Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Blog: Even Kids Are Talking About Endocrine Disruptors

Italian Voice via Flickr/

“Joe says that using lavender soap can give you man boobs.’” My patient’s mother buried her head in her hands. “Joe is partially correct,” I countered. 

My patient’s mother now looked surprised. “Joe is never right about anything!”

I, however, had to disagree. It’s important to listen to patients, friends, and even your kid’s friends; it’s always educational and often there is something to be learned. Joe could be right: there are powerful endocrine disruptors all around us, which can produce adverse reproductive effects.

BPA gets a lot of press, and has been removed from plastic bottles and some cans. We also hear about exposure to other man-made chemicals such as triclosan or phthalates that should minimized or avoided. 

It’s also important to know that naturally occurring endocrine disruptors are just as powerful. Soy has mild estrogen-like properties; although generally not enough to matter even if you drink soy milk and eat tofu as your primary source of protein. More powerful compounds, such as lavender oil and tea tree oil are more similar to estrogen, which can cause breast development in prepubertal girls and boys. For adults, exposure to these estrogen-like compounds is not significant. (Most adults have enough of their own estrogen or testosterone.) Children, however, should have limited exposure to these substances to avoid precocious puberty in girls or “man boobs” for boys (although I have never personally seen the latter).

I am not sure if the lavender soap in question had the essential oil, or only a fragrance. I, however, would agree with Joe and limit the use of this particular soap before reading the label. 

M. Jennifer Abuzzahab, MD, is a Pediatric Endocrinologist at the McNeely Pediatric Diabetes Center and Endocrine Clinic at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. She has been working in Pediatric Endocrinology for 17 years. Endocrinology is the study of hormones—or the chemical text messages that are sent throughout your body. She is an unapologetic science nerd, and is passionate about pediatric obesity, growth disorders, endocrine consequences of cancer survival and endocrine disruptors. She is active in research; however, spends the majority of her time in clinic. She sees Sound Medicine as an opportunity to share her clinical experience with people who are not her patients.