Many women with breast implants are finding themselves spiraling into a state of chronic illness, and many in the medical community refuse to acknowledge the connection.
Breast implant illness is a process by which vague and chronic symptoms develop following breast augmentation with silicone or saline implants. The symptoms can develop within days or decades of implantation. Breast implants disrupt the endocrine, immune, and detoxification systems, causing a state of metabolic chaos in which every system of the body begins to break down.
With more than 300,000 breast augmentation procedures performed in the United States each year, for both reconstructive and cosmetic purposes, breast implant illness has become an issue affecting a significant number of women. It is becoming an epidemic in the cosmetic world and has been referred to by many as a “ticking time bomb.” It’s not a matter of if it will happen, but when.
About seven years ago, at the age of 30, I had grown passionate about fitness and wanted to attain peak physical shape. I hired a trainer who worked with bikini competitors to help me get into the best shape of my life. That same year, I decided to get breast implants. I had always wanted larger breasts; it was an area in which I lacked self-confidence. My focus was on aesthetics rather than on my health, and I wanted the look of a bikini competitor. Well, I quickly learned the hard way that the appearance of health on the outside doesn’t equal health on the inside. When my once-perfect health began to deteriorate, I began my search for answers.
Within six months of undergoing breast augmentation, symptoms I had never experienced before quickly became a part of everyday life. I began to see my once perfect health steadily decline. The first symptoms to appear were vague: fatigue, irritability, anxiety, low body temperature, easy weight gain, brain fog, inability to focus, difficulty learning new information, feeling drained after exercise, dry skin, low sex drive, and forgetfulness. Deep down, I knew something was going on because I was no longer my free-spirited self.
As the symptoms progressively got worse, I began experiencing night sweats, insomnia, mind racing, perioral dermatitis, headaches, food sensitivities, chemical sensitivity, IBS, abdominal pain, intolerance to exercise, heart palpitations, tachycardia at rest, and extreme anxiety to the point of becoming antisocial. Loud sounds, bright lights, and being at work in a noisy hospital environment were all torture. The symptoms I experienced progressed to chest tightness, shallow breathing, and (a real fun one) mental awareness of every single breath. I also couldn’t tolerate the stress of any kind of conflict; it made me feel like I would explode. My menstrual cycles were affected to the point that I was scheduling my life around my period. I was a mess. Not to mention all the strain my declining health put on my marriage.
I had been to several different types of doctors, none of whom helped me discover the root cause of my symptoms. There was more going on inside me than I had realized. Living in my body was so uncomfortable it was maddening. I started to wonder if I was just going to have to learn to live with all of these symptoms. I’m pretty sure everyone I knew thought I was crazy, but I began to look for some real answers on my own.
I started to address my lifestyle from a holistic approach, including a Paleolithic diet. I tried many different things, and although I was able to reverse many of my symptoms, I wasn’t 100 percent, and I knew there was something I was missing. Finally, I began to wonder if my breast implants could be an underlying cause of my body breaking down and me not being able to completely restore my health.
