DNC News

Gynecomastia and Lavender

August 4, 2008

Jacob Schor, ND


Lavender makes for girly boys.

That's how that governor in California would sum up the recent news. Last June Clifford Bloch pediatric endocrinologist here in Denver reported that young boys grew breasts after using lavender shampoo.


Gynecomastia, the medical term for enlarged male breasts, usually results from an imbalance between estrogens, which stimulate breast growth, and testosterone. The condition is very rare before puberty, rare enough that Bloch realized something was wrong with a dozen preteen boys with gynecomastia seen in his practice. Testing showed their sex hormones were at normal levels. Bloch interviewed the boys and their parents carefully and found that they were all using a shampoo, hair gel or other topical product that contained lavender.


The gynecomastia got better when the boys stopped using the lavender containing products. Bloch took this a step further. He contacted Derek Henley and Kenneth Korach of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park , N.C. These two investigators set up an experiment in their lab and exposed human-breast cells to lavender. They found that the oil turned on estrogen-regulated genes and inhibited an androgen-regulated gene.

There is every reason to assume these oils have a similar but unnoticed effect in young girls. It would just be harder to notice. Earlier age of sexual development has been blamed on many environmental factors; eating too much tofu [i] and chicken or the phthalates in plastics [ii] have all bee pointed to as possible culprits. Lavender exposure is another cause we should now consider

Other interesting lavender research has come out this year. Lavender looks useful for treating depression and insomnia in college aged women. [iii] It changes autonomic nervous function lowering blood pressure, at least in rats. [iv] It increases appetite, slows the break down of fat and stimulates weight gain. [v] It acts as an effective anti parasitic, killing giardia and trichimonas. [vi] A study from 2005 confirmed our long time use of lavender as an antifungal. [vii]

In our eagerness to shift away from synthetically manufactured chemicals to things more natural, we may have rushed a little too quickly in assuming that pharmaceutical grade plant extracts were benign. Lavender obviously has a long history of safe use but the extracts we are now are quite strong and may cause effects unnoticed in the past. It's not just lavender. Highly concentrated plant extracts are added to almost all shampoos and soaps. Heck, even the shampoo I wash my dog with contains potent chamomile extracts.

As naturopaths we can trace our line of teachers back to practitioners who used only the natural elements to stimulate a healing response. Water, Heat, Cold and Sunlight were the principle medicines. Whether a simple herbal tea might be suppressive to the vital force was soundly debated. These early practitioners would be aghast to see the many herbs we liberally use in our daily baths. Of course they would also be aghast that we aren't bathing in icy mountain streams. Everything natural is not necessarily safe and it is time that we as a profession begin to own up to this fact and spread a word of caution to the public.

An additional point of interest about this lavender and gynecomastia link is the long association of lavender with things feminine turns out to be for real. Lavender was adopted decades ago as the color used to symbolize the Gay Pride movement. In hindsight this certainly seems appropriate.

Gynecomastia of course is one of those undesirable side effects of the hormone blockade used to treat advanced prostate cancer. This might make one wonder if lavender might have a role in treating prostate cancer. Recall that lavender is one of the sources of perillyl alcohol. And indeed a May, 2006 study concluded, “These novel properties of perillyl alcohol strongly suggest that perillyl alcohol could be highly useful for intervention of prostate cancer.” [viii] Although an earlier phase II human trial published in 2003 wasn't able to demonstrate benefit. [ix] , another 2003 study called it a “promising new agent” that could be used to “radio-sensitize prostate cancer cells.” [x] While it seems unlikely that the lavender used in a shampoo provides enough perillyl alcohol to make a difference, it is still worth considering?


Irregardless of whether lavender has a role to play in cancer treatment, it is obvious that it has little use in products used on a routine basis for healthy people and especially children. Double check those shampoo bottles at your earliest opportunity.





[i] Harder, B. 2002. Look Ma, too much soy: Hormone in infant food reduces immunity in mice. Science News 161(May 25):325. Available at http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20020525/fob5.asp .

[ii] Raloff, J. 2000. Girls may face risks from phthalates. Science News 158(Sept. 9):165. Available at http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20000909/fob3.asp .

