Mechanisms of Breast Implant Illness

Breast implant illness begins with immune dysfunction from the chronic foreign body reaction, silicone as an adjuvant, heavy metal exposure, leakage of gel bleed, biofilm, and oxidation of the implants that produces free radicals/oxidative stress.

The body mounts a persistent immune attack (first acute and then chronic) on the foreign objects until often times it eventually starts to attack itself. The implants are a constant source of immune stimulation, this involves the release of many inflammatory mediators that result in inflammation, which has the potential to create symptoms in every organ system. Silicone is an internal irritant that has the ability to modulate immune, endocrinological, and neurotransmitter functions. Its widespread harmful effects induce silicone toxicity. Four examples of its effects, by rheumatologist and silicone toxicity expert Dr. Arthur Brawer, are:

    1. As an example, at least 75% of symptomatic silicone recipients have markedly dry eyes and dry mouth, and Schirmer tests are quite abnormal in these patients. However, their biopsies of salivary tissues are completely normal, because this ailment is likely due to dysfunction of the receptor for acetylcholine (which normally stimulates these glands).
    2. As another example, silicic acid (which is a breakdown product of silicone) crosses the blood brain barrier and can chelate neurotransmitters (such as dopamine) – hence, cognitive dysfunction occurs but MRI scans are normal.
    3. As a third example, silicon forms four bonds like carbon but behaves like a metal at times. You cannot expect energy production and energy utilization in mitochondria and the interior of cells to proceed normally after silicone exposure, because phosphorus is metal-ion-bound in energy systems. Hence, weakness and fatigue occur, but muscle biopsies are normal.
    4. As for joint pain and arthritis in silicone recipients, any synovial fluid analyses reveal less than 1,000 cells (non-inflammatory) – think of substance P in nerve endings, and also think of the matrix macromolecules in cartilage.

Both saline and silicone implants have silicone exposure, as saline implants are encased in silicone shells. Intact shells are semi-permeable and from the time they are implanted they leach gel bleed (microscopic leakage from the implant) in the form of silicone and heavy metals, and potentially also chemicals (xylene, benzene, toluene, and 40+ more) from the degradation of the implants’ shells.1 In particular, heavy metal catalysts, such as platinum are found to be released in peak amounts as part of gel bleed in the first 60 days.2 Other heavy metals used in the manufacturing process may slowly accumulate in the body (such as mercury, arsenic, lead, cadmium, and more). The heavy metals and chemicals are neurotoxic, cytotoxic, and carcinogenic.3 Silicone, heavy metals, and chemicals can migrate throughout the body, furthering the protective inflammatory immune response. Finally, implant surfaces also undergo oxidation where damaging free radicals are released that directly harm your cell walls, DNA, enzyme systems, and immune system functioning. Free radicals are produced during normal metabolic functions and are kept in check, but they can accumulate in the presence of chronic inflammation, stress, any toxins (heavy metals, chemicals, silicone, etc.), ultraviolet radiation, x-ray radiation, low magnesium levels, and immune activation.4,5,6 They circulate in the blood stream and cause widespread damage. Oxidative stress occurs when there are too many free radicals causing too much cellular damage. Next, the immune dysfunction and toxin accumulation slowly start a system wide chronic inflammatory response and a cascade of dysregulation.

The weakened immune system then allows opportunistic pathogens to take a foothold. The body is then left vulnerable to the pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi, and other invaders that it would normally be able to defend against. Many women develop recurrent candida. This is a fungus (yeast) that normally lives in the gastrointestinal tract, helping with digestion and nutrient absorption, and other areas without causing any problems. Candida is an opportunistic pathogen, when the immune system is compromised it is no longer regulated, it will overproduce and may enter the bloodstream. Heavy metals that leach from the implants also contribute to systemic candida. Antifungal treatment will only act as a bandaid until the immune system can be rebuilt to be healthy and functioning, which can only be done once the stressors (implants) are removed. The weakened immune system may also trigger dormant viruses to reactivate, such as Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus, varicella zoster, HHV-6, etc. Parasites also may grow in the gut due to bad gut health and even past the gut as they inhabit the body because there is no immune opposition to them. Lyme sufferers experience worsening in symptoms as breast implants serve as interference to the immune system. Lyme disease is an infection and the body can have difficulty getting rid of it because lyme can hide in biofilm, intracellularly, and can change their appearance to elude the immune system.7 Lyme and breast implant illness are different entities that share very similar symptoms. Foreign objects involve a foreign body reaction that releases a lot of inflammatory mediators just as in lyme. The inflammatory reaction to the implants can prevent a person with Lyme disease from getting better, because the immune system is also fighting the foreign objects. Therefore part of the treatment is to get rid of all toxins competing for the group of immune cells so that the body can then focus on the lyme.

