitamin D. Studies show that women with optimal levels of vitamin D have a lower risk of breast cancer. Your vitamin D level should be at least 40 ng/ml. If it’s not, talk with your doctor and come up with the best strategy for raising your levels of this important nutrient. Be prepared to take up to 50,000 IUs per week until your levels are high enough and then 1,000–5,000 IUs per day after that.
  6. Try castor oil packs. Applied to the breasts 3 times per week for 1 hour, over 2 or 3 months, castor oil packs often eliminate breast pain, particularly if there is swelling of breast tissue. A maintenance program of once per week thereafter is recommended.
  7. Exercise regularly. Regular exercise is associated with lower levels of body fat and less total circulating estrogen.
  8. Massage your breasts. Every cell in the breasts and other organs is bathed in lymph. Lymph carries nutrients and immune cells throughout the body and filters waste products through the lymph nodes, where they can be detoxified. Stimulating lymph circulation through regular massage of the breast and chest wall area can help maintain healthy breast tissue.
  9. Accept support from others. Many women with breast pain are “over-givers”—they give themselves away to others without nurturing themselves. Breast symptoms are often the body’s way of getting you to nurture yourself more fully. Learn how to say “no” to what you don’t want and “yes” to what you truly want and that which supports your well-being.

Use Iodine to Heal Breast Pain

When I was seeing patients, I prescribed iodine supplements for women with breast pain and saw excellent results, usually within only 2 weeks. I usually recommended a minimum of 12.5 mg/day. However, research has shown that those who take iodine in doses ranging from 6 mg to 90 mg per day feel healthier and have a greater sense of well-being. Taking iodine at these levels eliminates breast pain from fibrocystic changes about 70 percent of the time.

Iodine deficiency is rampant in the United States. In addition to breast pain. symptoms of iodine deficiency may include goiter (swelling in the front of the neck due to thyroid gland enlargement), unexplained weight gain, hypothyroidism, fatigue, weakness, hair loss, dry skin, cognitive issues, heavy or irregular periods, and more. Iodine deficiency is also linked to breast cancer.

There are no standard guidelines that I’m aware of regarding the optimal intake and dosage of iodine. And there are plenty of cautions about taking too much. But, if you are experience breast pain it’s more than likely you are not getting enough iodine.

Here are some ways to increase your iodine intake:

  1. Use nascent iodine drops. Atomidine is the antiseptic form of iodine. The psychic Edgar Cayce recommended taking it internally in a cycle to treat a wide variety of symptoms.
  2. Paint it on. A safe way to get iodine into your body is to paint it on your skin. You can paint a quarter-size dot right over the painful spot on the breast or on the nipple once a night for two weeks. Or paint the entire breast.
  3. Eat iodine-rich foods. Seaweed, kelp, cod, eggs, oysters, and liver contain iodine. Adding these to your diet may help alleviate breast pain.
  4. Avoid unsaturated fat and bromide. Unsaturated fat depletes your body of the iodine you ingest. Commercial baked goods and flour in the U.S. contain a form of bromide called potassium bromate, an environmental toxin and endocrine disruptor that can deplete iodine stores in your body.

Now, rarely a person will get a “reaction” when using iodine—usually in the form of a skin rash or bad taste in the mouth. The reaction is known as iodism, and it is a result of the iodine releasing excess bromide, fluoride, and other toxins from your body. It’s actually a detox reaction and not an iodine reaction per se. Just decrease your dose of iodine if this happens to you.

If you are on thyroid medication, taking higher amounts of iodine will often decrease your need for thyroid medication. But if you don’t know this, you can end up with heart palpitations from the effect of too much thyroid hormone. So add iodine to your diet very, very slowly, and discuss this with your health care provider.

Have you use iodine for breast pain or other symptoms? Please leave your comments below!

Last Updated: October 18, 2023

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a visionary pioneer and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. Recognizing the unity of body, mind, and spirit, she empowers women to trust their inner wisdom, their connection with Source, and their ability to truly flourish.

Comments

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  1. Susan
    6 months ago

    Thank you so much, Dr. Northrup! This was really helpful, and I’ll share it with my daughters and others!

  2. Theresa Rohl
    3 years ago

    I am post menopausal. One breast is dumpling should I get a mammogram for this? there’s no pain or discharge.

  3. HM
    4 years ago

    Hi there

    I have always avoided soy products as every book and article I’ve read has said that soy INCREASES estrogen production in the body, yet you’re saying the exact opposite here. This is the only time I’ve ever seen this. Could you explain further. It’s commonly known that one should avoid soy to reduce estrogen and thus help balance female hormones (and hopefully avoid cancer).

    Thanks

  4. Jp
    6 years ago

    Preparing for a breast MRI, I’m 48, post menupause , had an ultrasound come back with no definite solid or cystic mass lesions. Incidental note was made of a right axillary lymph node measuring 6×10 mm.

  5. Michele Fischer
    7 years ago

    Your article touched upon so many questions I have. You came me. I’m post menopausal, 15 yrs, ha severe mastitis 35 yrs ago, a bunch of scar tissue. I’m having pain now, exact place where scarring is and into the nipple. Preparing for a mammogram, but the nerves are out of control. Your info truly calmed me. Thank you.

  6. Fran
    7 years ago

    I have used ground flax seed for breast tenderness for decades. Works like magic. I’m long ago menopausal. It still works. It’s a terrific no drug option.

  7. Jennifer H.
    15 years ago

    Thank you so much for sharing this positive information!

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