You might have been shocked by some studies that claim essential oils mimic estrogen. Are essential oils endocrine disruptors? Here are some answers.
Understanding the Endocrine System
The endocrine system is a complex collection of different glands within the body that secrete a variety of hormones directly into the blood stream. These hormones are then transported by the blood stream to the targeted organs where they are needed.
These hormones produced by the endocrine system are responsible for regulating metabolism, growth and development, cellular function, sexual function, sleep, mood and many others.
Any imbalances in the endocrine system could throw off the entire functioning of certain organs and cause disorders, health conditions and diseases.
The factors that cause imbalances in the endocrine system are called endocrine disruptors .
What Are Endocrine Disruptors?
Simply speaking, endocrine disruptors are chemicals which can cause disruption to the normal functioning of the endocrine system.
Many endocrine disruptors are actually synthetic, man-made substances that have become rife in the modern age, thanks to industrialization and technological advancement. Some examples of endocrine disruptors are:
- BPA (bisphenol A in plastics)
- DDT and other pesticides (including conventional insect repellent ointments)
- Heavy metals like lead and mercury (think dental fillings and cookware)
- Fire retardants (found in mattresses)
- Phthalates (from PVC flooring)
- Dioxin (in feminine hygiene products)
- And others.
Some of the health problems associated with exposure to endocrine disruptors include:
- Non-descendent testes in young males
- ADD (attention deficit syndrome) in children
- Developmental effects in the nervous system of children
- Thyroid troubles
- Prostate cancer in men
- Breast cancer and uterine fibroids
- Sexual dysfunction
- Early puberty
- And others.
Those who are more at risk of being affected by endocrine disruptors include:
- Children (as their bodies are still developing)
- Pregnant women (carrying developing fetuses that may be affected negatively)
- Those subject to prolonged exposure to chemical disruptors
- Those with weak immune systems
The Top Essential Oils on the Suspect List
These are the top essential oils that are suspected or rumored to be endocrine disruptors :
2. Tea tree
3. Clary sage
Take note that there are no proper studies that prove that the above essential oils disrupt hormones. But let’s take a closer look at the evidence behind these claims further below.
Research on Essential Oils as Endocrine Disruptors
Essential oils are all-natural, plant-based concentrates extracted from pressing or distilling plant matter. They contain unique compounds which carry numerous healing and medicinal properties.
Could essential oils, that have been used for thousands of years, actually be endocrine disruptors?
This scare perpetrated due to a study carried out in 2007 was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, entitled “Prepubertal gynecomastia linked to lavender and tea tree oils”. (1)
Prepubertal gynecomastia is the scientific term used to refer to a rare condition where young males develop breasts.
Shocking, right? When my son Harry was born, I used both tea tree oil and lavender oil in the DIY baby powder, wipes, diaper rash cream and bath oils I lovingly made for him because I wanted to protect him from the nasty chemicals found in conventional products.
When I found out about this study, I went into a mini panic attack and almost went crazy, as any caring mother would normally do, naturally.
Finally after some research, my fears were put to rest. The 2007 study does not prove that tea tree and lavender are endocrine disruptors.
Here are some fast facts that show the study does not prove that lavender and tea tree are endocrine disruptors:
For starters, lavender oil and tea tree oil do not mimic estrogen in the body. Therefore they cannot be endocrine disruptors.
The study had a sample pool of only 3 subjects (boys aged 4, 7 and 10). A sample as small as this can in no way represent the entire population of young males.
The 3 boys were said to have used “some kind of product” that contained lavender or tea tree oils. But the study completely discounted the fact that these products also contained other synthetic chemicals such as parabens, artificial fragrances and phthalates, which are known estrogen mimickers and endocrine disruptors! (2)
The researchers tested the effect of lavender and tea tree oils by isolating human cells in a petridish. Some amount of estrogenic activity was detected, and this could entirely be due to the fact that they used a solvent called dimethyl sulfoxide to dilute the oils. Dimethyl sulfoxide is a known estrogen mimicker!
Also the study does not tell us the purity of the essential oils used. Essential oils from untrustworthy sources may be ‘cut’ with artificial chemicals and fillers, which could also be endocrine disruptors.
Better Studies Prove Lavender and Tea tree Are Not Estrogenic
Now that we can brush aside the 2007 study since it is weak in many regards, let us look at some concrete studies that use benchmark estrogen testing standards and wider sample sizes, among others.
A report published in the International Study of Toxicology in 2013 proved that lavender had no estrogenic effects, even at concentrations up to 30,000 times higher than the estimated average exposure to cosmetic containing lavender oil in the ingredients. (3)
As for tea tree oil, multiple studies have suggested that tea tree does not have estrogenic effects. Many of these are covered in the source referenced. (4)
What about Clary Sage and Thyme?
Although outdated research claimed that clary sage and thyme should not be used for the treatment of cancer because they were found to have estrogenic effects, we now know that these essential oils, just like tea tree and lavender, do not mimic estrogen and can therefore not be endocrine disruptors.
Infact, a study published in the Journal of Phytotherapy Research in 2014, carried out research in 22 menopausal women above the age of 50 and found that inhalation of clary sage oil decreased cortisol levels by 36% and improved thyroid hormone levels (TSH). (5)
As for thyme, a report published in the Proceedings of the Society of Experimental Biology and Medicine shows that thyme essential oil has the ability to balance progesterone levels in the blood.
If anything, these oils are hormone balancers, and not disruptors. (6)
Do you use tea tree and lavender with your children? Share your story in the comments below!