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The 'Purpose' of the Bra

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By Ken L. Smith, Breast Health Facilitator for ACS 

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Updated March 2013

What does a bra do?

You  might  think  that  to  be  an  inane  question.  Most
people   know   what   a   bra   does…   right?   They   hold
breasts in place, of course!  With that in mind,  I wonder
what happened to breasts before we had bras… did the breasts fall off? No, of course not. But surely they did not have any shape without a bra directing them to grow into their desired shape, right? "Won't my breasts sag terribly when I get older if I don't hold them up all my life?" "Will my breasts grow larger if they are not held back by a bra?" "Will wearing a bra give me breast cancer?"

Anyone that wears a bra does so for several reasons. Perhaps we should re-examine some of those reasons. An increasing number of experts are troubled by the possibility that wearing a bra might be detrimental to our health, with the bra possibly doing more bad than good. We might find it worth our while to look back at the original intent of the bra, and then look at what the bra is used for today. Let's address some of those concerns.

Before brassieres were made commercially available, some women wore corsets that literally bound the body very tightly, compressing the internal organs and forcing them into new positions. Corsets created an unnaturally small waist, suggesting the term "hourglass figure". Serious medical consequences accompanied one's wearing corsets and other garments that bound, contorted and restricted the body. Fainting commonly occurred because of the impact those garments made on the body. The breasts were not considered as "significant" to fashion designers in those times, but they inadvertently became emphasized by the use of corsets, which forced excess skin and fat from the torso upwards. The emphasis was placed upon making the smallest waist possible. The breasts literally lay on a "shelf" like "eggs in a nest". Separation in the cleavage and breast-shape was of no concern at that time. Many societies, from early history forward, have allowed fashions to be worn that partially displayed the breasts (i.e. the "Peasant Blouse") or completely displayed them (i.e. Ladies of the Royal Court in elite societies).

Garments and various devices that led to the development of what is now referred to as a brassiere, date back into history. In 1893, Marie Tucek made a "breast supporter" that looked a lot like a modern brassiere. It had pockets for the breasts and straps and closures like we use today. During the early part of the twentieth century, Mary Phelps Jacobs asked a seamstress to put together two handkerchiefs and a pink ribbon to make something she could wear under her dress instead of her bulky and restrictive corset. Ms. Jacobs designed that garment to provide some control over the movement of her breasts, by flattening them against her chest. It is not known whether this breast movement was a common concern of women in those days, or if only Mary herself was concerned about it. There must have been SOME demand for the result of her efforts, because Mary patented her idea in 1914, calling it a "brassiere", and later sold the patent to a company named Warner Brothers Corset Company in Bridgport, Connecticut for $1,500. Ida and William Rosenthal started the Maidenform Company to sell dresses and other garments, and designed a garment that helped women's busts to better fit the dresses that Maidenform sold. William was the first to group women into "cup sizes" and "stages of life", and Ida invented the clip for adjusting the shoulder strap.

Everyone has heard many stories and claims about the "importance" of a woman wearing a bra. Considering the fact that so many women wear bras today, they have apparently accepted what they have been told about bras as being accurate, and consider their daily use to be almost "mandatory". They may even feel that their experiences with a bra substantiate or prove the validity of the claims that have been (and continue to be) made by advertisements and other media messages concerning what a bra actually does for them.

Doctor Niels H. Lauersen, M.D., Ph.D., and Eileen Stukane describe in their book, "THE COMPLETE BOOK OF BREAST CARE" a question that many people have asked:

"IS A BRA GOOD OR BAD FOR YOUR BREASTS? - - Neither! There is no medical reason to wear a bra, so the decision is yours, based on your own personal comfort and aesthetics. Whether you have always worn a bra or always gone braless, age and breastfeeding will naturally cause your breasts to sag. " (1)

Incidentally, research indicates that breastfeeding does not have as much influence on altering the breast shape as the actual pregnancy itself does, because of the breast's obligatory weight gain due to changes to the glandular tissues and additional fat reserves that stretch the breast skin and further stress the suspensory connective tissues. I would hope that the concern about breasts sagging would not deter you from making the choice of breastfeeding your children.

Most likely, these statements do not match what our mother told us! It certainly is not what the advertisements for bras are still telling us. We have always been told that bras were almost a necessity… a "requirement". We find further confirmation of the above statement in "DR. SUSAN LOVE'S BREAST BOOK":

"…wearing a bra…has no medical necessity whatsoever".
"Except for the women who find bras especially comfortable or uncomfortable, the decision to wear or not wear one is purely aesthetic - or emotional"
"If you don't enjoy it, and job or social pressures don't force you into it, don't bother." (2)

"SBS documentary... sends clear message:"the bra should be a choice and not an obligation."(14)

Some women are concerned that breast ptosis (sagging) allows the breasts to lay against the chest wall and cause excessive perspiration, resulting in the irritation of the skin, skin rashes, etc. They may choose to wear a bra to prevent that, but many of those women would prefer not to wear a bra, and to deal with perspiration in other ways. These methods may include their making a garment from cotton (for absorbency) that comes up under the breasts without covering them. This could be done by lowering the neckline of a cotton tee shirt so that it fits the body snugly, and stops at the bottom of the breasts (but still retains the shoulders and sleeves). This allows the breasts to rest upon the cotton material which wicks the moisture away. It is worn under their outer clothing, obviously.

