A plant native to the mountains of the Mediterranean, lavender today is cultivated around the world. Known for its delicate scent and calming effects, it is a common ingredient in soaps, hair products and sachets, and can also be applied to your body as an essential oil. Recent research indicates that lavender oil may act as a phytoestrogen and stimulate gynecomastia, a condition of abnormal breast growth, in prepubescent boys.
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Properties of Lavender
The word lavender stems from the Latin root "lavare," meaning to wash or clean. According to the alternative medicine resources complied by the University of Maryland Medical Center, this root word may refer to lavender's long history in being used for both bodily and spiritual cleansing purposes. In addition to its pleasing scent, lavender also has antiseptic and anti-fungal properties. Lavender has been used by alternative health practitioners in the treatment of anxiety, insomnia and stress reduction. Herbalists and aromatherapists have suggested the use of lavender for skin ailments, such as eczema, acne and fungal infections, and relief from muscle soreness and pain.
Male Breast Growth
Gynecomastia is a condition in which male breast tissue grows abnormally. Caused by changes in the balance of estrogen and testosterone in the body, gynecomastia can affect men across the lifespan. According to the Mayo Clinic, the condition is considered benign; however, it may induce feelings of mental and social discomfort. In most cases, gynecomastia resolves on its own without need for medical intervention. However, persistent cases may be treated with certain medications or surgery to remove excess breast tissue.
Breast Growth and Lavender
A study published in January 2007 in the "New England Journal of Medicine" found that long-term use of topical products containing lavender oil may contribute to breast growth in prepubescent boys. The research was based on early clinical findings of gynecomastia in boys ages 4, 7 and 10 who had otherwise normal hormone levels. While the researchers maintain that further investigation is required to fully understand how lavender oil may contribute to breast tissue growth, findings suggest that lavender may act as a phytoestrogen and mimic the effects in the body of endogenous estrogen. As of 2011, there is no data to suggest that lavender may cause abnormal breast tissue growth in women.
Phytoestrogens and Health
A phytoestrogen is a plant-based chemical that appears to the body as indistinguishable from endogenous estrogen, or that produced within the body. Phytoestrogens can both mimic and block receptors of estrogen and progesterone. According to Dr. Elizabeth Smith, who specializes in breast health and cysts, phytoestrogens exist in numerous food sources, including certain grains, fruits, seeds, beans, herbs and soy.
The use of lavender for both cosmetic and herbal reasons poses little risk to your health, and cases of gynecomastia are rare. However, lavender may interact with central nervous system depressants. The University of Maryland Medical Center advises pregnant and lactating women to avoid lavender.