BRA WARS; Battle for a Bust of Your Dreams but Is It Harmful? in a Week When a New Bra That Cost Pounds 2 Million to Develop Hit the Streets, the Sunday Mercury Examines New Research Claiming the Support They Offer May Be Bad for Women's Health. Lifestyle Editor CLARE McVEY Reports

Article excerpt

BRAS - you can't escape them at the moment.

If it isn't Judy Finnigan revealing hers on live TV, it's blonde model Adriana all over billboards in her Variable Cleavage Wonderbra. And last week a new bra which cost pounds 2 million to develop hit the shops.

Manufacturers would like us to believe that with bra designs incorporating new gimmickry such as silicone gel pads, air bags, pulley systems and flexible plastic, we can have the bust of our dreams - and be comfortable.

The pounds 600 million industry is based on persuading women of just that and 75 million bras were bought last year.

But now it seems medical opinion may be turning against the time-honoured item of lingerie.

New research suggests that women may be better off doing a Charlie Dimmock and going bra-less.

Received wisdom has told us that we need bras to support the ligaments which, if stretched, will fail to return to their original shape. This could leave you with the dreaded droop.

But there's growing evidence that bras - particularly badly-fitted ones - could be not only unnecessary but unhealthy.

Five years ago, American author Sydney Ross Singer caused a storm when he claimed bras could cause breast cancer.

He said the underwired variety, in particular, could restrict the lymphatic system which flushes toxins from the body - allowing them to build in the breast tissue.

Breast specialists dismissed the claim but, more recently, a study by the British School of Osteopathy found that 'push up and plunge bras' with underwiring could constrict the diaphragm, which can lead to breathing and even bowel problems.

Two out of five British women suffer from breast pain and many also have cysts, which some experts believe may be linked to the wearing of bras.

Levels of pain

Channel 4 programme Dispatches, to be broadcast this week, claims to have gathered new evidence to support this theory.

Researchers from University Hospital in Cardiff and Frenchay Hospital in Bristol, asked 100 women who suffer from breast pain or cysts to go without a bra for three months.

They were then asked to return to bra-wearing for three months to measure the difference in levels of pain and breast cysts.

They found that on average pre-menopausal women enjoyed seven per cent more pain free days, although going bra-less was not thought to be so beneficial for post-menopausal women.

Some of the women who took part claimed that taking off their bras got rid of their pain.

Leading breast health specialist, Professor Robert Mansel, who conducted the Cardiff study, insists whatever the merits of not wearing a bra, wearing one has no medical benefit.

And he points to the fact that societies where few women wear bras have low rates of breast cancer.

'When one looks at where there's positive evidence that bras are good for health, that evidence does not exist,' he says.

'The civilisations or people who don't wear bras tend to be from the groups who have a lower incidence of breast cancer.'

Prof Mansel says he sees many women suffering from breast pain which may be linked to ill-fitting bras.

'It can be very debilitating,' he says. 'I know women who are unable to work because of breast pain. It's very common and it's very hard to treat.'

Prof Mansel believes more research is needed - particularly into the link between breast pain and breast cancer.

French researchers have found that women with monthly breast pain have double the risk of getting breast cancer and that, statistically, pain can be as significant a risk as a family history of cancer.

Bras - The Bare Facts will be broadcast on Channel 4 on Thursday at 10pm.

DOCTOR WARNS OF BACK PROBLEMS

BRAS may not only be bad for the breast.

Dr David M Smith, an osteopath from The Birmingham Nuffield Hospital, is convinced the bra is at the root of many women's back problems. …