Your Friday Dose of Woo: It’s not just a breast massage, it’s a Brassage!

I’m tired of blogging about anti-vaccine nonsense again. Don’t get me wrong, I had an enormous amount of fun writing my commentary on Fire Marshal Bill’s attempt to explain vaccine/autism pseudoscience. It was a hoot, if I do say so myself, but it depresses me that writing such posts is so necessary so often. Fortunately, it’s Friday, and you know what that means (well, at least some of the time, anyway). That’s right, it’s time for some woo.

This time around, it’s not just any woo. In fact, it’s woo that relates to my area of expertise. As you may recall, I do a lot of breast cancer surgery, and I run a lab the focus of whose research is breast cancer. And what woo it is! it’s a shame that it may now be off the market. Well, not really, and it’s not even clear to me that it is off the market. After all, you can still buy Airborne, even though the company was fined millions for making exaggerated and false advertising claims. I still occasionally see Enzyte “male enhancement” commercials even though the company that makes Enzyte was similarly fined big time and its CEO is facing a prison term. So, I’m not surprised that I’m still seeing the website for the Brassage pushing the same woo. What is the Brassage, you ask?

It’s serious, serious woo. Indeed, it claims to be able to “stimulate” lymphatic flow in the breasts and thereby–well, why don’t you take a guess what “stimulation” of lymphatic flow in the breasts will do, ignoring for the moment that a bra isn’t going to stimulate lymphatic flow in the breasts?

That’s right! The Brassage eliminates…TOXINS! And it does it through what it calls the “LETflow” technology. Apparently LETflow stands for Lymphtic Enhancing Technology, Ltd., which leads me to be embarrassed that I just repeated “technology” twice when I referred to LETflow technology. Oh, well. If you’re a woman, I’m sure you’re way more interested in knowing what this technology can do for you. If you’re a man, you’re probably more interesting in how many bad breast jokes I can come up with by deconstructing this woo. I’m actually not so sure myself. I’m more interested in the wonders of the LETflow technology:

Developed over the past eight years by a team of doctors, engineers, and designers, LETflow’s Technology transforms the brassiere from mere support and style to the blending of fashion and breast wellness. This evolution is vitally important since a LETflow Technology bra can stimulate the natural ability of a woman’s immune system to cleanse breast tissues of harmful toxins and cellular debris when the bra is worn.

This cleansing of toxins is aided by the unique design of the patented LETflow Technology “bra side-panel” (US Patent #5940888), which undetectably micro-massages the tissue above and around the sensitive lymphatic vessels, promoting and enhancing the body’s natural breast cleansing flow. The natural flow of these toxins can be impaired by the constrictive pressure of traditional elastic side panels in conventional brassieres.

Wow. It sounds like real research, the operative words being “sounds like.” I was curious, however, just what was included in the patent referenced, so I looked it up. The device was patented under the term Lymphatic circulation enhancer, and if you ever want evidence that having a patent on a device does not necessarily mean that the device is actually based on science, this patent is it. If you look in the patent text, you’ll find right there that woo of woo, that woo that permeates virtually all aspects of “alternative” medicine. That’s right, I’m talking detox woo, baby, and it’s all right there on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website:

Because the lymph nodes filter out unwanted matter drained from the tissues by the lymphatics, they are central to the prevention of disease. In addition, the lymph nodes are the site of much white blood cell and antibody manufacture. These cells are key players in a body’s immune system. When the lymph nodes detect foreign objects such as bacteria, toxins, or even cancer cells, they activate the synthesis of the immune system. Sometimes this process causes the lymph nodes to swell painfully, as well can be the case with sore throats and cysts (which in breast tissues are mostly swollen lymph nodes). Tissue that is drained constantly will be cleansed of these toxins, whereas tissue that is congested and sluggishly drained may keep its toxin reservoir for long periods of time, concentrating the exposure. Over the years, this may result in tissues having a relatively high toxin exposure, compared with the freely draining tissue. Over 85% of the lymph fluid flowing form the breasts drains to the armpit, or axillary lymph nodes, If anything were to constrict the flow of lymph from the breast, there would be poor drainage of the breast tissue. Due to the active fluid pressure from the heart, it takes a large amount of pressure to affect the blood vascular system but it does not take much force to affect the flow of the lymph vessels. Slight pressure, such as soft tissue compression, can negatively influence flow within the vessels.

