Breast Implants and
DR. IZABELLA WENTZ / AUGUST
I’ve always been a proponent of self-improvement. These days, my journey is focused on learning how to heal, optimizing my health, and letting go of my past traumas and insecurities so that I don’t get in my own way of being the woman, wife, friend, healer, family member, boss-lady and mom that I want to be.
However, when I was younger, my self-improvement pursuits were focused on improving my external appearance. I don’t place a lot of stock in astrology, but I have been told that I am a typical Leo, looking into the mirror at every opportunity, and loving my mane of hair. In fact, my hair loss was the primary reason I went into the doctor and insisted on more testing, which is how I learned I had Hashimoto’s!
Before I figured out that my hair loss was due to my thyroid, I spent loads of money on hair care products and beauty salons. I also spent hours at the gym, bought caboodles of makeup, invested in the latest fashion trends, and got Invisalign to straighten my teeth, so I could improve the way I looked.
I’ve always been petite, and was told by rude school boys that I was built like an eight-year-old boy. I love my body now with all of its perfect imperfections and consider it a beautiful work of art, but when I was in my teens, I desperately wanted to look different.
I remember how a boy I liked in the 7th grade started “going out with” one of the pretty girls who had gorgeous dark hair, brown eyes and curves, just as I had mustered the courage to say hello to him.
I remember boys in junior high singing the obnoxious song “Don’t want no flat chested girl”, and I would look at myself in the mirror and feel inadequate with my little chest in a training bra. There were two girls in 7th grade with breasts who got so much attention, while most boys couldn’t remember my name. I concluded that breasts must have been the reason and resolved to wearing two bras to make my chest appear bigger.
I wanted to be taller, tanner, have curly hair, brown eyes and curves. In my first year of high school, I went tanning, dyed my hair, got a perm, experimented with colored contacts, got high heeled shoes, and started buying “weight gainers” in an attempt to become more curvy.
When I was sixteen, I found “breast increasing pills” advertised in the back of a teen magazine. At the time, I was working as a pharmacy technician and asked my pharmacist what she thought. She discouraged me from getting the supplements and warned that the compounds in them could be carcinogenic.
Though I have personally never had breast implants (intuitively, the insertion of anything foreign into my body always felt scary), as a woman growing up in the United States in the MTV era, I could certainly understand the desire for larger breasts. Breasts are part of our feminine identity…
However, if you are someone who is thinking about breast implants or who currently has breast implants, I do want you to know about the risks associated with breast implants and autoimmune disease. In working with clients over the last few years and speaking with thousands of women with Hashimoto’s, I’ve come across several stories of women who felt like their conditions were either triggered or exacerbated by breast implants.
In the following article, we’ll explore:
The history of breast implants
Risks associated with breast implants
Breast implants as a potential trigger for autoimmune disease
One reader’s incredible story
Resources for explantation and support
A Brief History of Breast Implants
For at least as long as we have recorded history, women have sought to enhance their breasts. Breasts can symbolize different things to different people — beauty, femininity, motherhood, sexual desirability— and women seek to enlarge their breasts for many reasons. For some, it is the desire to fill out their bathing suit tops; for others, it’s to please a significant other; while some women seek wholeness after a mastectomy or congenital birth defect. Invariably, women get breast implants to feel better about themselves.
Clinical procedures to enhance the breasts first began as early as the late 1890s when doctors injected liquid paraffin into women’s breasts. As will happen when foreign objects are introduced into the body, this procedure led to infections, lumps, and hardening of the tissue surrounding the injection sites. Doctors went on to implant glass, ivory balls, and a host of other materials into breast tissue. Not surprisingly, all of these attempts were met with similar failure.
A few decades later, in the 1920s, doctors began to experiment with transplanting fat from the buttocks and abdomen of women and injecting it into the breasts. However, because the body would quickly reabsorb the fatty tissue, leaving lumpy and uneven breasts behind, this method didn’t result in much success.