[iii] Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi. 2006 Feb;36(1):136-43. Links

[Effects of lavender aromatherapy on insomnia and depression in women college students]

[Article in Korean]

•   Lee IS,

•   Lee GJ.

Department of Nursing, Keukdong College , Chungcheongbuk-Do , Korea . ilee001@kdc.ac.kr

PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to explore the effects of the lavender fragrance on sleep and depression in women college students. METHOD: Forty-two women college students who complained of insomnia were studied during a four-week protocol(control treatment week, 60% lavender fragrance treatment week, washout week, 100% lavender fragrance treatment week). All subjects were in the department of nursing in "K" college and the study was a single blind repeated measurements experiment. For the duration of the study, weekly evaluations of sleep, patterns of sleep disturbance, severity of insomnia scale, self satisfaction with sleep, and severity of depression were performed. RESULT: Among sleep variables, length of time taken to fall asleep, severity of insomnia, and self satisfaction with sleep were improved for the 60%(p=.000, p=.000, p=.000) and 100%(p=.000, p=.000, p=.000) week while the severity of depression was improved only for the 100%(p=.002) week. CONCLUSION: According to the study results, it can be concluded that the lavender fragrance had a beneficial effect on insomnia and depression in women college students. Repeated studies are needed to confirm effective proportions of lavender oil and carrier oil for insomnia and depression.

PMID: 16520572 [PubMed - in process]


[iv] Neurosci Lett. 2006 May 1;398(1-2):155-60. Epub 2006 Jan 25. Links

Olfactory stimulation with scent of lavender oil affects autonomic neurotransmission and blood pressure in rats.

•   Tanida M,

•   Niijima A,

•   Shen J,

•   Nakamura T,

•   Nagai K.

Institute for Protein Research, Osaka University , 3-2 Yamada-Oka, Suita , Osaka 565-0871, Japan .

Previously, we observed that olfactory stimulation with scent of lavender oil (SLVO) suppressed sympathetic nerve activities and elevated gastric vagal (parasympathetic) nerve activity (GVNA), decreased plasma glycerol concentration and body temperature, and enhanced appetite in rats. Here, we further showed that olfactory stimulation with SLVO lowered renal sympathetic nerve activity (RSNA) and blood pressure (BP) and elevated GVNA in urethane-anesthetized rats. Olfactory stimulation with linalool, a component of lavender oil, also elicited decreases in RSNA and BP and an increase in GVNA in urethane-anesthetized rats. Anosmia induced by pretreatment of the nasal cavity by application of ZnSO4 eliminated the effects of both SLVO and scent of linalool on RSNA, GVNA and BP. Furthermore, intracerebroventricular administration of thioperamide, a histaminergic H3-antagonist, abolished the suppression of RSNA and BP as well as the elevation of GVNA mediated by both SLVO and scent of linalool. Finally, bilateral lesions of the hypothalamic suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) eliminated RSNA and BP suppression and the elevation of GVNA due to SLVO or linalool. Thus, it was concluded that scent of lavender oil and its active component, linalool, affects autonomic neurotransmission and reduces blood pressure through the central histaminergic nervous system and the SCN.

PMID: 16442

[v] Neurosci Lett. 2005 Jul 22-29;383(1-2):188-93. Links

Olfactory stimulation with scent of lavender oil affects autonomic nerves, lipolysis and appetite in rats.

•   Shen J,

•   Niijima A,

•   Tanida M,

•   Horii Y,

•   Maeda K,

•   Nagai K.

Division of Protein Metabolism, Institute for Protein Research, Osaka University , Japan .

In a previous study, we presented evidence that scent of grapefruit oil excites sympathetic nerves innervating white and brown adipose tissues and the adrenal gland, inhibits the vagal nerve innervating the stomach, increases lipolysis and heat production (energy consumption), and reduces appetite and body weight. Here, we examined the effects of olfactory stimulation with scent of lavender oil (SLVO) in rats and observed that in contrast to grapefruit oil, it inhibits the sympathetic nerves innervating the white and brown adipose tissues and adrenal gland and excites the parasympathetic gastric nerve. Local anesthesia of the nasal mucosa with xylocaine or anosmic treatment using ZnSO(4) eliminated the autonomic changes caused by SLVO. Moreover, stimulation with SLVO lowered the plasma glycerol level, and treatment with either ZnSO(4) or an intracranial injection of thioperamide, a histamine H3 receptor-antagonist, abolished SLVO-mediated glycerol decline. Furthermore, a 15-min daily exposure to SLVO increased food intake and body weight. Finally, linalool, a component of lavender oil, induced responses similar to those caused by SLVO, and the glycerol response to linalool was eliminated by thioperamide. Thus, scent of lavender oil and its active component, linalool, affect autonomic nerves, suppress lipolysis through a histaminergic response, and enhance appetite and body weight.

