Monday, July 10, 2006

Lavender and Tea Tree Oil: Estrogen Mimics

I posted a summary of this on the You Grow Girl forums. The July 1 issue of Science News carried an article about the newly-discovered feminizing effects of lavender and tea tree oil in young boys, and appear to be responsible for a rise in breast development in pre-pubescent boys. The article is on the Science News website, but is available only to subscribers of the print magazine, so I'll summarize the findings here.

The story: Ever since 1990, Dr. Clifford Bloch, an endocrinologist in the Denver area, had been seeing a number of cases of gynecomastia in pre-pubescent boys. Gynecomastia, or breast development in boys, is unusual, and when it occurs it's usually the result of some hormonal problem. However, testing the boys for sex hormones showed a normal ratio of the various sex hormones, so it wasn't a hormone production problem. After a great deal of laborious detective work, trying to find out what these boys all had in common, the doctor traced down two possible culprits: lavender essence and tea tree oil. All the boys had been using soaps, hair gel, shampoo, and similar topical products with these two herbal ingredients. In some cases, boys had been putting pure lavender oil on their skin. When Bloch suggested they stop using these products, the condition disappeared within a few months.

But a simple correlation doesn't prove a cause, so the doctor contacted a health sciences research lab in North Carolina, and asked them to investigate. The researchers carried out an in-vitro experiment, treating human breast tissue cultures with lavender or tea tree oil. In both cases, the oils caused the cells to turn on estrogen-regulated genes and turn off androgen-regulated genes. In other words, both act as estrogen mimics, turning on genes normally controlled by estrogen, such as genes that stimulate breast tissue growth. It also turns off genes controlled by male hormones.

While Bloch's observations were on young boys, the same effect may also happen in young girls. In fact some health researchers have noted a recent rise in pre-pubescent breast development in girls. With the increased popularity of lavender as a calming aroma in aromatherapy, more people are using lavender-scented products, and users include children in the household.

The article had no report as to whether spammers will soon be pushing breast enlargement products featuring lavender and tea tree oil. It probably wouldn't work, either. Kids have such low levels of sex hormones that the small amounts of estrogen mimics in these oils may be upsetting the balance, but adults may not even notice the difference. However, women with or recovering from estrogen-related breast cancer will also want to take note of this article, and discuss it with their doctor.

Moral of the story: enjoy lavender and tea tree oil now and then, but don't overdo it. And for pity's sake, don't let your kids slather lavender oil all over themselves. Even without the hormonal problem, it's a bit much.

18 comments:

Annie in Austin said...

We get Science News, and my husband had already called my attention to the article, and we thought the detective work was pretty cool. My granddaughter likes the calming lavender baths, but I don't think she's slathering oil on her skin... better check with my daughter-in-law.

It seems so odd that it's the boys who are using all those products - isn't that stuff awfully expensive? I wonder if the boys bought the oil, or if the parents were trying to calm them down.

Reading Dirt said...

It surprised me, too, that boys would be using lavender-scented products. Tea tree oil I know turns up in a lot of shampoos, but lavender? You may be right -- they may be attempts at aromatherapy. I was as surprised as anyone that the oils have any kind of hormone-like effects.

How long, I wonder, before the breast-enlargement creams are spiked with lavender and tea-tree oil?

Word verification: iolith -- sounds like something I might have studied in Geology class.

Anonymous said...

How interesting...as I understand it, small amounts of androgens are necessary in females for healthy libido; I wonder if the lavender craze is supressing the libidos of women (who presumably use more of these scented products than males). So much for "relaxation"...

sonpari said...

This surely shocked me. I thought lavender oil was pretty safe for children.
Maybe too much of a goodthing is too bad!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

NYTimes.com has an article today (10/17/2006) about chemicals that are corelated with premature puberty. Lavendar and tea tree are mentioned. See http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/17/science/17puberty.html?em&ex=1161230400&en=9af920c8ec9f2d1c&ei=5087%0A

Anonymous said...

My son suffered from migraine headaches. Lavender lotion on his forehead helped a lot. A few years ago we found that getting his magnesium level up keeps the migraines away. After reading the article, I sure am glad we didn't continue relying on the lavender.

Anonymous said...

Some moms may be using tea tree oil as a "natural medicine" -- anything on the skin or on mucus membranes can be absorbed by the body. The ingredients in lotions can be as well. Use pure VCO (virgin coconut oil)--it is a food with a long history and is great for skin care. Olive oil is good too, but coconut oil is more pleasant to use.

Anonymous said...

I'm a breast cancer survivor and have been guided by my physicians to avoid estrogen-mimicking herbs as my cancer was estrogen-receptor positive. Does anyone know if there is medical literature addressing this angle?

FloridaWife said...

I just stumbled upon your blog while doing a search.

My husband and I have been trying to have children for 18 months. Through a message board, I found out that lavendar can increase estrogen, throwing off our fertility. I looked at our bars of soaps and, yep, they have lavendar. I went to the store today and bought an organic brand. Interesting! I wonder if THAT's been my problem

Jan Steinman said...

FloridaWife said... "My husband and I have been trying to have children for 18 months... lavendar can increase estrogen, throwing off our fertility... our bars of soaps... have lavendar... I wonder if THAT's been my problem"

Or perhaps it's your husband's problem! :-)

I'd think a bit more estrogen might have more impact on man's fertility than a woman's.

But what do I know... I've been shooting blanks for 25 years... :-)

Jack Evans said...

I've switched shampoos back in oct'04 and two months later my libido starting heading south. It's been 3 years like this (using same shampoo) and i realized the shampoo has tea tree oil in it. Dumped it a week ago and hoping to reclaim sex life...all hormones except for total estrogens are normal..TE is above max range.
Also have slight case of gynecomastia.

Thanks!

Heather said...

Tea tree oil and lavender oil work really well on acne. Some teens might use the oils for that reason meaning if they do have acne on their back, neck, chest, etc. they would be using the oils directly on the skin. But, of course that isn't in all cases.

Megan said...

I've used lavender oils on my pre-school son since he was very young, not as aromatherapy, to calm him down, but to ease the woes of severe eczema. It's been so severe that the dermatologist recommended it. I've used the oils in the bath & on his skin to keep it supple & reduce itching. Now I'm faced with the same dilemma as topical and oral steroids (both common prescription treatments for the condition. At what point does the benefit outweigh the potential long-term serious health risks that also have serious medical treatments to reverse or repair?

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the doctors thought to check to see how much processed meat these boys were eating. Where I live, the chickens receive lots of hormones to make their breasts bigger.

rose said...

when the chicken is cooked, all hormones die, so this can't be the cause.

Anonymous said...

I have used lavendar in my bath for years. My son uses the same bathtub without thorough cleaning every time, and often we have put a dash of lavendar/eucalyptus oil in his bath to help with his asthma and allergies...recommended by a local naturopath. He does seem to have enlarged breast tissue now as he progresses into his teens! Can this be the cause?

Anonymous said...

I have a daughter who is 7 and in the past 6 months have watch her show signs of puberty. We recently went to the endocrinoligist and she recomended to stop using the tea tree shampoo. We had been using the shampoo for the past 8 months. Thank god since stoping the shampoo, signs are starting to disapear. I highly recommend do not use tea tree or lavander on your child!!

Tony larkman said...

Have a look at the Robert Tisserand article "Tea Tree and lavender not linked to Gynecomastia". Read some of the research that has been done - this research was bad science, really bad science and especially damaging to tea tree oil which is a shameful thing to do for such a natural and excellent essential oil.