Some women have noticed the opposite to be true. They find that the buildup of perspiration when WEARING a bra is more unbearable than going without the bra, which will allow air to circulate around the breasts, cooling them and evaporating away the moisture. Air circulation is important, and the type of outer clothing a woman chooses to wear can have a lot of control over breast temperature. Try to avoid using an anti-perspirant under the breasts. We should encourage fluids to flow not only throughout the body but also to the outside, through our skin, to help flush out the toxins trapped in our body tissues.

A minority of the women that do not wear a bra are bothered by the nipples rubbing against the fabric of the blouse or dress. If this is a concern, take extra care in choosing the fabric used in the outer clothing, and try to avoid darts and seams in locations that will cause irritation. Wearing a camisole under the outer garments usually helps to prevent nipple abrasion.

It is interesting that we wear bras to retain a youthful look, but when we were in our youth, we tried our best to look mature. Girls are often placed into "training bras" from the first indication of any breast development. The "training bras" are worn for several reasons, including their being "a badge of achievement" . Young women may consider their wearing a bra to be an indication of "growing up" or maturing (since adult women wear bras, wearing a bra must make me an adult). It could also be referred to as a "rite of passage" (such as shaving is to a young man), or perhaps they are brought up that wearing a bra is "... just the "right" thing to do!" Sometimes the young lady will feel that "everyone" is wearing them and she does not want to be left out... or the mother feels that her daughter "needs to wear one" because her friend's daughters are wearing them now.

Bra manufacturers began marketing "training bras" to teen girls in the late fifties. Before then girls were encouraged to wear simple camisoles if they objected to their nipples showing through their fashions.

Some people believe that the shape of the training bra will actually guide the shape into which the breast will develop. Genes control that, and we have no control over those.  A more practical reason to wear a training bra is that the wearer hopes that it will prevent the nipples from protruding through the front of the blouse or dress, or it will hide the movement of the new breasts. Their thoughts might be that early increases of breast size can be "hidden for a little while longer" with a training bra. When a nipple shows through the outer clothing, it often causes embarrassment to the young wearer. The tendency is for her to hide her breasts, as if she were ashamed that they are there or that she should not have them, or that they will draw unnecessary attention to herself. Even bras on adult women have trouble keeping an erect nipple covered. Maybe we all need to consider working a little harder on our body image?! Maybe we all need to accept the fact that young women grow up and they do not need anyone teasing them about it.

Youth is a fleeting thing for all of us, and we usually try many things to prevent the loss of it. Age (along with nutrition, pregnancy, weight gain/loss, and genetics), will eventually cause the breasts to develop the tendency to assume their natural adult position on the chest wall. A natural assumption is made by many people that the height of the nipple line is an indicator of a woman's chronological age (if the nipple line is high, the woman MUST be younger, and vice versa). Actually, there is some truth to that thought. The breast generally goes from the second rib to the fifth rib when a woman first reaches maturity. During her later years, the lower attachment point (inframammary ridge) will actually move one rib down the ribcage. The brassiere offers a "temporary fix" by lifting the breasts (nipples) to a higher position on our body... the more YOUTHFUL position. Again, with a poor body-image, we are opting for an artificial look rather than accepting the full beauty of our natural shape.

A woman's intentions when choosing how she dresses are often misunderstood. Women that elect to not wear a bra might be considered by some immature individuals to be signaling many things, including sexual desire,  a lack of moral fiber, a lack of good taste, or just plain being "out of style". By designing, merchandising, buying and wearing the fashions of today, we are all telegraphing a mixed message. The glamorous awards shows on television are considered by many to be strong predictors of the fashions we will be seeing in the near future. The 2000 Grammy Awards telecast will be remembered by many people that saw Jennifer Lopez wear a wrap that only closed in front of the pubic bone, clearly showing that she was wearing no bra. The February 2000 issues of several magazines had images of women that were wearing very fashionable clothing (not counting sportswear or bathing suits) and they were very obviously not wearing a bra of any sort. ELLE had eighteen, including the cover shot. VOGUE had a few more with twenty-nine. HARPER'S BAZAAR was the winner with fifty-three. We are assuming that most of the readers of those magazines viewed those women and their fashions to be socially acceptable. Those images did not convey the message that the women were desirous of sexual pleasure, or lacked moral fiber, or that they were deficient in "good taste", and they certainly were not "out of style". We truly send mixed messages to everyone. Does society want us to wear a bra or not? How can the average woman ever be sure of herself with these mixed signals? Dare I ask if society is favorable of requiring certain women to wear a bra and not requiring certain others not to wear one? If a woman bases her decision to wear a bra on what others will think of her, it is very difficult for her to know just how others feel about it.

