The Bra Comes Under
Further Assault - Time
To Burn Them?
By Jenifer Joseph
Remember your first bra? OK, so it was just a tad utilitarian-looking, maybe even downright ugly.
At least it covered those newly protruding nipples that had become a daily gym class embarrassment. That was the obvious reason to wear a bra.
But as we grew, we turned bras into a vital part of our wardrobe, bringing new meaning to the saying, "Don't leave home without it."
Certainly not a hazard to your health, right?
Beyond a Boost to the Bust
Researchers at the British School of Osteopathy in London have found that fashion bras (anything designed to push up and push out) and sports bras constrict women's rib cage expansion by nearly two inches.
That, says lead author Charlotte Wightman, puts stress on bones and muscles, which can cause a host of health problems, including breathing difficulties, neck pain and irritable bowel syndrome.
While the study was too small to be considered conclusive -- they tried out different bras on just 30 women -- Wightman says women should think about the impact their bras have on their bodies.
"I am not saying that bras are bad for women and they shouldn't wear them," she says. "The problem with bras is persuading women to be more sensible about the ones they buy and how often they wear certain bras like the Wonderbra, strapless or sports bras."
Breast Cancer from Bras?
This isn't the first time bras have been attacked for their ill health effects.
Three years ago, medical anthropologists Sidney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer surveyed 4,700 women and concluded -- to the dismay of most medical doctors and cancer researchers -- that the odds of getting breast cancer dramatically increased the longer women wore bras.
Their theory: The cinching effect of bras on the body suppressed the lymphatic system below a woman's armpits, blocking an internal network of vessels that's supposed to flush toxic wastes from the body. Over time, these toxins accumulate in the breast tissues and create an environment in which cells can turn cancerous.
Their conclusion, which was published in the book Dressed to Kill: There is a 125-fold difference in cancer rates between bra-free breasts and those bound by brassieres 24 hours a day.
"The bra is a stupid garment, a complete fashion issue," Singer says. "Women are giving themselves breast cancer, and they can stop it."
Ready to burn your bras? Not so fast.
Searching for 'Real' Science
Most doctors in the mainstream medical establishment in America thumb their noses at the notion that a mere bra could cause a disease so devilish, regardless of how tight it is. Dr. Ruby Senie, a Columbia University breast cancer specialist and epidemiologist, called it "a ludicrous idea."
And Dr. Stanley Rockson, co-director of Stanford University's Lymphedema Center, is also unconvinced.
"It's irresponsible to make broad statements after doing studies that didn't identify whether patients had preexisting breast cancer risks and not following them for 15 years," he says. "What they did is stretching science further than it can go."
Rockson adds that he can't say breast cancer isn't caused by bras, but that we simply don't know. To make that kind of conclusion, researchers would need to conduct prospective clinical studies, as opposed to Singer's 12-question survey of women's bra-wearing habits.
"People don't need to be panicked about this," he says, "but it is something to be aware of."