A gift you can both enjoy.
Love yourself inside and out.
These are all slogans and phrases used to advertise a surgical procedure known as breast augmentation – or the placement of artificial breast implants. These slogans play on our natural inclination to be confident, attractive, and desirable.
With such nonchalant advertising and attitudes surrounding breast implants, it’s easy to believe that it’s a minor procedure with minimal health risks. But are breast implants really safe?
The answer to that question is murky and difficult to answer. So today we’re going to explore just how safe implants really are, how the chemicals in them can harm your health, and some of the health conditions linked to breast implants. Let’s dive in.
What Are Breast Implants?
Breast implants, or breast augmentation, is a procedure in which artificial devices are surgically placed beneath natural breast tissue to enlarge a woman’s bust. Breast implant surgery is of the most popular and commonly performed surgeries among plastic surgeons – with hundreds of thousands of breast augmentations being performed annually.1
Women may choose to get breast implants for a number of reasons including:2
- Reconstructive purposes, like after breast removal due to breast cancer
- To correct asymmetrical or uneven breast sizes
- To restore and enhance breast size after breastfeeding or significant weight loss
- For cosmetic reasons to improve confidence
- To transition and affirm gender identity
There are two primary types of breast implants to choose from – silicone breast implants, and saline breast implants.
Silicone Vs. Saline Breast Implants
Saline breast implants are composed of a soft silicone outer shell that is filled with sterile salt water known as saline. These silicone shells may be pre-filled prior to insertion or can be filled during surgery after implant placement is complete.
Silicone breast implants also consist of a soft silicone outer shell, but instead of saline, they’re filled with plastic silicone gel. This silicone filling is said to give breasts a more realistic feel and appearance than saline implants.
Both types of implants come in various sizes and shapes and may have either smooth or textured shells. Let’s take a little deeper look at the chemical composition of silicone in breast implants.
Chemicals In Breast Implants
So exactly what chemicals are in silicone breast implants? While saline implants may be filled with saltwater, they still contain an outer shell composed of a durable silicone material. Silicone itself is a synthetic material that’s sort of like a hybrid between plastic and rubber – giving it both strength and malleability.
Silicone itself and the manufacturing process to produce silicone requires a hefty concoction of chemicals. The silicone shell (found in saline and silicone implants) and the silicone gel (found in silicone implants)contain a laundry list of chemicals, including:3
- Heavy metals (like tin, platinum, and lead)
- Organosilicon compounds
- Organic acids
These harmful toxins found in breast implants can have some sinister side effects. And there’s growing evidence that this cocktail of toxins is responsible for a condition known as breast implant illness.
Breast Implant Illness Symptoms
The term “breast implant illness” is a blanket term that encompasses a wide range of symptoms that women may experience due to exposure to breast implants. You see, once these implants are inserted, the chemicals they contain slowly begin seeping into your own tissues and cells. This disrupts normal cellular processes and triggers a low-level immune response.
This can result in a slew of unpleasant and even dangerous symptoms such as:4,5
- Joint pain
- Cognitive deficits like poor memory and concentration and/or “brain fog”
- Breathing difficulties
- Insomnia and difficulty sleeping
- Anxiety and/or depression
- Digestive issues
- Unexplained skin rashes
- Persistent and recurring headaches
- Hair loss
- Weight fluctuations
This seepage of chemicals is not confined to defective or ruptured breast implants. Because these implants are housed within your body, your cells and tissues inevitably absorb these chemicals. This can wreak havoc on your body and eventually escalate to even more troublesome health issues. In particular breast implants have been linked to a group of conditions known as autoimmune diseases.
Breast Implants and Autoimmune Disease
Your immune system is designed to protect you by attacking and neutralizing any invading intruder. But in autoimmune disease, your immune system becomes confused and mistakenly attacks your own cells and tissues. There’s mounting evidence that the toxins in breast implants can actually disrupt your immune system enough that it triggers this confusion – resulting in autoimmunity.
Research has found that breast implants may be linked to a significantly increased risk of developing autoimmune disorders like:6,7
- Hashimoto’s disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
To learn more about autoimmune disease and how toxins can cause autoimmunity, head over and read my article all about the hidden triggers that can cause autoimmune disease. And whether they’re intact or ruptured, implant health risks don’t end there.