So, just what is a bra SUPPOSED to do for us? We have been told that a bra offers several advantages to us if we wear one. We are told that comfort is derived from the support of the breasts which is offered as one purpose for wearing a bra. Women are told that "unsupported breasts will pull on internal components of their breasts and that will be painful." If she is not used to having her breasts unsupported, then there will be some pain, until she "trains" the internal structure of her breasts to support the weight. Breast support comes from the suspensory (Cooper's) ligaments and connective tissues that pull inward from the inside of the skin of the breast. There is some support gained from the skin on the outside of the breasts, but that skin tends to yield to pressure from the weight of the breasts, and the skin will increase in size accordingly. The ligaments are the major source of natural breast support. Some ligaments and connective tissues are actually formed like a basket (or like a brassiere) inside of the breast, to cradle the interior of the breast and support it. If a woman always wears a bra, the constant, unnatural, external support from the bra will allow the Cooper's ligaments to atrophy and weaken. If the ligaments and connective tissues are allowed to weaken (from the lack of use), those ligaments and their anchoring points will become sore when they are required to fulfill their designed purpose of supporting the breast when the bra is removed. Women that have never worn a bra or spend adequate time without one on, do not have the pain mentioned above, because their ligaments are stronger, or were allowed to develop at puberty without a training bra,  and are up to the task of supporting the breast.

In our society today, most breasts are bound in bras, and thus are supported from their earliest signs of development in the "training bras" mentioned earlier, which prevents their ligaments and connective tissues from ever developing beyond a minimum amount (from puberty onward). This means they are not prepared to do their natural job. If you have ever decided to get back into running after a long hiatus, have you ever noticed that ligaments and muscles in your legs and feet are weak and become tired more quickly then when you were using them more regularly? Did you notice the "pulling" and stress upon your ligaments? What would you have if you artificially supported the weight of your body (wheelchair? crutches? full cast?) during all that time you were not running. Enough so that your ligaments and muscles in your legs and back would not have had to support your body weight? You would not be able to run today without physical therapy and training. Your ligaments and muscles would have atrophied or withered to weak copies of their former condition. If you had continually used those ligaments and muscles in your legs… if you had ALLOWED them to do their job… the tension and weight bearing derived from running would have caused the ligaments to get stronger over time. Women that do not wear a bra daily have ligaments that became stronger through use,  providing more natural lift.

"Now And Then, Go Braless - Allowing yourself to go braless occasionally, whether at home or in a situation you feel is appropriate, is a healthful habit. Ligaments attach your breasts to the pectoral muscle on your chest. When you wear a bra, your supported breast does not allow the pectoral muscle to be exercised as much as it could be. When you do not wear a bra, as you move your arms, reach, and lift, your pectoral muscle is strengthened. The muscle can then offer better support to your breasts. (1)

There are no muscles to speak of in the breasts. Tiny muscles react to cold and fear and sexual excitement and cause the nipple to become erect, but they do nothing to support the breast. The only muscles involved are the pectoral muscles that are BEHIND the breasts, and to which some of the supportive ligaments and connective tissues are attached. Flexing your pectoral muscles will cause your breast to move, due to that connection.

It is considered to be a myth about breasts that they will sag unless we "properly support" them. The point to remember is that they will assume a more relaxed, adult position whether they are supported OR NOT! Concerning SAGGING (ptosis), Dr. Love states:

"A mistaken popular belief maintains that wearing a bra strengthens your breasts and prevents their eventual sagging. But you sag because of the proportion of fat and tissue in your breasts, and no bra changes that" (2)

Even the bra industry has admitted that a bra will NOT keep breasts from sagging, and that it will only hold them into a position that a particular bra design is designed to do, while the bra is being worn, and when removed, the breasts will no longer retain that position. The website "www.007b.com" has quoted a bra-industry spokesperson in the following segment taken from their site:

Will bras keep the breasts from sagging?
"Bras will keep your breasts from sagging while you're wearing them - but not for the remainder of time. There is no published medical literature showing that bras prevent sagging.
 Even the bra industry seems to know this, as the following quote illustrates:

"We have no evidence that wearing a bra could prevent sagging, because the breast itself is not muscle, so keeping it toned up is an impossibility. What it can do, particularly for larger-breasted women, is obviously to provide the comfort and the support. So, if a woman wants a particular breast profile, she will buy a particular brand, and that is what they're designed for. There's no permanent effect on the breast from wearing a particular bra. The bra will give you the shape the bra's been designed to give while you're wearing it. Of course, when you take it off, you go 'au natural.' ;" executive John Dixey at Bras, Bare Facts Documentary"(13)

Too often, people have actually had the mistaken concept that a bra will direct breasts to grow in a certain shape and at a certain attitude (position), just as a trellis will "train" a rose bush to take on a particular shape. At least, the ROSE gets to retain it's shape when the trellis is removed.

On December 13th, 2009 Seoul Broadcasting System SBS aired a documentary about women wearing brassieres in Korea. They did a small study with only six people and for only a short period of thirty days with half the women wearing a bra for 24 hours a day (24H-bra group) and the other half wearing no bra for 30 days (No-bra group). At the end of that short time they found that the women of the No-bra group had better balance and symmetry of their breasts than the ones that wore the bras 24 hours a day.(14)

Other doctors have "weighed in" on this topic:

"…still, the myth that daily, lifelong bra-wearing is crucial to preserving curves persists"
(Deborah Franklin).

