Chinese media reports that a 40-year-old man named Liu, from Jinhua, Zhejiang province, visited the doctor recently in a state of acute embarrassment about his body. Fearful of his co-workers’ taunts, he had come to despise taking off his shirt when working in the field, and even stopped going out, he was so embarrassed. The problem? He was worried about his growing breasts.

According to the estimates of his doctor, Liu was a C-cup. (Not quite sure why his doctor was sizing him up, but we have to admire the attention to detail).

Gynecomastia is a condition characterised by enlarged breast tissue in men, and can be a symptom of another underlying medical condition. Liu’s doctor performed rigorous tests, but couldn’t find anything wrong: there was no tumour detectable, and his liver was functioning normally. The only thing unusual was that Liu appeared to have extremely high estrogen levels. Upon questioning the patient about his diet, the doctor discovered that he was drinking a litre of soy milk every day.


Soy is a staple of many Asian diets, but it’s not without its critics. At one end of the scale, it’s posited as a cholesterol-lowering superfood that aids cognitive function; at the other, as a hormone-disrupting toxin.

In Japan, it seems the idea that drinking soy milk helps your bust grow is not a new one. One article covering the story of Mr. Liu is entitled “the rumours were true! [about soy milk]”. Some netizens greeted Liu’s story with amused enthusiasm:

“Didn’t he know this would happen?!”

“BRB – gotta drink some soy milk”

But where does this idea that soy milk makes your boobs bigger come from? Soy contains isoflavones – naturally occurring compounds that are classed as plant estrogen. And estrogens, which are important for the female sexual and reproductive systems, are commonly regarded as “the female hormone”. That’s why some people claim that soy consumption is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. However, as a leading US breast cancer organisation points out:

“In fact, the average woman living in East Asia eats about 10 times the quantity of soy foods as the average woman in the United States. Yet East Asian women have lower rates of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer than women in the United States.”

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In a damning report entitled ‘Does Soy Really Cause Man Boobs?‘, Mens Fitness reports:

“Since male transgender patients take estrogens to stimulate breast growth, it has been assumed that soy might have the same effect. This appears to be a myth, or at least is not supported in the medical literature.”

On soy consumption and breast growth, then, it seems the jury is still out.

Another mens’ magazine feature – a Men’s Health article from 2009 – has detail so similar to Liu’s story that I wondered if the tale doing the rounds on Chinese websites might be a re-hash of it. Men’s Health – the world’s largest men’s magazine – interviewed a man from Texas named James Price, who also grew breasts and felt like he was “feminizing”. Price says that his hormone levels were so high that the doctors accused him of taking estrogen tablets in secret. He was drinking almost 3 litres of soy milk a day.

▼ That’s fifteen of these delicious cuties.

soy milk display

James Price quit soy milk, but reportedly was still experiencing poor health. The Chinese story, however, ends with the patient signing up for breast reduction surgery. In Liu’s case, netizens were divided between skepticism, acceptance, and scorn:

“Who cares? Soy milk is gross.”

“Japanese people eat a lot of soy. Maybe that’s why Japanese men are so effeminate.”

“What? He was probably just fat.”

This last point is an important one. There are, after all, two causes of man-boobs: gynecomastia, and good old-fashioned weight gain. Whether these men’s odd dietary choices were the cause of their changing body shape or not, these are essentially stories about overconsumption. As Oscar Wilde (never) said: “Dude, drinking 3 litres of anything every day is probably not good for you.”

Source: Narinari, Hachima kikou
Top image: Narinari
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, Modern Mechanix, Japanese Snack Reviews