Next, the toxicity of the silicone, heavy metals, and chemicals wreak havoc on the organs and body – poisoning the fragile endocrine system (thyroid/adrenals and other glands), disrupting the metabolism, creating cognitive dysfunction, effecting the digestive and gastrointestinal systems, and more. Silicone and many heavy metals from the implants are endocrine disruptors.8 They fit like a hand to a glove to estrogen receptors via estrogen molecular mimicry, displacing and competing with the body’s natural hormones. They can migrate out of the implants into the estrogen sensitive breast tissue. The endocrine sensitive thymus gland is also nearby and thymus disruption affects the development of immune cells. The metabolism is also disrupted by the toxins. Toxicity affects the mitochondria and contributes to the most common symptom of fatigue – which is also affected by viral stress, toxic stress, infections, immune dysfunction, sleep disturbances, hormonal imbalances, poor diet, free radicals, etc.9,10 Mitochondria are essential organelles found in nearly all cells, except red blood cells, they are the powerhouses that create the energy currency (ATP) for the majority of cellular processes.11 They play a central role in energy metabolism, which is a critical part of cellular function and influences overall health. Toxins and their oxidative stress can directly damage the mitochondria, blocking their function and causing biochemical disruption of energy production.12,13,14 Inversely, as toxins accumulate their energy demands increase as they stimulate the immune system, metabolism, and other systems into overdrive. Energy demand begins to outstrip energy delivery. This eventually taking a toll as the body slows down. A multiplicity of symptoms can stem from mitochondrial dysfunction and a decreased metabolism, organs began to function inefficiently with less energy. Cognitive dysfunction is another major consequence of toxic exposure, heavy metals, free radical oxidative stress and mitochondrial damage.15,16 Brain fog is a product of oxidative stress and inflammation.17 The food intolerances that develop from gut damage also can contribute to brain fog – gluten, casein, yeast, lectins, food additives, salicylates, caffeine, etc. Toxic oxidative stress and a weakened immune system are also key players in digestive and gastrointestinal issues.18 The gut is a major site of antioxidant activity and detoxification, and additionally it is intimately tied with the immune system and hormones.19,20 The intestinal walls absorb toxins and contribute to inflammation. About 70% of the immune system resides in the gut-associated lymphoid tissue.21 The combination of the weakened immune system, oxidative stress, and opportunistic pathogens growing rampant contribute to the gastrointestinal and digestive malignancies such as gut dysbiois, irritable bowel syndrome, bowel inflammation (colitis), allergies, food intolerances, and more.22,23,24

Overall, the chronic stress of the foreign body reaction, silicone toxicity, heavy metal exposure, and gel bleed result in a weakened immune system, buildup of implant toxins, free radicals inducing oxidative stress, and vulnerability to opportunistic pathogens (bacteria, fungi, parasites). Immune dysfunction allows opportunistic pathogens to grow out of control (ex. candida) and for dormant viruses to reactivate (Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus, etc). A cascade of systemic dysregulation eventually develops. In addition, saline implants can have faulty valves and cultivate mold and microorganisms. Detoxification can be increasingly impaired as the liver and kidneys struggle to remove toxins. The body goes into a systemic state of chronic inflammation. All of this adds up to a slowly developing chronic debilitating illness affecting many organ systems of the body.

Breast implant symptoms therefore are widespread and can be related to the persistent foreign body response, oxidative stress, and toxicity (silicone, heavy metal, chemical, biotoxin) resulting in: inflammation, immune dysfunction, formation of autoantibodies and autoimmune diseases, gut dsybiosis, metabolic symptoms, neurological symptoms, endocrine symptoms, biotoxin symptoms, and others. Medications tend to only worsen problems by adding to the body burden of toxins to be detoxified. The body’s manifestation of symptoms is an indication for the necessity of prompt breast implant removal.