Christine Haycock of New Jersey Medical School says:
 
"…while exercising without a bra may be uncomfortable for some large-breasted women,
it's not doing any lasting damage to chest muscles or breast tissue."

Dr. Vicki Seltzer, M. D. states that:
 
"…you can't do any medical harm to yourself by working out without a bra.
And it
won't cause sag, either."
(9)
(Dr. Seltzer contributed this to the Homeartes Network. (10)
(emphasis mine)

Columbia University's popular Q&A site on the internet, referred to as "GoAskAlice", answered a young lady's question about the necessity of wearing a bra by stating:

"Contrary to popular belief, going braless doesn't mean that your breasts
are destined to droop. "
"Bras do not preserve the shape or perkiness of breasts."
"Ultimately, to wear (or not to wear) a bra is up to you. If prevention of future fall-out is your only reason for wearing a brassiere, then let 'em loose."
(6)

 One more study that has been done is:

Research reported in Japan told of a study… "And when this type of subject wore a "well-fitted" brassiere for a long time …her breasts hung down more." (11)

Some research has been done that actually has led the researchers to believe that if a woman (that has been wearing a bra for a portion of her life) were to give up the constant use of that bra, her breasts may actually show an increase of "lift" because of the ligaments and connective tissue becoming stronger and more effective because they are being allowed to function as they were intended to function. In a conversation with Dr. Gregory Heigh and Dr. Claire Heigh (man and wife), they stated that they…

"…have found that going bra-free can actually cause breasts to sag less.
Bras can cause breasts to sag because chest muscles are worked less when breasts are supported and confined in a bra. Over time, these muscles and also ligaments can atrophy (shrink in size) because of lack of use." It is basically a matter of "Use it or lose it.
When the chest muscles and breast ligaments have to bear the weight of the breasts, muscle tone returns."

Dr. Gregory Heigh first heard of this connection from a plastic surgeon before the year 2000.

Some breasts never seem to reach that naturally lower, relaxed position (some breasts just do not sag), even into a woman's sixth decade of life. This phenomenon is natural and genetic, and is not a result of constant bra usage. Bras will not prevent that from happening. (1), (2), (6). If you hear of any scientific research that actually proves that the bra will prevent the breasts from sagging, please drop a line to Ken at BreastCare@comcast.net, telling me about it. I am quite sure you will likely find no scientific arguments that prove that bras will prevent sagging. If bras actually do that, as media claim they will do, why do so many young, nuliparous (no children) women that are in their 20's  (who have worn bras faithfully since they had the first signs of nipple enlargement) have pendulous breasts?

Society's concept of the "ideal" breasts are breasts that would remain in their firm, uplifted attitude, on their own, for our entire lives. Advertising and messages in today's media have done a good job of convincing us of that IF we continually wear our bras they will never let our breasts SAG.
 

There is a real concern that many experts share about whether any damage is being done to the breasts, chest, shoulders and back, by the constrictive nature and forceful lifting and pushing action of the bra. Experts have major concerns about forcing the breasts to be "relocated" by pressure from the outside, due to the loss of lymphatic circulation that the pressure causes. (4), (5) An article from Southwestern's Health Watch tells us "…

"…brassieres with thin straps could cause headaches and lead to serious nerve damage. If a strap is so tight that it digs into the shoulder, it puts downward pressure on the cervical nerve. The cervical nerve runs from the neck to the shoulder and is an important component of the nerve system. Damaging it can cause frequent headaches, neck pain or numbness. Over time, it can cause pain that radiates from the shoulder all the way down the arms and into the hands." (5)

The Documentary, done in December of 2009 in Korea that was mentioned earlier, determined that "...the brassiere can be a factor of disturbing lymph flow. Among the brassieres, the under-wire bra is even more effective when it comes to interrupting lymph flow." (14) The minimal study also determined that the South Korean women mostly wear a bra not to emphasize or compliment their breasts but to minimize them or to "cover them up". If you determine that you want to go without the bra but are facing pressures from your unenlightened employer, supervisor or peers regarding your appearance, keep in mind that they are currently considered to be flirting with sexual harassment. Since most of us are not confrontational people, we can avoid some of the difficulties that could come up if we remember that the outer clothing we select to wear can either accentuate or camouflage breast movement. In this case, you may choose to camouflage breast movement. We are very familiar with how a satin-finished pullover or rear-buttoning blouse with no detail on the front will move in a way to suggest breast movement, even when the breasts are restrained. Button-down shirts, bulky sweaters, shirts with breast pockets, western style vests, and over-blouses all distract the eye from the breasts. Most heavy business suits will keep your secret.

Breast movement is not the only "clue" to being bra-free. Try to avoid tucks, and darts in blouses or one-piece dresses, and any other "fitted" fashions, which are "cut" to fit a bust line normally attainable only with the use of a bra. Hopefully, the day will soon come, when the fact that a woman does not wear a bra will be the "norm", and will not attract unwanted attention.

