Tea Tree, Lavender and Gynecomastia

Oct 31, 06:31 PM

by Katharine Koeppen, RA

Last week I did some consulting work with a bodyworker specializing in oncology. Like many others, she had been mistakenly told that tea tree and lavender oils were estrogenic in nature, and therefore unsuitable for use on persons with hormone-dependent cancers. This rumour has been going around for about two years now and is absolutely false.

What she and many others had probably heard is that these oils were "proven" to produce gynecomastia in young boys. The so-called "study" that "proved" this was full of holes and if examined, would not be taken seriously by anyone. The case received widespread media attention, and has been strongy criticized by the aromatherapy industry. Tony Burfield and Robert Tisserand have both published rebuttals, and Tony has been following up on the issue at Cropwatch.

Several years ago, a Denver pediatrician noticed that two of his patients (boys under age 12) were developing gynecomastia, although they had normal hormone levels for their respective ages. After looking for a possible cause, he settled on their use of various personal care products (soap, shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion) containing lavender and tea tree as the culprits. The doctor hired researcher Derek Henley to do some laboratory studies, which were highly flawed:

- The study consisted of a population of three. No one can possibly regard this as a legimate size sample. Additionally, the third boy in the study, who was a twin of one of the other subjects, did not develop gynecomastia even though he was using the same personal care products as his brother.

- The amount of essential oil used to fragrance personal care products is fairly negligible. With the exception of body lotion, which remains on the skin for up to a few hours, the other products were washed off the skin and hair immediately after brief use, allowing for little bioavailability of the tiny amount of essential oil present.

- Mass-produced "aromatherapy" cosmetic products seldom contain real essential oils, and when they do, those oils are often adulterated. Neither Henley nor the manufacturer of the boys' personal care products has been able to conclusively prove that these products actually contain true, unadulterated essential oils from the named botanical sources.

- Neither the boys' physician nor the study took in account any other hormonal factors that may have affected the boys' condition. Possible hormone-mimicking actions from other ingredients in the cosmetic products were not considered. The subjects' diets and exposure to any environmental chemicals that might affect hormone levels (i.e., certain plastics) were not studied, either.

- The boys' physician, who is listed as one of the authors of the study, has known financial ties to six major pharmaceutical companies, including Eli Lilly and Pfizer. Hmmm... could there be a conflict of interest here? It is well established that Big Pharma will do anything to discredit natural products, since they cannot patent (and therefore profit from) naturally occurring botanical substances such as essential oils. For more information on the widespread purchasing of physician loyalties and the pharmaceutical industry's spinning of data, please refer to the excellent book Overdosed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine by John Abramson, MD.

Lavender and tea tree are two of the most commonly used and widely studied essential oils in both the aromatherapy and fragrance industries. To date, there has never been any scientific proof that these oils, or the isolated major phytochemicals found in these oils, cause estrogenic effects. Even Derek Henley himself has stated that he sees no reason why people should discontinue using lavender or tea tree products.

More (and hopefully, better designed) studies are underway. Stay tuned.

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