Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History
“Read this book and you’ll toss out all the plastic in your cabinets, rethink your hand sanitizers, go back to bar soap, fret about the labels in your bed materials, think thrice about cosmetics and lotions—all while sprinting to the nearest health food store.”
Florence Williams’ Breasts is a fantastic ride for anyone who plans to procreate, lactate, or simulate either. By turns disarmingly funny and sleep-depriving scary, Breasts is so compelling you can’t put it down.
Ms. Williams shows us more about the processes and power of breasts than you may care to know, but the amount of traveling she put in to research this book is worthy of an award in itself.
Ground zero for breast implants in the United States is Houston, Texas, in which the first breast implants were performed in 1962 on a woman initially looking to have her ears done.
A tsunami of silicone breast implants—an unregulated medical device—came out of Houston and eventually promulgated throughout the world. Though ultimately the silicone leaks resulted in a class-action lawsuit, the implants continue to be used to this day. The foam covered implants, made of a known carcinogen, were outlawed in the United States but are still used in Europe and South America (Brazil).
And the United States isn’t the only guilty party here; a French manufacturer of breast implants was tried in 2011 for using unapproved chemicals containing industrial silicone and other substances in breast implants.
Nonetheless, after 20 years of study, science has not been able to show that women with breast implants experience more autoimmune diseases than non-implanted women. It was not until 2011 that the FDA reported that implant patients have higher rates of a rare cancer: anaplastic large-cell lymphoma.
Roughly 300,000 women in the United States get breast implants annually and over five million women throughout the world are walking around with them. But hold on ladies, you are not home free yet: Over 15% of women with implants have to get surgery for implant failures—and the product does not come with a lifetime guarantee.
For women wanting to breastfeed, nipple sensation can be a problem after implants. Furthermore, the FDA states in its Breast Implant Consumer Implant, “It is not known if a small amount of silicone may pass from the silicone shell into breast milk.”
Those with a weak stomach may take issue with Ms. Williams’ detailed surgical descriptions of breast implantation procedures, so let’s move on to the cancer link: Breast cancer is the number two cause of death for women in the United States, second only to cardiovascular disease—one out of eight women will get the disease.
Estrogen is the culprit; it is a natural steroid and all vertebrates from rats to apes share this trait. Estrogen is a hormone that is responsive to the world around us and unfortunately it can indiscriminately adapt to any carbon ring structure, including the synthetic compounds used in the manufacture of plastics, industrial solvents, and pesticides.
BPA was proven to act as artificial estrogen 80 years ago, and is a principle ingredient in polycarbonate plastic, which breaks down easily and escapes into our environment. But here is where the book really heats up: Ms. Williams provides a plethora of examples about lack of regulation and testing of chemicals due to successful lobbying of big chemical and pharmaceutical companies.
Ms. Williams declares that in the United States every chemical is assumed safe until proven guilty, and the burden of proof falls on government and university scientists who lack the resources to properly research and report on potential problems. And yet, what baby boomer has not been exposed to DDT in the United States?
Breasts is also one of the best recent books covering the microbial world and its impact on our species. Ms. William’s book should be used in school science classes for its detailed exploration into microscopic breast tissue. Unfortunately, it turns out that breast tissue is a magnet for trouble. The very survival of our species may come down to the free radical estrogens found in the environment and their deleterious effect on male testosterone.
Read this book and you’ll toss out all the plastic in your cabinets, rethink your hand sanitizers, go back to bar soap, fret about the labels in your bed materials, think thrice about cosmetics and lotions—all while sprinting to the nearest health food store.
Breasts are the best! So let’s try to keep them, ladies, shall we?