From the time of our birth, mom and dad have (hopefully) been guiding us in our decisions, and in the formation of our values and concepts from which we make decisions in our adult years. It is very difficult to go against that guidance, unless you are one who relishes being in defiance of authority in general (and parental control specifically). We will always remember those words about wearing clean underwear on the chance that we might be involved in a traffic accident. We have been programmed to believe that a bra is part of our requisite "underwear package", and that we are doing "wrong" if we leave part of that package off. When our mothers were younger, they did not know about what a bra is now suspected of doing to our health, and they believed all of those things that "everyone" told them about bras. Things such as the suspected "bad consequences" of going without a bra (and the "good" reasons to wear one that are now being questioned) were based only on what they were told, mostly by the manufacturers of the undergarments that were being sold.

Some people in the American society consider breasts, unfortunately, as sexual body-parts, instead of the providers of life to our offspring that they are designed to be. This leads some unenlightened people to believe that any woman without a bra, is "making a sexual statement", or is "being promiscuous". Some members of our society would prefer women to not draw attention to their breasts in public. We are seeing gradual changes in the opinions people have about breasts. Bared breasts are becoming more "acceptable" in parts of America's public locations, with Florida, New York and Vermont showing a lead on their beaches. Canada is leading the way with some towns changing their statutes to allow women to be top-free any place a man is allowed to be top-free. Maybe there will be a hope that one day breasts will no longer be secreted away as sexual parts, so we can get serious about breast health.

While some bras are basic and utilitarian in their appearance and their function, many of them are anything BUT that. Pretty bras and lingerie are frequently used as sexual stimulators, and sometimes that is the only reason a woman will be wearing that bra. It is nice that they put little flowers or bows on them or trim them up with some delicate lace, so that they make us feel pretty "from the inside out", but some are intended to allow us to wear fashions that are quite sexually alluring. We have strapless bras to allow exposure of all of the body North of the nipple line, and demi-cups to allow scooped necklines that expose the upper 3/5ths of the breasts. Push-up bras, padded bras and even blow-up bras are available, that allow us to appear to have larger (more sexual?) breasts, and some will move the breasts apart or together, to get just that certain amount of cleavage that is "correct" for the "current" fashion mode. We even have some brassieres that allow us to wear a neckline cut nearly to the navel, and others that allow the back of a dress to dip dangerously low. Now let me get this straight: the reason that we do not want women to go without a bra, is that it may draw attention to our breasts, is that about right?

Movement of the breasts is a concern of many women, and they may wear bras only to control that movement. We have to ask ourselves whether this is a concern that is based on the whims of fashion, or on the common sense of science. Unsupported breasts (of any size) will most likely move when the woman is walking or moving about. This is a natural movement, and there seems to be a natural reason for it. We have breast massage articles from several experts printed on this site that address the question of breast movement and its relationship to the natural flow of lymphatic fluids in the breasts. Since there is no "heart" to pump the lymphatic fluid, we must rely on body movement and muscular contractions to move the fluid. Therefore, exercise helps to prevent breast-health problems.

"The motion of the muscles during exercise helps to move the lymph through the lymphatic system at a rate that is ten to fifteen times faster than the usual rate. In fact, exercise has been shown by some investigators to reduce the incidence of breast cancer significantly, although the mechanism for this protective effect has been unknown - until now." (4)

Read more about how the lymphatic system functions under our Breast Cancer - Breast Massage section. It will point out how the proper, healthy function of the  lymphatic system might be compromised by a brassiere.

After considering all the reasons that others have for us to be wearing a bra, it should be up to us, ourselves, to determine, individually, if we want to wear one or not. But, we need to consider one last issue that I believe to be very important. One that might outweigh all the reasons we have been told for wearing a bra. There is a considerable amount of factual data that supports a concern about a connection between breast disease and the wearing of a bra.

Breast diseases, which include fibrocystic (calcification) conditions and breast cancer, are a major concern to us, since the first one involves discomfort, pain, and needless worry, and the second one involves all of those, plus disfiguring surgery and over 40,000 deaths each year. www.BreastNotes.com has a section that goes into more detail about breast cancer (Breast Cancer - Possible Causes), but we want to mention here as well that there is a suspected connection between a person's wearing a bra and an increase in their chances of suffering from breast diseases. Some people may not believe that an article of clothing could have an effect on breast health, but there definitely is scientific support for the plausibility of this connection. One researcher has made the logical point frequently that if poor foot health can be caused by the shoes that are placed on the feet, how can it not be true that poor breast health can be caused by the bras that are placed on the breasts?

