The most perplexing puzzle about gynecomastia is what’s behind each case. Don’t get us wrong—there’s a lot the medical community does know about causes of man boobs. But that doesn’t mean we understand exactly why one guy gets it and another doesn’t. Or why many teens suffer from man boobs for just a few months or a year, and some grow breasts that are here to stay. We treat dozens of adolescents with man boobs in New York each year, and we still can’t say why some grow a persistent set of breasts.
That’s why each new study of plant-derived substances that may play roles in male breast enlargement is so interesting. These compounds are called “phytoestrogens,” meaning, literally, plant-estrogen.
Though not identical to estrogen produced by the body’s endocrine system, phytoestrogens have a similar (though usually weaker) effect. Most are consumed by mouth, such as soy, but not all. Lavender and tea tree oil—usually applied topically—have long been thought to have the potential for sparking breast growth too.
We first wrote about this possibility several years ago. You can read that post here. Additional research has recently been published that helps explain exactly how lavender and tea tree oil can influence the development of man boobs, particularly in pre-adolescent boys.
A research fellow at the National Institute of Health, J. Tyler Ramsey, presented his study findings at the Endocrine Society Annual Meeting earlier this year. Ramsey and his colleagues identified eight chemical components of the two botanicals that are both estrogen-like and anti-androgenic. What this means is that lavender and tea tree oil contain compounds that can trigger female traits and suppress male traits. The compounds bind with normal hormone receptors in the body and have the potential to “initiate these responses,” Ramsey said.
What’s key, according to the research team, is that in a boy who is not yet going through puberty, “the natural hormone is not present and should not be present during this time.” The growth of man boobs in adolescent boys is not unusual. But an article covering this new study, available on Healio, notes that gynecomastia occurring before the onset of puberty is relatively rare. Therefore, the scientists feel that normal hormonal swings during adolescence are not the explanation.
Ramsey further stated that the eight compounds studied are present in a wide variety of essential oils. So, while further research is needed, the public should be aware of the potential for some essential oils to cause hormone-like reactions, particularly in young boys.
Phytoestrogens are present in many of the foods we eat regularly: fruits, vegetables, herbs, nuts and some seeds. In the amounts normally consumed, these compounds are beneficial for good health. A few controversies do exist—namely about whether marijuana indeed causes breast growth (this is suggested but not scientifically proven) and whether soy-based formula is good for infants. And while it is true that hops contain phytoestrogens, you don’t have to worry about your favorite beer. As far as we know at this point, you just couldn’t drink enough to grow a pair of moobs.
It’s still not known for certain how high levels of phytoestrogens affect certain populations. Much more research needs to be done, we agree, but we do feel there’s enough evidence of a connection to be cautious about lavender and tea tree oil, especially for use in young boys. There are many other options on the market that don’t appear to pose a risk, so why not choose other products?
We specialize in treating gynecomastia in New York, for adolescents and grown men as well. We would be happy to consult with you and your family. Give us a call if we can help: 561-367-9101.
Reach out to Dr. Jacobs today to schedule your consultation!