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By Tara Oakes
PARIS (Reuters) - A little-known French sports doctor who spent 16 years studying the busts of about 300 women sent a scare through a country known for its love of lingerie this week when he suggested bras were useless.
Jean-Denis Rouillon, 62, was thrust into the limelight after he told a student radio station that his work suggested wearing a bra weakened the natural muscles that hold up breasts and women should consider going bra-less.
National radio picked up the story and Rouillon, based at the small University of Franche-Comte in the eastern town of Besançon, was soon being hounded by newspapers and TV.
France Info radio interviewed a 28-year-old volunteer in the study, Capucine, who said abandoning her bra had liberated her in more ways than one, improving her breathing and posture.
"You breathe better, you stand up straighter, you have less back pain," she told the national news station.
Even the highbrow daily Le Monde weighed in, offering an historical insight into the origins of the bra dating back to the 14th century.
Rouillon told Reuters that his unpublished work is still in the early stages and he is hesitant about giving one-size-fits-all advice to women, despite the media circus.
His preliminary results on 330 women aged 18 to 35 suggested that wearing a bra from an early age does nothing to help a wearer's breasts and going without could improve firmness.
"The suspension system of the breasts degenerates," Rouillon said, explaining that bras also unnaturally hamper circulation.
"But a middle-aged women, overweight, with 2.4 children? I'm not at all sure she'd benefit from abandoning bras," he added.
(Reporting by Tara Oakes, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)