An article written by Oliver Poole of the Sunday Telegraph in London states that:

"Wearing a bra exposes women to a "statistically significant" risk of increased breast pain, cysts in the breast might even be linked to the development of cancer, according to a study in Britain." (8)

In his article, Mr. Poole stated that Robert Mansell, a professor of surgery at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff and Doctor Simon Cawthorn, a consultant surgeon at the Frenchay Hospital in Bristol, the two principals involved in the research behind that article, called for more research into the breast pain findings. They want to see research done to determine if wearing a bra results in any long-term damage. They suspect that the problems are caused by bras suppressing the lymphatic system, and are planning further research into what happens if the lymphatic system becomes blocked. Prof. Mansell is particularly concerned about how the garments appear to be compressing the body at the outer, upper part of the breast, where 80 percent of the lymphatic fluid flows. This is also the location of at least 50 percent of the breast masses from which women suffer. Mr. Poole further states:

"...the scientists say their findings might support the theories of an American medical anthropologist, Sydney Ross Singer, who has long claimed there is a distinct pattern of risk associated with the length of time a woman wears a bra and her chances of developing breast cancer" (8)

Celia Hall, a reporter quoted in The Independent from England quotes a Professor Murrell when writing about the importance of breast movement and nipple stimulation in maintaining breast health:

"Professor Murrell said the idea had started after a woman patient, who suffered from lumpy and painful breasts, had remarried. 'When I next saw her, I asked about her breast problem. She said the difficulties had disappeared, because her second husband was much better at loving her breasts.'

He added that in the early 18th century a Lancashire physician, Edward Baynard, complained that women who wanted to be fashionable, with squashed breasts and flattened nipples, were at risk from cancers and hard tumours." (15)

You can read Ms. Hall's full article here.

The results of much of the research have been interpreted to indicate that there is a positive correlation between restrictive clothing and breast diseases. Until more research is done, we are left to decide for ourselves what we want to do with our bodies.

Dr. Michael Schachter, M. D. sums up our concerns about the possible restriction of the lymphatic system's ability to function properly when he describes the lymphatic system:

"It is the job of the lymphatic system of the body to help drain toxic substances from tissues and poor lymphatic drainage may play a role in breast cancer formation."

"Lymph flow is dependent upon muscle contraction (that massages the outside of the lymphatic vessels), respiration (which pulls the lymph along each time we inhale), pressure from the pulsations of arteries, changes in posture, and passive compression of soft tissues. It is very sensitive to constricting external pressure which can impede its flow.

Bras and other external tight clothing can impede flow."

"Over 85 percent of the lymph fluid flowing from the breast drains to the armpit lymph nodes. Most of the rest drains to the nodes along the breast bone.

Bras and other external tight clothing can impede flow.
The nature of the bra, the tightness, and the length of time worn, will all influence the degree of blockage of lymphatic drainage.
Thus, wearing a bra might contribute to the development of breast cancer
as a result of cutting off lymphatic drainage, so that toxic chemicals are trapped in the breast."

"Any activity which will help to remove accumulated toxins in the breasts will help to reduce the chances of developing breast cancer."

"So, the take home message to women is to wear bras as little as possible… " (3)

A study done during 2009 in China is reported to have shown that sleeping in a bra increases the breast cancer rates. This study is not offered yet in English text.

Some research is being done regarding the health problems that may be caused by the self-generated heat from the breasts that cannot get away from the body. The theory is that a bra prevents the natural body-heat generated by the breasts from escaping, causing an increase in the internal temperature of the breasts. It is known that the additional heat generated and maintained in any un-descended testicle of a boy born with that malady will usually cause that testis to become irreversibly sterile, and leaves that testis with a much higher risk factor of testicular cancer. Damage to our body's organs by excessive heat has been documented many times. The question that arises is "Does additional heat in the breasts cause or facilitate breast cancer?" And if that is true, do bras prevent enough excess heat from leaving the sensitive breast tissues to facilitate breast cancer?

One study that is being evaluated, is with women in a select society that are experiencing an increase of breast cancer, but they are finding it in only one side (one breast). These women have taken up the habit of breastfeeding from only one breast, due to working conditions and breastfeeding their children at work, or some other factor. Done openly (due to the support of public breastfeeding in that society), the one benevolent breast is frequently exposed to air circulation, allowing it to maintain a lower average temperature. The other breast remains warmly tucked into the bra, and that breast is the one most likely to develop a malignancy, if the woman later develops breast cancer.

Dr. Gregory Heigh further stated that in addition to breasts sagging more due to their being confined in a bra, he noticed that women at his clinic usually found relief from fibrocystic lumps and pain within a few weeks, after they stopped wearing a bra. He says that women who go bra-free have an "immediate reaction" of starting the elimination of their breast lumps, breast pain, their breasts become firmer, and they sag less. There is also less monthly swelling and discomfort (due to menses). He had more than seventy patients fill out a questionnaire, and he found that nearly 100 percent of the women who took off their bras have found relief.

Many experts believe that bras contribute to a constriction of the lymphatic fluids. If the fluids are not allowed to flow freely (because of restriction from tight bras and clothing, no breast movement, no breast massage, etc.) they can form cysts, resulting in swelling, pain and causing women to have unnecessary concerns about possible malignancies. Stagnant lymphatic fluids allow toxins to remain longer in and among breast cells. As mentioned before, it is thought that it is those toxins that are instrumental in the beginning of breast cancer.

Doctor Elizabeth Vaughan, M.D. writes in her article "Why I don't wear a bra" states:

"… "I like my breasts. I want to avoid breast cancer. I want to avoid fibrocystic disease. I want my breasts to stay perky. I don't wear a bra."

"If you stop wearing your bra today, in 30 days your breasts should be firmer and sag less. They will be less painful before your next period. In three months the tender lumps and bumps (fibrocystic breast disease) that many women have, usually will start disappearing."

