Sore Boobs? The Truth Behind Premenstrual Breast Pain
At least 70% of women have experienced breast pain at some point in their lives. Painful, tender swollen or sensitive breasts or nipples are extremely common in the lead-up to your period.
Although it can occur at any point of the cycle, sore boobs tend to happen around 7-14 days before your period starts, after you have ovulated and your hormonal landscape changes in preparation for a potential pregnancy.
I have had clients tell me they have to entirely stop their exercise routines in the week or two before their period because the pain in their breasts is so severe. Other women have told me they go up an entire cup size before their period and can’t wear their regular bras or lay on their stomachs.
Ladies, these changes in your breasts are common but they aren’t normal. They are a sign of an underlying hormonal imbalance and/or nutritional deficiency.
Wondering if you might have a hormonal imbalance? Take my FREE 3-minute quiz to find out:
What causes premenstrual breast pain or tenderness?
Cyclical breast pain (sore breasts that come and go at different points of your cycle) is usually caused by fluctuations in hormone levels.
In a normal menstrual cycle, our ovaries produce estrogen in the first half of the cycle which has a very powerful effect on our boobs. Breast tissue contains large numbers of estrogen receptors which stimulate the growth of milk ducts in our breasts.
After we ovulate in the middle of our cycle, our ovaries begin producing progesterone. In preparation for a potential pregnancy (whether that is your plan or not!) progesterone stimulates the breast tissue to develop in order to feed a future potential baby.
Once you reach the end of your cycle and haven’t fallen pregnant, your hormone levels drop off again (often giving you the only relief from breast pain you’ve had in weeks). After your period, the whole process starts again in preparation for another potential pregnancy.
When your hormone levels are balanced and you aren’t suffering from certain nutritional deficiencies, this hormonal fluctuation goes by unnoticed in your breasts. This means that in a normal situation, you should not experience pain, swelling, tenderness or sensitivity of your nipples or breasts before your period.
If you are experiencing sore boobs in your premenstrual time, it’s time to explore the top 2 causes of this pain-in-the-boob symptom.
Which hormone imbalance can cause sore boobs?
According to Dr Jerilynn Prior, a professor of endocrinology at the University of British Columbia, premenstrual breast pain that is felt on the front of your breasts and over the nipples is a sign of excess estrogen.
How does estrogen excess cause breast pain?
Estrogen strongly stimulates the development of milk ducts in our breasts in preparation for potential pregnancy. After ovulation, estrogen levels are designed to drop down while progesterone takes the stage until our period.
In the right levels, progesterone has a balancing on estrogen and prevents many symptoms like PMS and breast pain.
When we have issues with excess estrogen, or when progesterone is low in comparison, breast pain is often increased and may cause swelling and nipple tenderness.
Could you be suffering from estrogen excess? Take my FREE 3-minute quiz to find out:
Is a hormone imbalance the cause of your breast pain?
take my quiz to find out
Which nutritional deficiency can cause breast pain?
The number one nutritional deficiency causing cyclical breast pain is iodine deficiency.
Iodine is an under-rated nutrient when it comes to your breast health. We mostly think of iodine as being crucial for thyroid function, but it has important roles in keeping our ovaries, uterus, brain and detoxification systems healthy as well.
Second to your thyroid, your ovaries and breast tissue store higher amounts of iodine than anywhere else in the body. This explains why iodine requirements are higher for women than men.
Our ovaries rely on iodine for smooth, regular ovulation and sufficient iodine levels helps to prevent ovulation pain and ovarian cysts.
How does iodine deficiency cause sore boobs?
One of iodine’s main roles is to make cells less sensitive to estrogen. This is good news for your breasts because iodine helps to lessen the breast swelling and sensitivity associated with increased estrogen.
So as you can see, breast pain is often a combination of excess estrogen and iodine deficiency and often requires a two-prong approach.
Top 2 Solutions To Reduce Premenstrual Breast Pain:
Correct estrogen excess
Correct iodine deficiency
If you suspect you may be suffering from estrogen excess, take my free quiz to find out how to begin addressing your symptoms with my personalised hormone-balancing report.
If you suspect iodine deficiency (Remember: it is possible to have both estrogen excess and iodine deficiency!) read on...
Iodine deficiency is relatively common even in countries that fortify foods like salt and bread with iodine to address this public health issue.
Because these days, many of us on a quest to “eat clean” have stopped eating processed bread products and opted for fancy Himalayan or Celtic salt, which while richer in minerals than table salt, does not contain iodine.
Testing for iodine deficiency is difficult as the results are not highly accurate at identifying deficiency however can be a good starting point to determine if supplementation may be appropriate for you.
How do I test for iodine deficiency?
There are a few options:
Random Urinary Iodine is the most commonly ordered by doctors. This involves a single urine sample. This is by no means a perfect test as it represents a ‘moment in time’. A particularly high or low iodine meal consumed before the test may influence the results
24-Hour Urinary Iodine Test is the most accurate iodine test, however it involves collecting all of your urine over a 24-hour period for sampling (not the nicest job and you definitely want to be able to be home all day)
Iodine Challenge Test involves giving a single, very high dose of iodine which is highly questionable, particularly if there is any suspicion of thyroid disorders. Practitioners have questioned the safety and efficacy of this test, so I would suggest sticking with one of the above 2 options if you choose to have testing
Should I take an iodine supplement?
Iodine supplementation is one of the most controversial topics in the natural health world. If you suffer from a thyroid condition like Hashimotos, Graves Disease, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism or goitre, there is some research to suggest that iodine supplementation (particularly in high doses) may trigger or worsen thyroid conditions.
If this is you, or you have a family history of thyroid disorders, please visit your primary health care provider before beginning iodine supplementation. Your doctor will be able to order testing to check your thyroid function as well as iodine status (to see if you are deficient).
If you have no history of thyroid disorders and do choose to try supplementing iodine, start with very low doses and go slow to be on the safer side. If you have any concerns, please also visit your primary health care provider for advice.
Selenium has been shown to protect the thyroid from damage from excess iodine, so when supplementing iodine consider around 100mg of selenium as well.
What is the best form of iodine to take? Can I just eat seaweed?
There are several ways to consume iodine. It is present in foods like seafood, seaweed and grass-fed butter however the amounts in these foods varies widely, making it difficult to determine how much you are consuming.
The best form of iodine for breast pain is molecular iodine which has been shown to reduce pain and swelling. Molecular iodine is absorbed slowly into the thyroid and more quickly into the breast tissue which makes it a safer alternative if you have concerns about your thyroid.
A particular brand of iodine supplementation called Violet has been specifically developed for breast pain, however recommends relatively high doses of iodine. If you choose to use this product, consider starting with smaller doses or running it by your healthcare practitioner first.
A final word on breast pain…
Cyclic breast pain is very common and often triggered by an underlying iodine deficiency and/or estrogen excess scenario. In a very small number of cases, breast pain may be a sign of something more sinister. If your breasts feel lumpy, the pain isn’t going away or you have any other concerns please visit your primary healthcare practitioner for further advice.