The Wide-Ranging Symptoms of Breast Implant Illness
During my research I found Susan Kolb’s book The Naked Truth about Breast Implants. In it, she describes this “mysterious” illness, why it develops, how women are being deceived, and countless stories of breast implant illness from her patients. It felt like I was reading my own story in the pages of her book, and I knew I had found my answer. Dr. Kolb outlined a list of symptoms that matched up perfectly with mine. Below are some of the most common (this is by no means an exhaustive list):
- Hair loss
- Low body temperature
- Weight gain or loss
- Edema, rashes
- IBS, IBD, GERD
- Lymph node enlargement
- Excessive thirst, frequent urination
- Shocks from static electricity
- Low blood pressure, dizziness, shortness of breath
- Chronic fatigue
- Insomnia, night sweats
- Cognitive dysfunction, difficulty concentrating, brain fog
- Anxiety, depression, emotional instability
- Feeling as if you are dying
- Heart palpitations
- PMS, irregular menses, hormonal imbalance
- Blurred vision
- Tingling, burning pain of extremities
- Muscle weakness, tremors, muscle twitches, sharp pains, balance disturbance, joint aching or swelling
- Headaches, migraines
- Viral, bacterial, parasitic, or fungal infections; Lyme disease
- Diagnosis of: autoimmune disease, blood sugar dysregulation
- Difficulty swallowing, chronic cough, or throat clearing
- Food allergies/sensitivities
- Foul body odor
- Premature aging
- Chronic inflammation
The symptoms and timing of breast implant illness can vary from person to person. Its onset and presentation is dependent on the expression of gene mutations, total body toxic burden, internal stressors, type of implants, and trauma to the implants. This illness is multifaceted and chronic, and symptoms are generally vague and widespread throughout the body. I know first-hand how frustrating it can be going from one practitioner to the next in search of answers, only to obtain multiple misdiagnoses. Often, women end up on prescription drugs to mask symptoms. The root cause is never addressed. Unfortunately this is all too common.
My “perfect”-looking silicone implants after explant. (Photo credit: Sarah Phillipe)
How Implants Poison the Body
Any time foreign material goes into the body, a potential for problems arises. Issues can develop from both saline and silicone implants. As a foreign body, implants continuously stimulate the immune system, which can eventually result in immune dysregulation. Over time, this leads to a muted immune system and thus an inability to fight off pathogens, resulting in the overgrowth of opportunistic organisms. This also allows for reactivation of once-dormant pathogens, such as Epstein-Barr or pathogens that cause Lyme disease. In my case, I developed chronic Lyme disease. I hadn’t been recently bitten by a tick, and I didn’t suddenlydevelop Lyme disease. A slow and steady decline in my immune system allowed pathogens I had once been exposed to, previously kept in check, to now thrive and wreak havoc in my body.
In the setting-in of immune dysregulation and overgrowth of pathogenic organisms, I was left vulnerable to autoimmunity by way of a leaky gut. These pathogens produce biotoxins that not only cause an inflammatory cascade and overload our detox pathways, but they also damage our gut lining, allowing bacterial and undigested food proteins to escape into the body. Through chronic exposure to toxins from my breast implants and biotoxins from Lyme and gut pathogens, the tight cell junctions that normally keep the bad things within the intestines became damaged, allowing things to leak through. This lead to me developing Hashimoto’s disease, through a process called molecular mimicry. Many women with breast implants, including myself, end up with one or more autoimmune diseases as a result.
Last, but not least, breast implants might as well be called chemical soup, because they are full of neurotoxic and carcinogenic chemicals and heavy metals that are highly inflammatory to our cells. The presence of these toxic implants in the body contributes to oxidative stress, fuels chronic inflammation, and overloads our detoxification pathways. Because the implants are semi-permeable, they begin to bleed their toxins into the body upon implantation by what is known as “gel bleed.” The effects are widespread throughout the body and cause a cascading effect of systemic dysregulation, including endocrine disruption.
