By Dr. Mercola
There are many millions of women who receive breast implants for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately many are simply unaware of some of the dangers associated with them.
Whether you're a woman who has, or is considering, breast implants, or you have a loved one who is, this interview with Susan Kolb M.D., F.A.C.S., A.B.I.H.M. provides invaluable information that could drastically improve your health.
Dr. Kolb is the founder of Plastikos Surgery Center and Millennium Healthcare in Atlanta, Georgia, which is one of the few holistic plastic and reconstructive surgery centers around.
She has developed treatment protocols to help women with silicone, chemical, and biotoxicity problems from breast implants, and she also authored the book "The Naked Truth About Breast Implants: From Harm to Healing," which goes into far more detail about breast implant risks, associated illnesses, and what to do about them.
As the most common cosmetic surgery procedures, with more than 300,000 breast augmentations performed in the United States each year for both reconstructive and cosmetic reasons,1 this is an issue that is impacting a significant number of, largely uninformed and unsuspecting, women.
Silicone Implants are Prone to Leakage of Cancer-Causing, Neurotoxic Agents
Any time you introduce a foreign material into your body, there's a potential for problems to develop. Breast implants are no different, and issues can arise from both silicone and saline implants due to both the materials used and the potential for bacteria and fungus to proliferate.
Silicone implants may pose a unique risk, as they are prone to leakage. Dr. Kolb shared her own personal experience with leaking silicone implants:
"The first symptom involved the chest wall on the left side, none on the right. I had burning pain that went up to my armpit and down my arm. I started having numbness and tingling in my left arm. Fortunately, I'm right-handed. I started developing thoracic outlet syndrome which, for those not familiar with that, is when you have inflammation in your armpit, the main nerve coming out of the chest to the arm can become inflamed and act in a way that you get weakness and numbness, which is a neurological problem.
I was actually diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, but it was all completely due to the silicone inflammation in the armpit. I didn't have a rupture, which is fortunate, but I did leak out a great deal of silicone. Then after that, I had very, very interesting symptoms: sinus problems (which almost all the women have), new-onset allergies, new-onset dizziness. Eighty-two percent of women with leaking silicone gel implants had dizziness.
It's a neurotoxin. Many of the chemicals that Dow Corning [maker of silicone implants] identified in the trials … are carcinogens, and many are neurotoxins. Oddly enough, the plastic surgeons don't know the list of chemicals that are actually in the gel."
Now, as Dr. Kolb explained, these implants do not last a lifetime, so if you have them (whether they're silicone or saline), you can expect to have them removed or replaced in an average of 8-10 years. If you get mammograms or are involved in a car accident or have other trauma to your chest wall, this time frame of relative safety may be even less, and the rate of leakage and rupture is "very high," Dr. Kolb noted.
" … typically the engineering data say that this leakage inside the human body will occur between eight to 12 years, or as soon as eight years, which is when mine started," Dr. Kolb said. "It started to leak out and those chemicals, which are neurotoxins, and carcinogens or cancer-causing agents will then affect the women. The neurotoxins will affect the area on the side of the rupture or leakage. For me, it was the left side.
In the case of carcinogens, they go into the body, and they can affect a lot of different things. It's very interesting that the carcinogens do not increase the risk of breast cancer. In fact, in women with implants, breast cancer is felt to be four-fold less than women without implants, because of the pressure, the silica, and the cytokines. One of the cytokines that increases in the chest wall is tumor necrosis factor. Breast cancer is actually less common. But other cancers such as lung cancer, colon cancer and pancreatic cancer, and some very nasty cancers are actually increased in women with breast implant problems, according to peer-reviewed literature."
Saline Implants May be Just as Dangerous as Silicone
Saline implants are made with the same shell as silicone implants, but because they're filled with a saline (saltwater) solution are widely regarded as safer than silicone in the event of a rupture or leak. The problem is that if the valve used to fill the implant is damaged, which can occur during a mammogram or car accident, it can lead to serious problems with bacterial and fungal growth.
Dr. Kolb explained:
"Once the valve is damaged, especially in certain implants, mold and bacteria can grow inside the implant. If the valve damage causes the implant just to deflate, then the woman will go ahead and get it changed out, and she won't become ill. But in some implants, the valve injury does not cause the fluid to leak out, but can allow bacteria and especially mold and fungus inside the implant.
I've had patients who have had inside the saline in this implant a mold called pennicillium growing. Whenever somebody hugged them too hard or even [due to] breast exams … the patient can become very ill, specifically because she was allergic to penicillin. She would have an anaphylactic-type reaction whenever her implant was manipulated. It can be very, very serious.
… In general, women who have this … bacterial and mold infection in their chest are deathly ill. The mold produces a biotoxin that's also a neurotoxin. Many of my women come in in wheelchairs. They come in with the diagnosis of MS and lupus together. Fortunately, they have neither.