Considering the manner in which a woman’s bra is constructed and the lymphatic drainage described above, it appears to be clear that armpit lymph nodes and the lymphtics leading to them are constricted by a bra. It is also well known that there is an increased danger due to exposure to toxins in our environment. These toxins enter all the tissues of the body and are drained by the lymphatic system. The lymph nodes filter the lymph fluid of contaminants and the liver helps process the toxins for disposal from the body. Constriction of the lymph system by a woman’s bra prevents normal drainage of the lymph fluid, keeping toxins concentrated within the breast tissue for a much longer period of time, where the toxins can do damage including transforming normal cells into mutated cells.

Thus, the immune system of the breast, being hampered by the bra, is unable to drain the tissue, filter out toxins and repair damage.

This is all complete and utter nonsense, of course. It’s woo. Big time. In normal breasts and normal women who have not had axillary lymph node surgery, there’s no evidence that normal bras will impair lymphatic flow, much less in such a way that causes disease, and there’s certainly no evidence that a “microfluidic” bra like this will do anything. Let me mention an analogy. When doing breast cancer surgery, we usually do a procedure that’s called a sentinel lymph node biopsy. The principle is simple: A radioactive dye or a blue dye is injected into the breast near the tumor. The dye is taken up into the lymphatics of the breast, where they flow to the axillary lymph nodes under the arm. The surgeon then visually identifies a blue lymph node (in the case of blue dye) or uses a gamma probe to find a radioactive lymph node (in the case of the radioactive dye.) This node is called the sentinel node and is the first lymph node that a tumor cell would hit if it broke into the lymph vessels and started spreading to the lymph nodes, and the absence of tumor there correlates highly with the absence of tumor in the rest of the axillary lymph nodes. The advantage of the sentinel lymph node procedure is that, if negative, it spares breast cancer patients a full removal of the lymph nodes.

Often both radioactive and blue dyes are injected, with the radioactive dye injected a couple of hours before surgery and the blue dye injected right after the induction of anesthesia. Here’s the kicker relevant to the Brassage: In order to stimulate real lymph flow and get the blue dye to flow to the axillary lymph nodes, surgeons will vigorously massage the breast for five minutes. The thing is, it takes vigorous massage to get the lymph flowing. That mamby-pamby “microfluidic” massage in the Brassage just won’t cut it. Even if it did, there’s no evidence that impaired lymphatic drainage has anything to do with cancer, other than in the extreme case of women who develop lymphedema from previous removal of axillary lymph nodes. Yes, it’s true, LETflow lays down a whole bunch of science-y sounding arguments just for practitioners like me. The problem is that most of the science-y stuff is irrelevant to the question of whether the Brassage does anything:

Tissue that is congested and/or sluggishly cleansed may keep toxic reservoirs in pockets of lymphatic fluid called Lymphatic Lakes in the intracellular areas for long periods of time adversely affecting the homeostasis of the cellular environment.

The reference used to support this contention? This:

Lymphatic Drainage of the Skin and Breast: Locating the Sentinel Nodes; Jun 1999
Roger F. Uren, John F. Thompson, Robert B. Howman-Giles. T&F STM Publishing

In simple terms the lymphatic system develops in most tissues to act as the drainage system for metabolic debris, fluids and leaked plasma protein.

The skin and the breast like most tissues develop an extensive system of lymphatic capillaries to act as their drainage.

Occasionally along the course of collecting vessels focal dilation of the vessel occurs where there is a pooling of lymph. These Lymphatic Lakes can sometimes be quite large reaching several millimeters in diameter on rare occasions a series of Lymphatic Lakes can be seen along the course of a single lymphatic vessel. The collecting lymphatic vessels lie deeper than the initial lymphatics and are much straighter in their course than the initial lymphatics, they tend to run parallel to each other lying in the subcutaneous fat.

