At least 20-30 different herbal breast enhancement products are promoted on the Internet, TV, and in magazines, but that doesn't mean they work, according to a report on safety and effectiveness that recently appeared in the society's journal, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
"Breast-enhancing herbal products have become a lucrative industry in recent years due to their 'guaranteed' safety and low cost compared with surgery," write the researchers, who included Gregory Evans, MD, of the Aesthetic and Plastic Surgery Institute at the University of California, Irvine.
"However, these guarantees are not based on any long-term, randomized clinical trials."
Because breast enhancement pills are sold as supplements, they're not subject to scrutiny by the FDA.
Many of the pills' herbal ingredients have only anecdotes and isolated, limited studies to support their breast enhancement claims, says the report.
The herbs may also have side effects, particularly when taken with other medications, say the researchers.
For instance, the report says black cohosh may interact with cancer drugs such as tamoxifen, and chaste-tree berry may interfere with the effect of birth control pills, making them both less effective.
Another herb, fenugreek, might clash with diabetes drugs and medications designed to stop clotting, say the researchers. They also note that the active ingredients of the herb dong quai have been linked to cancer.
Other herbs used in breast enhancement pills include saw palmetto, kava, fennel seeds, damiana, dandelion, wild yam, and blessed thistle.
"As with any herbal supplements, side effects and drug interactions remain to be established," write the researchers.
"Individuals who choose to use these agents need to be aware that herbal medications are not without possible adverse side effects, especially if they are taken in conjunction with other medications."
"It's what we don't know about these pills that scares many physicians," says Thomas Lawrence, MD, in a news release.
"Because many women who want bigger breasts self-prescribe these pills, they may be placing themselves in harm's way without even knowing it," says Lawrence, who leads the Plastic Surgery Educational Foundation Device and Technique Assessment Committee, which contributed to the report.
"The only way women can increase their breast size substantially is through breast augmentation [surgery]," says Lawrence in the release.
"There is always the chance that herbal methods may have some sort of positive effect, but anyone living with a health condition or taking medications should be careful of the potential negative side effects."
Sources: Chalfoun, C. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, October 2004; vol 114: pp 1330-1333. News release, American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD
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