Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Lavender and Tee Tree Oil are getting some impressive press because of research that indicates they are linked to breast enlargement in boys age 10 or younger. Research by Clifford Bloch of the University of Colorado School of Medicine seems to say that these two oils both mimic estrogen and suppress androgen. He collaborated with researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in North Carolina who found that breast cells grown in test tubes exposed to these oils reacted in the same way as cells exposed to estrogen. Dr. Bloch reminds us, though, that growing cells in test tubes is different from what happens in a live human body - the research remains hypothetical at this point.

But, it brings up a very important point. In our ordinary daily lives there are many ways that we can be exposed to endocrine-disrupters such as phytoestrogens. My mother took DES when pregnant with me in the early 1950's. For many girls born from mothers who took this drug serious health consequences has been their fate. DES was used in animal feed for a couple of decades and continues to be sold in developing countries. This is just one example - others are soy, a chemical used in making plastics, and room fresheners. Phytoestrogens can have both positive and negative effects. This is not a simple, straightforward issue. We need far more research done on the effects of natural compounds such as essential oils in and of themselves and we need research of natural compounds vs artificial ones such as artificial scents.

As a lavender grower the link of lavender essential oil to endocrine disruption is, at first, worrisome. It's important to remember a few things, though. The original correlative research was done on 10 year old boys who are at a vulnerable point in their hormonal development. It is not reasonable to believe that the effects reported happen to people of other ages, and it isn't clear how girls react. It is important to remember that we need to be aware of endocrine disruption in general and phytoestrogens in particular because there are health concerns, but keep your head and don't be swayed by hot-press items until they have been proved several times over that they are true. (Proving is not the same as copying and forwarding information on the internet, proving requires separate scientific studies.)

On a philosophical note - I have to ask, why the over-kill on press for Dr. Bloch's findings? While I think we need to pay attention by following the research his work will spark, there are far more damaging endocrine disrupters out there. I think there is a bit of hysteria about two things - first we seem to be defending our chemically-based products, and second we are worried about being "girly." I don't mean to minimize the problems of having one's body develop the other gender's characteristics - that condition needs to be cured so that child doesn't have to suffer the consequences. However, lavender oil has been known, over the centuries it has been produced, to create a relaxing effect. Could that be because of the estrogen-mimic they are now speculating about? Could it be that we need a bit more relaxation in our lives - to reduce a tendency to be too combative? What about the other qualities of lavender oil that people talk about, such as anti-microbial effects? We'll be looking more into lavender oil, its effects, and research.

Here is a little article that makes sense to me: Scented oils report needs clarification