Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Xenoestrogens and Phytoestrogens

The other day while having dinner with my husband and some friends the subject of plastics came up. Our guests informed me that lavender has been found to have feminizing affects on young boys along with those plastics I've been trying to avoid. I decided to do some research, this is what I have found.

First of all I have found these two words tossed around, xenoestrogen and phytoestrogen. Xenoestrogens are any estrogen mimicking substance foreign to our bodies, that somehow enter our bodies. BPA and phthalates for instance. Phytoestrogens are xenoestrogens that specifically come from plant matter; soy for instance.

As we know these endocrine disruptors cause human cells to perform in ways that are opposed to their natural way of performing. There was recently an article in Time Magazine about what is known as precocious puberty, or early onset puberty in young girls. There are girls who are showing signs of maturation as early as 5 years old, which is crazy, but more commonly around 7 or 8 years. Puberty for girls is directly related to how much body fat a girl carries. This article is not my favorite because is tells people to have their young girls on low fat diets to prevent early puberty, which is not healthy. I recently wrote a blog about why fat is essential to a person's diet. The article does do a great job of showing what a serious problem these substances side effects are.

Cutting to the lavender/tea tree issue, all the research I have found supports the supposition that lavender and tea tree products have estrogenic effects on the people who use them, men and women, boys and girls. The big issue that we hear about most often in the research is three boys that were found in 2007 who had, before the onset of puberty, grown breast tissue. (Apparently it is not uncommon for boys to grow breast tissue during puberty. I didn't know this until researching this topic.) Each of these boys had been using one product or another that had lavender and/or tea tree oil. When they stopped using these products the breast tissue shrunk, or disappeared completely.

There was a study done because of what was seen with these boys. In this study different cell types were exposed to tea tree and lavender, (different mammal cells, and even breast cancer cells). The scientists found that the oils caused the breast cancer cells to grow, and caused changes in the other cells as well. You can find a great overview of the research linked to these boys here. I would like to insert a portion of the discussion section of the research article here, but you need permission in writing to do so. Basically it states that the threshold of when these oils begin to have an effect on a person's body is not known, and so people should use extreme caution when using products containing them.

I believe strongly that God has given us plants for our health and benefit -- I also believe that these plants need to be used in wisdom and order. There was a time in the not-too-distant past when the human body was not exposed to as many environmental toxins as we see in our day. It's simply not that way anymore. We are exposed to an ever growing number of such substances, so I personally have stopped using any products that contain these agents.

Here is a video I found on Youtube that sheds some more light on the topic of xenoestrogens.


  1. What an interesting topic. There are few topics as important and relevant than the effect of what we put in our bodies!

  2. Its just kind of confusing. I've been wishing to have a diffuser, with lavender flowing from it, to help Thomas to get to sleep.

    Now I'm glad I don't have one.

    Thank you for seeking and sharing ... it is good to try to get to the bottom of it all.

  3. I'm bummed about lavender too, Mom. And tea tree oil.

    A year and a half ago, I read an interesting and pertinent article on the effect of toxins and endocrine disruptors on precocious puberty. I bet you'd enjoy it:

  4. Michele Powers writes: Thanks Melissa for reminding us that all things in moderation. Plants and herbs have many wonderful uses. Lavender is a great insecticide for closets and dressers. Tea tree oil is a medicinal product that is a great fungicide and soothing for hot spots on our furry friends. We need to be careful about being sold a bill of goods by big box companies. Lavender is not meant to be used on a daily basis for consumption or application to the skin; neither is tea tree oil.