But some of them are incredibly ill. They have severe mental clouding. They can't even have a conversation. They can't hold their head up … Many doctors have said they're going to die, but of course, they find me and come in."
Removing Leaking or Ruptured Implants May Save Your Life
If you're a woman experiencing health effects from a leaking or ruptured breast implant, having explantation surgery to remove the implants is often extremely effective at resolving the health issues, and this is an area Dr. Kolb specializes in.
"Within a week [of explantation surgery], they're up. They're out of their wheelchair. They may still have some cognitive issues to work through, because detoxification of the biotoxins does take some time. But the results are just incredible. I will say that when you do surgery on somebody who has mold in and around their breast implants, you treat them with antifungals, and you do the biotoxin detoxification, because the biotoxin is not the mold. The biotoxin is produced by the mold. It's a tiny molecule that gets on the nerves, causes dysfunction, and is sometimes hard to get out of the body.
One quarter of the human population can't get rid of the biotoxin, and that's the portion susceptible to what we call sick building syndrome … Sick building syndrome is just when you get the biotoxin but not necessarily the mold, like in a sick building. They can breathe that in. In my patients, the sick building is actually inside their chest wall, so they can never get away from it. That's the problem with that.
But I can get these women with saline implants better quicker than I can a ruptured silicone implant. That's because with silicone the chemicals go all over the body. They actually find silicone in the brain and organs. People cough up silicone. There's silicone coming out of their nose when they blow their nose. There are lesions all over the person's chest and extremities. Those are lesions that scar, and there's silica, sand-like stuff coming out.
Those women – I think – have a more rocky course, a longer detoxification. And as you can imagine, those chemical toxins are a lot harder to get out of the body than the biotoxins are."
Dr. Kolb also uses a variety of protocols that involve a number of nutraceuticals and homeopathic remedies for additional support, as health issues stemming from breast implant complications can impact your entire body. She explained:
"The protocols are actually found at www.Plastikos.com, or you can just Google "silicone immune protocol" or you can just Google my name. It'll come up as well. The protocols are changing … a good protocol is always changing because new things are coming out.
We revise the protocols and keep them up on the website. I would encourage people to take a look at the protocols. They've very extensive, though, as there are many different categories which you need to treat. They need something for their immune system; they need something for their endocrine support – because the endocrine system is also taken out, because the entire hypothalamus is taken out.
You not only get problems with the adrenals, which are treated with adrenal support. You have problems with sex hormones. You have problems with the thyroid, so their hair falls out, they gain weight, and they have dry skin and constipation, although their thyroid tests are always normal. They also have ADH deficiencies, so they drink and pee all the time. ADH is anti-diuretic hormone, and that allows one to hold on to water.
They're not diabetic, but they just drink and pee all the time because of a disruption of the hypothalamus endocrine system. It now occurs both from biotoxins and chemical toxins. Both women with silicone and saline implants generally have these problems."
Be Very Careful in Choosing a Surgeon to Address Implant Complications
Personally, if I were a woman and had a breast implant, I would visit Dr. Kolb in Atlanta directly, but obviously not everyone will be able to do this. If you are considering surgery to resolve implant complications, you need to be careful to choose a surgeon that will provide high-quality care. Dr. Kolb shared some guidelines for doing so:
"I would advise people to ask a surgeon how many explantation surgeries they've done. Unlike putting implants in, taking them out is very technically difficult, especially if they're under the muscle. There can be a very thin layer of tissue between the lung and the capsule. You have to know how to do this correctly, or you can get what we call pneumothorax or entering into the chest cavity, which is where you're not supposed to be.
Surgeons who have not done at least 50 explantations do not know about all the different things you might encounter, and are not comfortable removing the entire capsule. They probably should not be doing the surgery. Leaving the capsule behind is quite dangerous in terms of the patient not getting well. There is not only silicone in that scar capsule, but there's a biofilm of bacteria, fungi, and other elements we don't know. Biofilm is very difficult to treat with anything other than surgery, and women simply don't get well.
Many surgeons don't use drains. Surgeons not using drains are not good because that fluid needs to drain out because after all, fluid in the chest wall is a nice warm, dark space that can grow fungus. It can grow bacteria. Women often become way more ill after surgery because their surgeons gave them antibiotics without giving them antifungals. I tell all my patients, "For the rest of your life, you're going to need to take antifungals whenever you take antibiotics." And it's so true."
Dr. Kolb advises women to find a holistic integrative-trained physician using HolisticMedicine.org. She continued:
"It takes somebody with that kind of training in functional medicine to understand the detoxification programs and … do the correct testing and give the correct protocols. A lot of times, if they can't find a doctor in their area, Dr. Brad Gould, who is a part of Millennium Healthcare and who is a holistic family practice doctor, can do a telephone consult as long as they have a local doctor who can prescribe antifungals and other prescription medicines that may be necessary as part of the protocol."
