A strange little word sometimes gets thrown around in conversations about men, weight, and body image. That word is moobs - a made-up word short for "man boobs".

Men have breasts. No big deal. But sometimes breast tissue overdevelops and takes on the appearance of female breasts. The focus on these so-called moobs is a fairly recent phenomenon, perhaps spurred on by the rise of obesity, perhaps by the media's increasing willingness to focus on and critique male celebrity appearance. And because of all this attention, a man who carries some extra weight in his upper chest area may feel more self-conscious than ever.

One common reason a man might have overdeveloped breasts involves estrogen and testosterone. Estrogen is the hormone that regulates the development of female sex traits, and testosterone does the same for male sex traits. Both men and women have both estrogen and testosterone in their bodies. An imbalance of one or the other can exaggerate these traits by causing the breast tissue to overdevelop.

As a man ages, levels of testosterone may decline. This can lead to the saggy-breasted look more common among older men. Being overweight is a double-edged sword. Not only can the body deposit extra fat in the breast area, excess body fat can also boost the body's estrogen levels, triggering overgrowth of breast tissue. Men who are overweight or obese should notice some reduction in breast size if excess weight is lost. For a healthful approach to weight loss, combine cardiovascular and strength training exercise with a balanced diet emphasizing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins.

In some men and boys, an imbalance of estrogen and testosterone causes a condition called gynecomastia, in which males grow feminine-appearing breasts. Gynecomastia, which is quite common, may be caused by the natural changes of puberty or by certain conditions and medications. Infants can develop swollen breast tissue caused by their mother's hormones. Gynecomastia will sometimes resolve without intervention. The condition may also be treated with medications to help balance hormone levels. For some, reduction surgery may be the best option to remove the excess tissue and reduce the feminine appearance of the breasts.

Other reasons for this condition include medications (some water pills are notorious), an overactive thyroid, kidney disease, and tumours.

Males with gynecomastia may experience swollen breast gland tissue and breast tenderness. Speak to a doctor if you suspect gynecomastia, especially if there are symptoms of swelling, pain, tenderness, lumps, more swelling on one side than the other, or nipple discharge.

Amy Toffelmire