Evidence Linking Essential Oils and Male Breast Development
Male breasts, gynecomastia, man boobs... whatever you call them, they suck.
Many cases of gynecomastia have no obvious cause, but there are now a number of cases that link them to the use of these essential oils.
Before we jump into what essential oils and what chemicals are causing this issue, let's see what exactly gynecomastia is.
What is Gynecomastia?
Other than being pretty hard to type, gynecomastia is actually an endocrine system disorder. Male breast tissue increases in size and can cause psychological distress.
For those of you who've been out of school for a long time, the endocrine system deals with hormones. Generally, the development of gynecomastia is associated with benign pubertal changes.
Fortunately, 75% of pubertal gynecomastia cases resolve within two years of onset without treatment.
While rare, gyno has been known to occur in association with some diseases including:
- Klinefelter syndrome
- Certain cancers
- Endocrine disorders
- Metabolic dysfunction
- Medication side-effects
- A natural decline in testosterone production
Disturbances in your endocrine system that lead to an increase in the ratio of estrogens and androgens are also thought to be responsible for the development of gyno.
Studies show that this may even occur if the estrogens and androgen levels are both appropriate, but the ratio is altered. Up to 70% of adolescent boys develop physiologic gyno.
Gynecomastia Signs and Symptoms
The tell-tale sign of gyno is when males develop soft, compressible, and mobile subcutaneous chest tissue. An increase in the diameter of your areola and asymmetry of chest tissue are also signs of possible gyno.
It's obvious that males who suffer gyno may appear to be anxious or stressed due to concerns about having breast cancer.
Having a nice set of sweater puppies sucks, trust me.
What Causes Gynecomastia?
Like I said earlier, most cases of man boobs are thought to be caused by an altered ratio of estrogens to androgens mediated by an increase in estrogen production, a decrease in androgen production, or a combination of both factors.
While the cause is unknown in 25% of the cases of gyno, drugs are estimated to cause anywhere from 10% to 25% of gyno cases.
Liver disease, kidney failure, or low testosterone also can lead to breast growth in men. Drugs and liver disease seem to be the most common cause of male breast tissue development.
Other medications that can cause gyno include:
- Aldosterone antagonists like spironolactone and eplerenone
- HIV medication
- Cancer chemotherapy
- Hormone treatment for prostate cancer
- Heartburn and ulcer medications
- Calcium channel blockers
- Antifungal medications such as ketoconazole
- Antibiotics such as metronidazole
- Tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline
- Herbals such as lavender, tree tea oil, and dong quai
So, Essential Oils Really Can Cause Gyno?
Now that we have a little understanding what gyno is and what causes it, essential oils do have an impact.
Not everyone has the same reaction to essential oils, but these plant-derived oils are found in a number of products such as soaps, lotions, shampoos, and hair-styling products. Many of the new alternative natural cleaning products and medical treatments include some of these essential oils also.
So lead researcher J. Tyler Ramsey over at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), in North Carolina, suggested caution when using these oils.
"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," says Ramsey.
Ramsey links a growing number of cases that have coincided with topical exposure to these products. Once the users quit using the products, the symptoms subsided.
A co-investigator of this study, Dr. Kenneth Korach, found that lavender and tea tree oil had properties that hindered or competed with the hormones that control male characteristics.
A new study looked at eight different key chemicals from the hundreds that make up these oils. Four of the chemicals they tested appear both in oils.
It's pretty cool actually, they used human cancer cells in the lab to measure the changes.
Researchers found all eight chemicals demonstrated varying degrees of promoting oestrogen and/or inhibiting testosterone properties.
"Lavender oil and tea tree oil pose potential environmental health concerns and should be investigated further," said Ramsey. Many chemicals that they tested appear in at least 65 other essential oils.
While other researchers claim that more substantial testing needs to be done, many agree that there should be better regulation of these products.
Essential Oil Guidelines
If you use essential oils or would like to learn how to use them, here are a few guidelines from the Aromatherapy Trade Council that will make your experiences better.
Use precaution when using essential oils - they are highly concentrated. Do not apply essential oils that have not been yet diluted to your skin.
Absolutely do not use undiluted oils on children under three years old. If you are pregnant, seek advice from your doctor before using essential oils.
Essential oils and aromatherapy products are safe for use for the whole family when used properly.
Wrapping It Up
Studies show a possible link to these chemicals, but without further large-scale studies, we cannot say definitively.
Dr. Rod Mitchell is an honorary consultant pediatric endocrinologist at the Queens Medical Research Institute in Edinburgh mentions that this study "is important in establishing a possible mechanism for the suggested link between gynecomastia and exposure to lavender and tea tree oils."
He goes on to say that "at present, there is insufficient evidence to support the concept that exposure to lavender and tea tree oil-containing products cause gynecomastia in children, and further epidemiological and experimental studies are required."