In an interview with People in May 2016, country singer Blake Shelton got real about his physique: “If you get dressed up the right way, it should be fitted to you,” Shelton said. “But when things are fitted to me, it’s hard for me to disguise man boobs and gut and all that stuff, so it’s all sticking out!”
Despite Shelton’s concern about his appearance, we think he looks pretty fit. But man boobs, moobs, or gynecomastia as the condition is known clinically, are more common than you think, as Shelton’s soundbite helps to illustrate.
According to the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, in fact, up to 30 percent of men have this frustrating condition. In 2013, male breast reduction surgery increased 11 percent.
What Exactly Causes Man Boobs?
Gynecomastia can be caused by excess body fat, but “the most common reason is a hormonal imbalance,” says James Arteaga, M.D., an attending physician at Kaiser Permanente in Woodland Hills, Calif., who has performed many breast reduction surgeries on both men and women.
The imbalance starts as early as adolescence and continues into adulthood. “During that time, the male breast tissue is particularly susceptible or reactive to hormonal changes and the tissue begins to swell,” Arteaga says. “The nipple and the areola get bigger and stretch out.”
Researchers have also linked gynecomastia with excessive marijuana use. An older 2002 animal study in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found that cannabis caused a decrease in testosterone. Arteaga reports that a number of his patients with gynecomastia use marijuana daily. But, to date, the link between the two hasn’t been conclusively proven.
How to Get Rid of the Man Boobs
One of the myths about losing man boobs, that both old school doctors and trainers have propagated, is to simply build up your pecs. But the reality is, that just creates supportive muscles that look firmer underneath the body fat, explains Arteaga. “You want to increase leaner muscle mass with weight lifting exercises, he says, at the same time you lose total body fat.
You also want to keep your testosterone and estrogen at normal levels; talk to your health practitioner about those concerns. Consistent weight lifting helps you shed your man boobs in a few ways. Along with regular cardio exercise for fat loss, resistance training has been shown to increase testosterone levels in your body, says Areteago.
Researchers at the UCLA School of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health have also found that drinking alcohol not only adds excess calories and screws up your metabolism, but it can suppress the amount of the sex hormone testosterone in your body, upping the incidence of man boobs.
If you are already lifting weights, doing cardio, and eating clean and you still have unwanted cleavage — and nothing you do seems to minimize your moobs — it may be time to see a doctor. He or she will do an extensive checkup and rule out any serious conditions. Even if the verdict comes back as gynecomastia, don’t be alarmed.
“Luckily, in the vast majority of cases, the condition is not harmful or dangerous,” says Arteaga. But it does need to be taken care of.
Your doctor may prescribe anti-estrogen medication to reduce breast size, according to the National Institutes of Health. If that doesn’t work, your doctor may suggest breast reduction surgery for cosmetic reasons.
Your man chest will thank you profusely.