In other words, it’s not a peer-reviewed article, and even the description of the text provided has little relationship to what is claimed. In any case, a lot of what’s there is in fact scientific literature from the early days of sentinel lymph node biopsy, when the technique was being worked out and the lymphatic drainage of the breast was being mapped in more detail than it had ever been mapped before. True, the mapping wasn’t as way cool as the cool Flash animations all over the LET website, but they did give us a lot of information about the lymph system in the breast.

But, hey, I’m obviously just a big pharma shill worried that the Brassage will decrease the rate of breast cancer and thereby cut down on my business. So real believers won’t believe me when I say that the following is a load of horse hockey:

Dr. Sher’s research further confirmed that enhancing the lymphatic circulation through this vital area could significantly boost the immune system’s natural ability to cleanse and protect the mammary cells from the accumulation and concentration of toxins.

After seven years of analyzing scientific data compiled by medical doctors, scientists, holistic practitioners, massage therapists and academics, Dr. Sher along with a team of medical advisors, engineers, designers, and consultants, successfully developed LETflow, a revolutionary design technology that is manufactured directly into the side panels of the bra.

Wow! He analyzed scientific data. Unfortunately, it sure doesn’t sound as though he did any–you know–actual research of his own. In fact, if you look at his list of sources, it becomes apparent that most of them are not peer-reviewed and/or have little or nothing to do with Sher’s contention that changing lymphatic drainage has all the amazing health benefits attributed to it. Given the sheer amount of woo on the LET website, I was curious about Sher. So I looked:

Dr. Jayson Sher, D.C., Q.M.E.

Dr. Jayson Sher has been a Doctor of Chiropractic in private practice since 1975. Dr. Sher is a holistic practitioner currently specializing in postural bio-dynamics, exercise rehabilitation and injuries of the spine and extremities. Dr. Sher is a Diplomat of the California State Board of Chiropractic Examiners and a Diplomat of the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners, State of California Qualified Medical Examiner and Diplomat of the American Board of Disability Analysts. In addition, he has been a medical consultant to leading companies since 1975, including Life International, Joe Weider International, SunWest Industries, Pneumopaedic Products, and Creative Products Development. Dr. Sher graduated from Cleveland Chiropractic College in 1974.

It figures. Only a chiropractor with delusions of grandeur (i.e., a chiropractor who thinks he can do anything more than what a good physical therapist can do) could come up with woo so potent.

You may wonder where I originally learned of the Brassage. Surprisingly, it was in a WebMD article from three weeks ago, which also correctly noted that there is no good scientific evidence linking the wearing of bras, or specific bras, to breast cancer. Obviously, though, it’s a big conspiracy by Big Bra to cover up The Truth, as an anonymous commenter tells us:

But the link between bras and breast cancer is real. The ACS is covering-up this important information, and refuses to do follow-up research into the bra/cancer issue. It is an embarassment to the medical industry that they have ignored the bra in their research into breast disease. It’s like ignoring tight shoes when researching foot disease. The ACS is also interested in treating this disease, not in preventing it, which makes no money for the medical/cancer industry.

As for the bra/cancer link, medical anthropologist researchers Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer have conducted groundbreaking research, discussed in their book Dressed To Kill, showing that constriction from bras is the leading cause of breast cancer. Essentially, bra-free women have about the same incidence of breast cancer as men. And a Harvard study in 1991 found bra-free women had a much lower incidence of breast cancer as bra wearing women.

More research is needed, but the medical industry is avoiding and suppressing the issue. Women should try going bra-free to see for themselves what effect it has on their breast health. Unfortunately, you can’t trust the medical industry to admit that they have ignored the major cause of breast cancer, as well as of fibrocystic breast disease.

Wow! Bra-free women have the same rate of breast cancer as men? Does this commenter know how uncommon male breast cancer is? Personally, I’ve only seen two cases in ten years of practice. If only it were that simple. As for the studies that supposedly linked breast cancer to wearing bras, suffice it to say that they have not–if you’ll excuse the term–held up to continued scrutiny. (I know. I’m sorry. I just couldn’t resist.) Fortunately, for us, though, the dedicated woo-meisters at Intimate Health, the makers of the Brassage, are fighting back against this male hegemony.