"In six months, when you go for your exam, your doctor will ask: "What are you doing? Your breasts are soooo much better!" Tell the doctor you threw your bras away. The doctor probably won't believe you. So, just look and feel for yourself. Trust your own body."

"Beyond the fact that my nipples still point straight ahead, another reason I'm glad that I haven't worn a bra for years is that I believe bras contribute to the development of breast cancer. My family history is loaded with women who have had breast cancer."

"Women who do aerobic exercise (where their breasts jiggle) have had a well documented lower risk of breast cancer. (This has been recognized for years in traditional medical literature. When your breasts jiggle, the lymph flows out of your breasts better. Movement always enhances lymphatic flow.)" [12]

Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer are medical anthropologists that live on a beautiful reserve on the island of Hawai'i, and they have done some of the original research and have written multiple books on the subject of breast health and the relationship between the wearing of a bra and the higher risk of developing breast cancer. The original study was reported in their book titled "DRESSED TO KILL - The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras" in which they analyzed thousands of women and their bra-wearing habits. They have some very enlightening things to say:

"…we learned that women who wear bras twenty four hours a day
have a 125 fold greater chance of getting breast cancer
than do women who do not wear bras at all, and a 113 fold greater chance of getting breast cancer than do women who wear bras for less than twelve hours daily"

 

        Women that were studied:
           Of the ones that did not get cancer:
              20% wore bras less than 12 hrs/day  and
                 80% wore them longer than 12 hrs/day
           Of the ones that did get cancer:
              1% wore bras less than 12 hrs/day and
                 99% wore them longer than 12 hrs/day

 

Let me put it in different words:
The authors found that women that wear bras 24 hours a day (yes, there ARE some) are 125 times more likely to get breast cancer than women that do not wear bras at all (if all other risk factors are the same), and they are 113 times more likely to get breast cancer than women that wear a bra less than twelve hours a day.

The women that were studied were split into two groups: Those that got breast cancer and those that did not get breast cancer.

  1. Of those women that got breast cancer, 99% wore their bras for longer than 12 hours per day, and only 1% wore their bras for less than 12 hours per day .

  2. Of those women that DID NOT get breast cancer, only 80% wore their bras for more than 12 hours per day, and 20% wore their bras for less than 12 hours per day.

You have read the results two different ways. Those are powerful findings.

Something that is even more amazing to me is another study that these two authors did... a Bra and Breast Cancer (follow-up) study on the island of Fiji, after their first book was published. They had noticed that breast cancer was literally non-existent in Fiji before World War Two, but after the "liberation" of Fiji, some of the professional and working women adopted the "Western" styles of clothing and began wearing bras to their work. The authors' study showed that breast cancer was still quite rare among half the female population (the ones that did not change from their original style of dress). There have been a steadily increasing number of women that are developing breast cancer among those that have taken up the new fashion styles and are wearing bras. The "more modern" women that have started wearing bras (which did not exist in the traditional Fijian clothing) mostly live in the same village and/or home, eat the same food, share the same genetic background and environment as the traditionally dressed women, but the ones wearing the bras are the ones developing breast disease. The risk of developing breast cancer among those wearing the bras is the same as it is for women living today in San Francisco, California - 1 out of 8 if they live to 95 years old.

As a result of Singer and Grismaijer's Bra and Breast Cancer study, information about the health risks of wearing a bra has been disseminated on Fiji's national television and radio, and is published in the "Fiji Times". Fiji now recognizes Breast Cancer Awareness Week, which includes warnings about the dangers of the wearing of bras. (7)

The information on the Fijian study comes from a news release that further stated:

"Breast cancer is only found in cultures where bras are worn.
Where there are no bras, there is virtually no breast cancer."

"Once the constriction of the breasts ends, the breast tissue can flush out excess fluid, relieving the congestion, cysts, swelling, and tenderness." [4]

Other studies done by these two authors include: (7)

A study of the Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, which found that after they were integrated into the white culture, they now wear bras, and they now share the same breast cancer rates as that of the white population. Breast cancer was literally non-existent before they changed their style of dress.

A study of the Aborigines of Australia (the ones who have not joined the white population and culture, and do not wear bras - or much of anything else) which found that they have virtually no breast cancer, nor have they ever had any.

Their ongoing Bra Impact Study, which is in conjunction with US and Canadian doctors, has been showing that women who have fibrocystic "disease" of the breast are showing recovery two to three weeks after they begin going bra-free.

Singer and Grismaijer show a strong correlation between lower breast cancer rates and women that wear bras less than 12 hours a day (and those that never wear a bra). In my opinion, that justifies more studies to determine the exact magnitude of the connection between one's wearing bras and one's increasing their risk of contracting breast cancer. I strongly recommend that these studies take place. Since you are reading this article, I think that you would find reading the Singer - Grismeijer books to be very informative.

It is difficult to know what to do when so many opinions are forthcoming to a simple question. To make a decision about what one should do about anything, one must be properly informed, and one must consider the source of that information. I usually try to determine if anyone stands to make money from us if we follow the advice that they offer to us. I do not consider an advertisement to always be a credible source of advice. Advertisements tell us what the manufacturer of a product wants us to believe. Advertisements are designed to create in our mind a need for a product. They are obviously biased. Read and research as much as you can about an important issue before you make important decisions, always remembering who is doing the writing and the research, and what might their motives have been when they wrote the material you are reading.