Other Health Issues From Breast Implants
As if symptoms of breast implant illness and an increased risk of autoimmunity aren’t concerning enough, the list of possible complications associated with breast implants goes on. A handful of additional health issues and complications that may be associated with breast implants includes:8,9
- Breast pain or altered sensation: Pain in the breast or nipple. An increase or decrease in the sensation in the nipple and/or breast which can vary in severity and may be temporary or permanent. This can impact both sexual relationships as well as breastfeeding.
- Calcium deposits: The tissue surrounding the implant can calcify, resulting in hard lumps under the skin. These can sometimes be mistaken for cancerous tumors during a mammogram and potentially lead to additional and unnecessary surgery.
- Cancer: Breast implant-associated lymphoma, or BIA-ALCL, is a type of cancer specifically associated with breast implants. It’s not breast cancer, but rather a cancer of the immune system known as a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Typically, BIA-ALCL is found in the scar tissue and fluid surrounding the implant, but in some more serious cases, this cancer can spread throughout your entire body.
- Capsular contracture: Sometimes the tissue capsule surrounding the implant will tighten and squeeze around the device. This can lead to hardening of the tissues, asymmetry, and/or migration of the breast implant.
- Infection: Implants can harbor bacteria, viruses, and fungi that can trigger a serious infection. Sometimes these microbes can lay dormant and silently wreak havoc on your body, or even trigger a systemic infection long after the initial insertion of implants.
With the possibility of numerous health issues and complications, how can we address and treat breast implant-associated conditions?
Breast Implant Illness Treatment
Breast implant illness and other complications can arise anytime after implant placement – some women develop symptoms right away and others develop symptoms years down the road.
If you’re concerned you’re suffering from the side effects of breast implant-related health issues, the first step is to seek out the guidance of an experienced surgeon familiar with breast explant surgery that you trust. I suggest asking friends and family for referrals or searching online to find which surgeons have the most experience with this type of surgery. It may be helpful to work with another doctor to help with the detox and other protocols you may need after surgery – including a Functional Medicine Practitioner.
If other potential causes of your symptoms are ruled out and/or you continue to experience persistent symptoms that are thought to be related to your breast implants, the best solution is almost always complete implant removal – known as explant surgery.
So Are Breast Implants Safe?
While the debate surrounding the safety of breast implants has been going on for decades, there’s significant evidence that proves these devices are far from harmless. Deciding whether or not implants are right for you is a deeply personal decision. But as with any decision regarding your health, it’s imperative that you understand not only the benefits but also the potential dangers and complications.
Knowledge truly is power. And I’m dedicated to empowering my patients and readers with the knowledge they need to make informed and confident choices surrounding their health. Because when it comes to your own well-being you are in the driver’s seat.
So if you enjoyed this article and are looking for more ways to make your health a priority, head over and check out my blog – it’s loaded with hundreds of articles just like this to arm you with the knowledge you need to make choices that are right for you. And if you want to take it even deeper, I encourage you to enter your name and email address in the form below to sign up for my weekly newsletter.
Now it’s time to hear from you. Were you surprised to learn about breast implant illness? What steps are you taking to make your health a priority and shield yourself from harmful toxins? Leave your questions and thoughts in the comments below!
- Breast Implant Utilization Trends in USA versus Europe and t… : Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery – Global Open (lww.com)
- Breast Implants: Types, Surgery, Recovery & Risks (clevelandclinic.org)
- Heavy Metals – Breast Implant Illness
- Medical Device Reports for Systemic Symptoms in Women with Breast Implants | FDA
- Breast Implant Illness Specialist – Denver, CO: Jill R. Schofield, MD: Autoimmune Disease and Dysautonomia Practice: Center for Multisystem Disease
- Medical Device Reports for Systemic Symptoms in Women with Breast Implants | FDA
- Silicone Breast Implants and Lupus (verywellhealth.com)
- Questions and Answers about Breast Implant-Associated Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (BIA-ALCL) | FDA
- Risks and Complications of Breast Implants | FDA
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Jill Carnahan, MD
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.