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Demystifying Scary Science

Dr. Huberman recently stirred the pot again in his episode with Dr. Natalie Crawford.


Huberman and Crawford's Discussion

They discussed the effects of lavender and tea tree oil on young kids. The discussion was based off some scary-sounding studies linking lavender and tea tree oils to gynecomastia in boys. Gynecomastia, simply put, is the development of breast tissue in males, something that's not uncommon during certain life stages like puberty. But let's get to the truth about these studies.


The 2007 Study's Limitations

In 2007, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported three boys who developed gynecomastia and had used products with lavender or tea tree oils. But here's the thing: the study was based on just three cases. Let me emphasize this: the study was based on only three cases. That's incredibly small to make a general claim. Plus, the study didn't thoroughly investigate other factors like diet, genetics, or the presence of synthetic chemicals, which are known to disrupt hormones.


Considering the significant increase in essential oil use since 2007, one might ask: where are all the new cases? Spoiler alert: They're simply not there. So, to point a finger at essential oils without solid evidence is quite a leap.


The 2018 Study's Approach

Fast forward to 2018, and another study pops up. In this study, researchers tested the effects of these oils on cancer cells, not on normal breast tissue, and they did this in vitro (meaning in a lab setting, not in a living organism). Cancer cells behave differently from normal cells, so what happens in a petri dish doesn't always translate to what happens in a human body. Plus, the levels of oils used in these tests were ridiculously high – way more than you'd ever use in real life.


The alleged estrogenic activity, which refers to the tendency to mimic effects similar to estrogen (a female hormone), in the oils was observed only at concentrations a million times higher than what's typically encountered. That's like saying if you drink a million cups of water, it might be harmful – it doesn't make much sense in everyday use.


A Call for Critical Thinking

It's crucial to approach such studies with a critical mind. Remember, use your essential oils responsibly, but don't let incomplete and sensationalized studies dictate your choices. And always, always ensure you use essential oils from trusted companies that ethically source and harvest their products. Let me help you out: stop buying your "essential oils" from CVS, Duane Reade, Michael's, or Walgreens. Cheap usually means synthetic. 




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