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According to a UK study, the use of essential oils might be enabling the abnormal growth of breasts in young boys.
Gynecomastia is a condition that refers to when men abnormally grow breasts. The term is most often been heard during discussions around steroid use, but pre-pubertal gynecomastia (a historically rare situation where males abnormally grow breasts before puberty) is actually becoming more common, according to a 2018 report published by The Independent in the UK.
Scientists are suggesting the reason may be due to increased exposure to cleaning products, soaps and home remedies that contain lavender and tea tree oils, as these essential oils have been found to contain chemicals that can mimic the effect of female hormones.
While to some, these “endocrine disruptors” may appeal (I’ve heard many a male say he’d enjoy a day at home with his own set of funbags to play with!), but the reality is actually quite serious. This is because interruption to the production and action of hormones, which are the chemical messengers of the body, can potentially reap havoc on one’s health and development, especially in pre-pubescent males.
J Tyler Ramsey is a Research Fellow at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the lead author of the study. Ramsey says, “Our society deems essential oils as safe. However, they possess a diverse amount of chemicals and should be used with caution, because some of these chemicals are potential endocrine disruptors.”
While it appears that some of us are more sensitive to the effects of hormone-disruption than others, doctors observed that boys who regularly used tea tree soaps and skin products and who started developing breasts, had the condition disappear after ceasing use of those products.
The research team explored eight key chemicals from the hundreds of components of tea tree and lavender oils. These eight included eucalyptol, which is commonly found in decongestants and cough medicines, and all of them were found to have hormone-disrupting effects, which either blocked male hormones or acted similarly to oestrogen (the female sex hormone).
The chemicals were tested in human cells grown in a laboratory, but the results were consistent with hormonal conditions that would result in gynecomastia in humans.
These chemicals are also found in 65 other essential oils, which are commonly used in lotions, shampoos, soaps, cologne, laundry detergents and hairstyling products.
“Lavender oil and tea tree oil pose potential environmental health concerns and should be investigated further,” Ramsey advised.
Professor Ieuan Hughes is a member of the UK Society for Endocrinology and Emeritus Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Cambridge. He said the findings did appear to confirm why someone using oils containing these chemicals may develop breast tissue. He added, “It is reassuring that the clinical effect: gynaecomastia, resolves on cessation of exposure and suggests attention should be given to better regulation of these products. Clearly, the longer term effects of such exposure are unknown.”