During World War II, Japanese prostitutes began having their breasts injected with non-medical grade silicone to entice the American servicemen whom they believed preferred women with larger breasts. This practice soon traveled to America, where it became popular in places like Las Vegas where topless dancers sought larger breasts to enhance their professions. Due to serious complications, such as infections, chronic inflammation, migration of silicone to organs, and an association with cancer, these silicone injections were quickly outlawed in Japan. However, they remained legal in the United States up until the 1970s.
The turning point for breast implants came in the early 1960s when two plastic surgeons developed the first silicone breast implants and contacted the Dow Corning Corporation to develop a prosthetic device that would consist of a Silastic shell, filled with silicone gel that was to be implanted under existing breast tissue. A young mother named Timmie Jean Lindsey became the first woman to received the new implants in 1962, and Dow Corning took them to market two years later with nothing in the way of studies or research to understand the effects they would have on the human body.
The Problem with Silicone
Almost as soon as the new silicone breast implants came on the market, women started experiencing a host of complications. Early effects included infections, inflammation, and capsular contracture, which occurs when a foreign substance is inserted into the body and the body reacts by trying to wall it off by forming a capsule of scar tissue around it. This can painfully constrict the implants, and even result in rupture.
Soon, more women began to come forward with other complications related to their silicone breast implants, including hair loss, fatigue, loss of sight and hearing, and weight loss. Lawsuits began to roll in, with the first settlement against Dow Corning being reached in 1977 from a plaintiff who claimed that her ruptured implants caused unnecessary pain and suffering.
Despite the fact that internal memos proved that the Dow Corning Corporation was aware of a slew of complaints from doctors whose patients were suffering after receiving silicone breast implants, as well as medical experts attesting to the effects of silicone poisoning, silicone implant manufacturers continued to deny the risks of the implants they were selling.
The controversy over whether or not silicone breast implants were safe continued to rage on amongst medical professionals, corporations and government boards, but the general public remained largely unaware of the safety concerns until 1990 when an American journalist, Connie Chung, broke a news story about the dangers of silicone implants. Her interview followed a series of women who had all experienced symptoms of immune disorders that could be traced back to their implants. The story stirred public interest and resulted in a push for more research into the safety of medical devices used for women’s health.
Eventually, in 1992, after a congressional hearing, mounting lawsuits, and research into the safety of silicone breast implants, they were removed from the market, except in the case of reconstructive surgery.
The Problem with Saline
Once silicone implants were outlawed, only saline implants were left as an option for women seeking breast augmentation. Still, the demand was huge, and the number of breast implant surgeries increased by 275 percent between 1992 and 1997.
Saline implants are made with an outer silicone shell that is filled with a saline solution. They hit the market in the 1960s, but were not evaluated for safety until years later. Saline implants were believed to be a safer option to silicone because, if ruptured, only the saline solution would enter the body. However, the same initial complications that women experienced with silicone implants held true for saline as well: infection, inflammation, rupture and capsular contraction.
Despite their supposed safety, doctors began seeing many of the same complications with saline implants as were appearing with silicone. There were reports of fatigue, swollen joints, and viral, bacterial, and fungal infections, along with a host of symptoms of immune deficiency appearing in women who had received the saline implants.
The Controversy Rages On
Research into the problems with both silicone and saline implants continued, but much of it was financed by the very corporations who were manufacturing the devices and conducted by the surgeons who were profiting from them. By the mid 90s, more than twenty studies had been published that failed to find a clear relationship between silicone implants and autoimmune illness.
Meanwhile, the number of lawsuits filed against Dow Corning by women who had suffered debilitating health issues as a result of their breast implants caused the corporation to file for bankruptcy in 1995. Yet, despite the lawsuits, the tide began to turn in the favor of breast implant manufacturers. Several studies failed to find a conclusive link between many of the symptoms women were experiencing and the breast implants themselves. After reviewing the existing literature, in 2006, the FDA concluded that only local complications (infection, inflammation, etc.) created significant problems with silicone breast implants. After a 14 year ban, silicone implants were back on the market for anyone who wanted them.
The sad truth is that many of the studies into the safety of breast implants were tremendously flawed. They were conducted on women who had their implants for less than five years, even though the majority of complications occur between eight and fourteen years of implantation. They were also conducted by people who had much to gain by keeping the implants on the market, and were likely biased. A