|MadSci Network: Anatomy|
Dear Corey, thank you for your question regarding the production of breast milk in males. The answer here is short: It's a yes. The circumstances however are, if not abnormal then at least, well, special. Let's start at birth. There is the phenomenon of galactorrhea (Greek for "milk flow") in new-borns. This phenomenon stems from the fact that of course the expecting mother is laden with oestrogen. Oestrogen passes the placenta and does the same work in the breasts of the foetuses/new-borns as it does in the mother: It leads them to mature and produce milk. The phenomenon is not that common and, as the maternal oestrogen is degraded and not replenished after birth, usually wears off after a few days. My mother tongue, German, has a very ugly word for the milk which is produced in the new-born’s breast: "Hexenmilch" - witches' milk. It comes from the time where any apparently unusual or abnormal phenomenon would be attributed to the actions of "witchcraft". The next time galactorrhea can occur is during puberty. There are isolated reports that with the surge of sex hormones during puberty (during which boys as well as girls experience a rise in oestrogen levels, though of course not as pronounced), some boys can experience swelling and soreness of the breast with an associated discharge upon physical stimulation or self manipulation. The next part is a bit more speculative: From ancient times, there have been "reports" or rather, legends, of fathers who started to produce milk after the mother of a new-born had died. I was unable to nail it, but there appears to be a similar story in the Bible. However, it is not just ancient books and legends: The famous German naturalist, Wilhelm von Humboldt, cites credible reports of a lactating man in the South American Andes who nourished his child for a year; infrequent reports cam from Russia as well. In the 19th Century, an American physician named Knott collected such cases, publishing them in 1906. Maybe you can get hold of the reference: Knott J. Abnormal lactation: in the virgin; in the old women; in the male; in the new-born of either sex («Witches’ Milk»).Amer Med 1907;XIII:373-8. All reports of lactating males have in common that milk production was inadvertent and surprising. The story is usually that the mother died, and the father, overwhelmed with grief and love for the child put it to his breast which upon stimulation by the suckling child started to produce milk unexpectedly. While I want to stress that Russian anatomists or American physicists from the 19th century - or Wilhelm von Humboldt, for that matter - are not an inch less credible in their reporting than we are today, there are no confirmed, documented first-hand reports of consistent lactation in grown men available to the literature canon of modern medicine. The subject thus remains a bit speculative. It is easier in veterinary medicine - it is a confirmed fact that rams do, on occasion, produce copious milk. The question of male lactation seems to be entirely one of the "right" circumstances: The milk-producing organ is there, complete with fat, glands, nipple and the requisite hormones: Oestrogen, oxytocine, and prolactine. They are just not usually there in the right amounts at the right time. If and when, by a particular whim of nature or unusual circumstances, these hormones do appear in halfway the right quantities, lactation in males is - or at least appears - possible. Quite apart from this galactorrhea can be a symptom of underlying disease, usually concerning the hormones oestrogen and prolactin. Some of the better known conditions leading to galactorrhea in men are prolactin-producing tumours and liver cirrhoses, a condition in which the normal degradation of male estrogens is impaired. So again, normal males can produce milk under unusual circumstances, not all of which are associated with disease. I hope that helps. Yours truly Jens Peter Bork References: - http://www.mayoclinic.com/invoke.cfm? id=HQ00730 - contains an overview about galactorrhea due to prolactine producing tumours - Galactorrhea in a patient with liver cirrhosis: Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology. 25(4):716-717, December 1997 - http://www.aafp.org/afp/20040801/ 543.html is a general article about Galactorrhea - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/ query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=6429109&dopt=Abstract has a case of galactorrhea after self manipulation - www.saez.ch/pdf/2000/2000-20/2000-20-438.pdf - Here you find the article referring to v. Humboldts report (in German, but nice pictures; loads directly as a .pdf file)
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