PMID: 15878

[vi] Parasitol Res. 2006 Jun 2;

Antiparasitic activity of two Lavandula essential oils against Giardia duodenalis, Trichomonas vaginalis and Hexamita inflata.


* Moon T,

* Wilkinson JM,

* Cavanagh HM.


School of Biomedical Sciences , Charles Sturt University , Wagga Wagga , New South Wales , 2678, Australia , hcavanagh@csu.edu.au.


Two essential oils derived from Lavandula angustifolia and Lavandula x intermedia were investigated for any antiparasitic activity against the human protozoal pathogens Giardia duodenalis and Trichomonas vaginalis and the fish pathogen Hexamita inflata: all of which have significant infection and economic impacts. The study has demonstrated that low (</=1%) concentrations of L. angustifolia and L. x intermedia oil can completely eliminate T. vaginalis, G. duodenalis and H. inflata in vitro. At 0.1% concentration, L. angustifolia oil was found to be slightly more effective than L x intermedia oil against G. duodenalis and H. inflata. The potential applications are discussed.


PMID: 16741725 [PubM

[vii] Med Mycol. 2005 Aug;43(5):391-6.

Antifungal activity of Lavandula angustifolia essential oil against Candida albicans yeast and mycelial form.

•   D'Auria FD,

•   Tecca M,

•   Strippoli V,

•   Salvatore G,

•   Battinelli L,

•   Mazzanti G.

Department of Public Health, University La Sapienza, Rome , Italy .

The antifungal activity of the essential oil of Lavandula angustifolia Mill. (lavender oil) and its main components, linalool and linalyl acetate, was investigated against 50 clinical isolates of Candida albicans (28 oropharyngeal strains, 22 vaginal strains) and C. albicans ATCC 3153. Growth inhibition, killing time and inhibition of germ tube formation were evaluated. The chemical composition of the essential oil was determined by gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. Lavender oil inhibited C. albicans growth: mean minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) of 0.69% (vol./vol.) (vaginal strains) and 1.04% (oropharyngeal strains); mean MFC of 1.1% (vaginal strains) and 1.8% (oropharyngeal strains). Linalool was more effective than essential oil: mean MIC of 0.09% (vaginal strains) and 0.29% (oropharyngeal strains); mean MFC of 0.1% (vaginal strains) and 0.3% (oropharyngeal strains). Linalyl acetate was almost ineffective. Lavender oil (2%) killed 100% of the C. albicans ATCC 3153 cells within 15 min; linalool (0.5%) killed 100% of the cells within 30 s. The essential oil inhibited germ tube formation (mean MIC of 0.09%), as did the main components (MIC of 0.11% for linalool and 0.08% for linalyl acetate). Both the essential oil and its main components inhibited hyphal elongation of C. albicans ATCC 3153 (about 50% inhibition at 0.016% with each substance). Lavender oil shows both fungistatic and fungicidal activity against C. albicans strains. At lower concentrations, it inhibits germ tube formation and hyphal elongation, indicating that it is effective against C. albicans dimorphism and may thus reduce fungal progression and the spread of infection in host tissues.

PMID: 16178366 [PubMed

[viii] Cancer Lett. 2006 May 18;236(2):222-8.

Perillyl alcohol inhibits the expression and function of the androgen receptor in human prostate cancer cells.


* Chung BH,

* Lee HY,

* Lee JS,

* Young CY.