One might find it interesting that there are several manufacturers of intimate apparel that are offering newly designed, better fitting bras that help "avoid damage". Does that not sound to you (as it does to me) that some of the bra companies are realizing the damage that a bra can do to the body, but since women still want to buy them, they are playing both ends of the game by appeasing those women that buy bras and courting women that question whether bras are healthy for them at the same time? Does that not suggest that the manufacturers are aware that bras do damage to the women that wear them?

If you would like to do further research on this subject, there are MANY articles and research projects that cover this subject. Let me list a few here that you might want to follow up on:

USE YOUR BROWSER'S "BACK" BUTTON TO RETURN TO THIS WEBSITE

1. Ralph L. Reed, Ph.D. is an environmental chemist and has some good comments on the first book that Singer and Grismaijer wrote on their study of the bra and its effects on the female breast. He also has some great comments regarding the lymphatic system and how to allow it to work like it should.
 
http://www.all-natural.com/bras.html

2. Optimal Breathing has an article "Brassieres, Breathing and Breast Cancer" that is very good, and can be found at the URL:
 http://www.breathing.com/articles/brassieres.htm#ARTICLE%20URL%20does%20not%20work?

3. Susun Weed did a very nice list of events that have occurred in the development of the bra, and it includes abstracts of various research projects that support this article. Her article is called "A few highlights of the history of research on bras and breast disease", and can be found at:
 
http://www.susunweed.com/An_Article_Bra-disease.htm

4. Lise Cloutier-Steele relates her thoughts and lifetime practices with her bra in "The Column Vine" located on GardenPlum.com. The title is: "Breasts Weren't Made for Bras" and it can be found at:
http://www.gardenplum.com/columnvine/breasts.html

5. PubMed is part of NCBI, and is connected with the National Library of Medicine. They offer a source for many research papers that deal with any medical situation. The URL to take you into a search for papers dealing with "Bras and Breast Health" is: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?CMD=search&DB=pubmed Of course, you can modify that search any way that you would want to. In fact it will ask you for your subject to do a search of its current material. This link seems to be having trouble when last tried.

6. An article that is lengthy but covers a lot of interesting thoughts behind cancer is found at: http://www.cancer-prevention.net/  It talks about how toxins and low oxygen levels in the cells and many other things are involved in the formation of what is referred to as a "malignant cell".

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FOOTNOTES:

(1) "The Complete Book Of Breast Care" by Niels H. Lauersen, M.D., Ph.D., & Eileen Stukane
(2) "Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book" by Susan M. Love, M.D.
(3) "The Prevention and Complementary Treatment of Breast Cancer", Dr. Michael Schachter, M. D., F.A.C.A.M http://healthy.net/library/articles/schachter/breast.d.html
(4) "Dressed To Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras" by Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer, Avery Press, 1995, ISBN# 0-89529-664-0
Sydney and Soma can be reached at:
Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease
P.O. Box 1880
Pahoa, Hawaii 96778 808-935-5563
(5) "Bra Straps Health Watch", Office of News and Publications & the Library at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas
 http://www.swmed.edu/home_pages/library/cosumer/brastrap.html
(6) "Go Ask Alice": Columbia University's Health Education Program, http://www.goaskalice.columbia.edu/1729.html
(7) "Fiji Follow-up Study Supports Dressed To Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras", Avery News Release; Avery Publishing Group ; October 31, 1997
(8) "British Study Links Bras To Cysts and Breast Cancer", Oliver Poole, The Sunday Telegraph October 31, 2000
(9) Dr. Vicki Seltzer, M. D., chairwoman of obstetrics and gynecology at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New York
(10) "Myths About Breasts (That Grown Women Still Believe)", Homearts Network, Redbook wysiwyg://www.homearts.com/rb/health/97breaf1.html 
(11) "Breast Form Changes Resulting From A Certain Brassiere", Journal of Hum. Ergol. (Tokyo) 1990 Jun; 19 (1) :53-62. Ashizawa K, Sugane A, Gunji T Institute of Human Living Sciences, Otsuma Women's University, Tokyo, Japan
(12) "Why I don't wear a bra", Dr. Elizabeth Vaughan, M.D., http://www.BraFree.org
(13) "Do bras prevent breasts from sagging?", Female Intelligence Agency examines:,007 Breasts, http://www.007b.com

(14) "Brassiere, Choice or Obligation?", Dec. 13, 2009 http://akinasuna.wordpress.com/2009/12/15/brassiere-choice-or-obligation/
(15) "Nipple care 'cuts risk of breast cancer': Research shows stimulation releases protective hormone while report on victims says 70% prefer minor surgery to removal", April 23, 1994 The Independent, GB http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/nipple-care-cuts-risk-of-breast-cancer-research-shows-stimulation-releases-protective-hormone-while-report-on-victims-says-70-prefer-minor-surgery-to-removal-1371823.html
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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