Not only is every chemical and heavy metal used to make silicone breast implants toxic, but these metals also feed pathogenic bacteria, yeast, and parasites in the gut. Pathogens use these materials to create biofilm as a way to protect themselves, making them harder to kill. Below is a list of known heavy and light metals, minerals, and chemicals used in the manufacture of silicone breast implants and the shell of saline breast implants:
|Vanadium||Zinc||Methyl ethyl ketone (neurotoxin)||Cyclohexanone (neurotoxin)|
|Isopropyl alcohol||Denatured alcohol||Acetone (neurotoxin)||Urethane|
|Polyvinyl chloride (neurotoxin)||Amine||Toluene (neurotoxin/carcinogen)||Dichloromethane (carcinogen)|
|Chloromethane||Ethyl acetate (neurotoxin)||Silicone||Sodium fluoride|
|Lead-based solder||Formaldehyde||Talcum powder||Oakite (cleaning solvent)|
|Methyl 2-cyanoacrylates||Ethylene oxide (carcinogen)||Xylene (neurotoxin)||Hexon|
|2-hexanone||Thixon-OSN-2||Stearic acid||Zinc oxide|
|Naptha (rubber solvent)||Phenol (neurotoxin)||Benzene (carcinogen/neurotoxin)||Lacquer thinner]|
|Epoxy resin||Epoxy hardener 10 and 11||Printing ink||Metal cleaning acid|
|Color pigments as release agent|
Saline implants are made with the same shell as silicone implants, which contains silicone Saline implants are made with the same shell as silicone implants, which contains silicone and many of the chemicals listed above. Saline implants also have a valve that allows the surgeon to fill them after being implanted. The problem with this is that if this valve becomes damaged during some kind of trauma, like a mammogram or a car accident, it can lead to serious problems if mold and/or bacteria get past the damaged valve. The valves are also semipermeable and allow fluid to flow inside the implant, which presents an opportunity for microorganisms to enter. Many women who have explanted their saline breast implants have discovered their implants to be riddled with mold, which produces biotoxins that act as neurotoxins.
Saline implants riddled with mold. (Photo credit: Donna Scoville)
How to Restore Your Health
Currently, no test exists to diagnose breast implant illness. Instead, a pattern of symptoms along with a thorough health history can be used to recognize its development. Commonly, women look well on the outside while feeling terrible on the inside. It is an invisible chronic illness that often goes undetected or misdiagnosed for many years. It is often helpful to write a narrative of your life, detailing when symptoms began to appear. A pattern typically ensues after receiving breast implants. You have to listen to your gut instinct. For me, the answer was literally inside of me and I chose to ignore my instinct until I couldn’t.
The health consequences of having breast implants can be detrimental, but the good news is that most of the time breast implant illness can be reversed with the right approach. The first step is always en bloc explant resection and complete capsulectomy with an experienced surgeon. One study reported that 70 percent of patients who underwent explantation reported improvement of their systemic symptoms.
My breast implants were removed exactly six years after I had them placed. I feel very good about my decision. My friends and family could see a change in me right away. They told me I seemed more relaxed, energetic, mentally sharper, happier, and brighter. Most people just don’t know how good their bodies can feel until they restore their health. Misery becomes the new normal.
After removing the breast implants, addressing the downstream effects of having these toxic bags in the body, while also giving your body the nutritional support it needs, over time, will restore your health. In my case, this meant doing some functional lab work to determine what needed to be addressed. Since breast implants affect the immune, detoxification, and endocrine systems, I needed to address SIBO, Lyme disease, gut dysbiosis, poor digestion and failure to assimilate nutrients, HPA-axis dysfunction, hormonal imbalances, leaky gut, inflammation, and heavy metal toxicity.
An important step in healing after explant involves detoxing heavy metals at the cellular level while supporting the body’s methylation, a process that provides protective and detoxing effects and is dependent on several B vitamins. Metals get stored in our muscle, bone, and brain and can have a significant impact on us even after explant. I started a detox program about a month after getting my breast implants removed and have noticed significant improvement.
Supporting the body with good nutrition is imperative. Nutrition is the key to healing the body, but bio-individuality should be taken into account. What worked for me won’t necessarily work for you. Because food sensitivities are likely a problem for those with breast implant illness, I utilized food sensitivity testing to create a customized nutrition plan for healing my body. Then, of course, we need good quality sleep, hydration, and an appropriate type and amount of exercise to heal. Very slowly, I began working exercise back into my routine post explant, doing only what I thought my body could handle. The important thing is to take into account your unique biochemistry. Working with a knowledgeable practitioner who can give you an individualized approach tailored to your specific needs will get you well on your way to healing.