Department of Urology and the Urological Science Institute, College of Medicine, Yonsei University, Yongdong P.O. Box 1217, Seoul, Korea. chung646@yumc.yonsei.ac.kr


Perillyl alcohol is a hydroxylated monocyclic monoterpene. In animal study, monoterpene has shown to have an anti-tumor effect. The aim of this study is to evaluate whether POH plays an important role in the development and progression of prostate cancer (pCa). We treated LNCaP cells with different concentrations of perillyl alcohol (POH). First of all, we performed cell proliferation assay and prostate -specific antigen (PSA) and human glandular kallikrein (hK2) quantification assays. LNCaP cells were treated with or without POH for Western blot analysis of androgen receptor (AR) and c-Jun. Finally, we performed transient transfection assay by transfecting LNCaP cells-which were treated with or without POH-with pGL-3 luciferase vector containing PSA promoter and AR promoter. We observed inhibition of the expression and function of the AR by POH, through inhibition of androgen-induced cell growth and androgen-stimulated secretion ofprostate -specific antigen and hK2, in human pCa cell line LNCaP. In addition, we demonstrated, for the first time, that POH inhibits the transcription activities of the AR gene promoter by over-expression of c-Jun protein. These novel properties of POH strongly suggest that POH could be highly useful for intervention of pCa.


PMID: 16029925 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

[ix] Invest New Drugs. 2003 Aug;21(3):367-72.

Phase II trial of perillyl alcohol (NSC 641066) administered daily in patients with metastatic androgen independent prostate cancer.


* Liu G,

* Oettel K,

* Bailey H,

* Ummersen LV,

* Tutsch K,

* Staab MJ,

* Horvath D,

* Alberti D,

* Arzoomanian R,

* Rezazadeh H,

* McGovern J,

* Robinson E,

* DeMets D,

* Wilding G.


University of Wisconsin Comprehensive Cancer Center , Madison , WI 53792 , USA .


OBJECTIVE: We conducted a phase II multicenter trial of perillyl alcohol in patients with advanced hormone refractory prostate cancer (HRPC). The primary endpoint was to evaluate the 6-month progression-free survival given the potential cytostatic nature of the drug. Secondary objectives included assessing acute and chronic toxicities, as well as measuring objective response rates. METHODS: Patients with metastatic androgen-independent prostate cancer that failed at least one prior chemotherapeutic or experimental regimen were eligible. Perillyl alcohol was administered orally at 1200 mg/m2/dose four times daily and continued until disease progression or development of unacceptable toxicity. RESULTS: Fifteen patients were eligible. Six patients received less than one cycle (4 weeks) of drug, four of which stopped because of drug intolerance. Only six patients received more than two cycles of therapy and were considered evaluable for response. Main toxicity included grade 1-2 gastrointestinal intolerance (nausea/vomiting in 60% of the patients) and fatigue (47%). One patient developed a grade 4 hypokalemia that was felt likely attributable to the drug. No objective responses were seen. All patients either progressed or withdrew from the study secondary to drug intolerance before the 6-month time period. CONCLUSION: Perillyl alcohol administered at this dose and formulation did not have any objective clinical activity in this patient population.


PMID: 14578686 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

[x] Prostate. 2003 Sep 15;57(1):14-23.

Perillyl alcohol mediated radiosensitization via augmentation of the Fas pathway in prostate cancer cells.

* Rajesh D,

* Howard SP.

Department of Human Oncology, Medical School , University of Wisconsin , Madison , Wisconsin , USA .


BACKGROUND: The management of hormone-insensitive locally advanced prostate cancer is difficult and complex and there is an urgent need for the development of effective chemotherapeutic agents intended for combination with currently available treatment modalities. METHODS: The present paper demonstrates the effectiveness of the monoterpene perillyl alcohol (POH) as potent radiosensitizer on DU145 and PC3 cell lines by performing clonogenic survival assays, cycle analysis, and assays to detect viability, apoptosis, and Fas receptor/ligand by flow cytometry. RESULTS: POH pretreatment resulted in a dose dependent sensitization to kill cell by radiation. Furthermore, POH treatment induced a transient G(2)/M arrest, enhanced the expression of the membrane bound form of the Fas ligand and sensitized the cells to Fas mediated apoptosis. CONCLUSIONS: The unique manner of radiosensitization in addition to its low toxicity profile makes POH a promising new agent for preclinical evaluation as a potential radiosensitizer in the treatment of prostate cancer. Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.


PMID: 12886519 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

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