Raynaud's Syndrome Often Associated with Breast Implants
Raynaud's syndrome is a rare disorder of the arteries that causes blood vessels to narrow. Typically this occurs in your fingers, but it can also impact your toes, making your hands turn cold, blue and painful. While the cause of Raynaud's is typically thought to be unknown, Dr. Kolb pointed out that it is actually linked to methyl ethyl ketone, a chemical in the shell of breast implants.
"Raynaud's is when your hands become very purple and cold especially in cold weather, very blue and painful. This is actually caused because the methyl ethyl ketone in the implant depletes arginine. The treatment for Raynaud's is you do electrolysis detox baths
I do it with hands first. Actually, put the hands in this electrolysis bath that takes the methyl ethyl ketone out of the extremities. Then I give them a fairly large dose of arginine. Occasionally, you have to get lysine at another time if they are prone to cold sores, as you know.
But in any case, it's very, very important to understand the cause of a disease if you want to treat it. I would say very, very few people know what causes Raynaud's. But I know, because I have worked with countless patients who had methyl ethyl ketone and used it every day and they got severe Raynaud's. I, also like yourself, have a program where I interview experts around the world. I was lucky enough that toxicologists tell me the role of methyl ethyl ketone in Raynaud's."
What is the Safest Kind of Breast Implant?
If you are going to get breast implants, you may have heard about the newer "gummy bear" silicone implants, in which the silicone stays mostly in one piece, rather than leaking out. But these are not the ideal choice, according to Dr. Kolb, who pointed out that virtually all silicone implants do leak to some degree. There's also a choice between smooth or textured implants, in which the smooth is the better choice because textured implants have been linked to a rare form of lymphoma. She continued:
"I have breast implants in myself. I have chosen – because I believe them to be the safest – Allergan smooth saline. Smooth is probably better than textured. The texturing can have more problems with infection, because that is just the nature of the texturing.
Any shaped implant is going to be textured. A lot of the reconstruction implants, a lot of the tissue expanders, are going to have the texturing that appears to be associated with this rare form of lymphoma. That's a problem. This will flake off. Even though there's saline inside, this will flake off and get in the lymph nodes. We see it on pathology. I prefer the smooth saline implants."
She also explained that, if you're only looking to increase about a cup size and you can wait a while longer, there is a new method of breast augmentation called stem cell fat transfer, which is currently undergoing U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) testing. During this process, fat from your thighs or hips is put through a special process, then re-injected into the breast to promote growth naturally.
One this is available, Dr. Kolb noted that it might be a better option than implants.
" … once that is FDA-approved, then that might be – especially if you only want to go about a cup size – something that women would want to wait for. You don't have to have it redone every 10 years. You can have it done more than once if you want. You can go up, say, a B to a C cup. If you want to go up a little bit later on when you put more weight on, you can do that as well."
There may, however, be unusual circumstances where implants may actually be preferred, and this would be in women with a very strong family history of breast cancer or who have undergone mastectomy after breast cancer. Dr. Kolb explained:
"I would like to say that occasionally, it is very good for a woman who's had breast cancer – mastectomy after breast cancer – to get an implant either put under the muscle, or tissue expander to be put under the muscle and be replaced by an implant, because the pressure, the silica, and the cytokines in the area decrease the risk of local recurrence tremendously.
I know this because we have a cancer clinic here and I've treated breast cancer patients doing the mastectomies and reconstruction for over 30 years. It's very rare to see a local recurrence in a reconstructive patient versus someone with a TRAM flap, or where the tissues are moved from somewhere else.
In that particular patient and also in a patient who has a very, very strong family history of breast cancer, instead of removing their breast, they might want to get an implant put in and take advantage of the decrease, the four-fold decrease in breast cancer, along with holistic treatments, of course."
For Even More Information …
If you or a loved one has breast implants, certainly listening to this interview a few times until you understand it at a deep level would be wisely recommended. But I also suggest Dr. Kolb's book, "The Naked Truth About Breast Implants: From Harm to Healing," for even more in-depth information.
"For women that are considering breast implants or have breast implants and would want to know more about the maintenance and care of them, they can go to www.TheNakedTruthAboutBreastImplants.com, and there read the table of contents of the book, as well as the foreword by Dr. Douglas Shanklin. Dr. Shanklin was the premier silicone researcher and he wrote the foreword to the book – very interesting information there.
And then, read the book. The book has the scientific information that I have figured out to date, including a large amount of peer-reviewed literature. It includes a large amount of the clinical material that I have figured out to date. Of course, we're always figuring out more information, and we're trying to put that up on the website when we are able to find that out."