Flip through any women's magazine and you are sure to find advertisements hawking pills to enlarge women's breasts. But do these pills actually work? Probably not, says the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).
Not only are breast enhancement pills unproven, they could be dangerous, according to a study published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery® (PRS), the official medical journal of the ASPS.
"There are upward of 30 different herbal products advertised widely on television, in magazines and on the Internet alleging to enhance the size of women's breasts; however, there have been no scientifically sound clinical trials proving they work," said Thomas Lawrence, MD, Chair of the Plastic Surgery Educational Foundation (PSEF) Device and Technique Assessment Committee.
Breast enhancement pills have become a lucrative industry in recent years due to their "guaranteed" safety and low cost compared to breast augmentation; however, these pills are sold as herbal supplements and are not subject to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's scrutiny for safety and effectiveness. Although manufacturers claim to have studies that prove their products work, the majority of the data is derived from historical anecdotes and isolated, limited studies, according to PRS. While these pills promise an easy and inexpensive way to have larger breasts, many women may be placing their health in danger, the study states.
"It's what we don't know about these pills that scares many physicians," said Dr. Lawrence. "The primary active ingredients found in these supplements can be dangerous when mixed with other medications. Because many women who want bigger breasts self-prescribe these pills, they may be placing themselves in harms way without even knowing it."
According to the study, many breast enhancement pills contain one or more ingredients that can directly interfere with prescribed medications. For example, chaste-tree berry, which has been used to treat female reproductive problems since ancient times in Greece, contains active ingredients that may interfere with birth control pills. Black cohosh may increase the toxicity of anticancer drugs. Fenugreek contains elements that can interfere with medications designed to stop blood clotting and regulate diabetes. In addition, the primary ingredients of don quai, which have been used in China for more than 2,000 years to treat and relieve menstrual symptoms, are known carcinogens. Other popular ingredients in breast enhancement pills include saw palmetto, damiana, blessed thistle, dandelion, wild yam, kava and fennel.
"Despite the lack of data, many women are enticed by these products because they appear to be an easy way to get larger breasts; however, the only way women can increase their breast size substantially is through breast augmentation," said Dr. Lawrence. "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."
More than 254,000 women had breast augmentation in 2003, making it the second most popular cosmetic plastic surgery procedure for women, according to the ASPS. Since 2000, the procedure has grown in popularity by 20 percent.