When I reviewed the Parfait Charlotte for GG+ cup sizes, I mentioned that my breasts had changed shape and size after taking an herbal supplement. Since then, I have received numerous comments and email messages asking what I was taking and to discuss my decision to pursue alternative medicine. To give the question a truly thoughtful answer requires me to divulge personal information about myself and my medical history. As this blog is a part of my business, I have wavered as to whether it would be beneficial to discuss something of this nature here, but ultimately I decided to share my struggles in the hopes they can help someone else find comfort.
Almost as soon as my monstration . . . I mean, menstruation started, my Aunt Irma has been about as accurate as a broken watch. In fact, during my formative high school years I was convinced my period was a sentient being with whom I was clearly at war. Weeks would pass without so much as a single spot only to resurface for a month of on/off bleeding. When I was around 16, I started birth control to regulate my period, and the problem subsided. However, I struggled with the side effects of the prescription medication, especially with my weight. Even low dose options created issues for me.
A few years ago, I was referred to a respected gynecologist, and he was absolutely amazing at identifying my issues and diagnosing problems quickly. In the end, we discovered I had Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Check out this great description from the Mayo Clinic:
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder among women of reproductive age. The name of the condition comes from the appearance of the ovaries in most, but not all, women with the disorder — enlarged and containing numerous small cysts located along the outer edge of each ovary (polycystic appearance). Infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods, excess hair growth, acne and obesity can all occur in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. In adolescents, infrequent or absent menstruation may signal the condition. In women past adolescence, difficulty becoming pregnant or unexplained weight gain may be the first sign. The exact cause of polycystic ovary syndrome is unknown. Early diagnosis and treatment may reduce the risk of long-term complications, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
During this phase, I was at my highest weight and experiencing a slew of additional symptoms ranging from the cosmetic (hair thinning and acne) to the serious (high blood pressure and pre-diabetes). After discussing the symptoms and potential long term risks, I knew I needed to lose weight in order to treat my PCOS. Body image demons took a backseat to fear for my health. My grandparents, who were the two most awesome people ever, allowed their weight and the ensuing problems to dictate the last 15-20 years of their life. I knew I did not want to experience this and resolved to make better choices.
I won’t rehash my weight loss journey here because I have written extensively about it in the past, but suffice it to stay, the weight slowly dropped off and my symptoms totally subsided. However, the downside of the weight loss was the upper fullness in my breasts diminished, and the tissue became softer and less firm. After a few years, I decided to pursue more holistic remedies and discussed not taking birth control with my doctor.
Amazingly, my period cooperated. For the first time in my life, I felt like my reproductive system and I finally reached a truce in a battle which raged for over 15 years. However, at the start of this year, my body went haywire. I became lactose intolerant, and my period decided to show up almost three weeks late to the party. Realizing that I was resting on past victories, I hit the library and checked out several excellent resources on dealing with PCOS:
One of the suggestions I saw frequently was to begin a Vitex (also known as “chastetree”) regimen because of its ability to regulate your pituitary-hypothalamus axis. Potential benefits included regulating periods, boosting moods, and alleviating hormone related acne. Nevertheless, the supplement is not a quick fix and requires several months of consistent daily use to build up in the system. Vitex should be taken around the same time each day, ideally on an empty stomach. Personally, I split up the dosage and take one in the morning when I wake up and the other at night before bed. Following several months of use, it’s good to take a break from the supplement. Side effects can include skin rash or upset stomach, but I have never had any issues.
Initially, I was taking the pills on a less than regular basis, but even with that caveat, I could see an immediate difference in how my symptoms were progressing. As I became more consistent, everything continued to improve. In the past, I would breakout closer to my period—an embarrassing event whose frequency is now limited, and after six months of daily use, I finally coerced my period back to a 28 day cycle. Life was looking pretty darn good . . . although the view from the top certainly changed. In what seemed like an overnight phenomenon, all of my bras did not fit me properly. Tissue overflowed the cup, and styles which worked in the past were less than ideal. Had my boobs gotten bigger? Breaking out the tape measure, I noticed I went from 41″ across the bust to 42″. Since I was actually in the process of losing weight, it did not make sense for me to go up an entire inch. Not to mention, my breast tissue, especially in the upper section, was considerably firmer.
Confounded by this sudden change, I researched Vitex and its relationship to breast size, and I found that for some women, the herbal supplement can change the size and shape of the breasts. I went from being more of a 30H with balanced fullness leaning toward bottom heavy to being a 30HH with completely even upper and lower fullness. It was quite a shift—so much so that the Cleo Marcie (you remember the bra I reviewed twice?) fits perfectly now and is my favorite.
Reading through this completely off-topic post, I am sure you may wonder why I am sharing this information. My motivations are manifold. First, if you experience symptoms consistent with PCOS, please talk to your doctor. At least 10% of women suffer from PCOS, and if left untreated, it can cause problems later in life. Furthermore, if you are having difficulties conceiving, ask your doctor about PCOS as many women struggling with infertility have this syndrome.
Aside from spreading PCOS awareness, I also discussed my experience to encourage women to view their breasts as dynamic and changing. A simple alteration in diet, weight, lifestyle, herbal regiments, etc. will impact your bra size. Focus on finding the right size and style bras for your new shape, and do not stay rooted in what worked in the past. Along this vein, avoid ruling out any styles or brands altogether because those small changes could very well turn a bra that didn’t quite work into your new favorite.
P.S. I am in no way advocating the use of Vitex in the treatment of PCOS. Please discuss Vitex or any herbal supplement with your doctor first. My doctor encouraged me to try Vitex based on my past history. If you are considering taking an herbal supplement, please verify that it does not interact with any of your existing medications.