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The People’s Pharmacy: Will lavender make boys grow breast tissue?

Q. You wrote some time ago that male breasts grew after contact with lavender (shampoo, soap, etc.) and urged caution.

I have just read in Time magazine (April 4, 2016) that “in Germany, lavender tea has been approved as a treatment for insomnia.” Given the first mentioned concern, could you comment on this?

A. The story on lavender is complicated and controversial. Several years ago, three case reports were published in the New England Journal of Medicine (Feb. 1, 2007) linking the use of lavender and tea tree oil skin products to breast development in young boys. The authors raised the possibility that these natural products might have had estrogenic activity.

A study conducted in female rats exposed to lavender oil concluded that it “gave no evidence of estrogenic activity” (International Journal of Toxicology, March-April 2013). But a recent report in the Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology and Metabolism (Jan. 1, 2016) presents three new cases of breast development in young boys exposed to lavender.

We’d have to say that the jury is still out on whether lavender acts like estrogen, but until the question is settled, we’d recommend that parents not use lavender-containing products on boys. Taking lavender orally, whether in a tea or a capsule, may help with insomnia, but we remain uncertain if doing so would have hormonal side effects.

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Q. Last Friday evening, a dinner guest touched a Pyrex lid that had just come out of the oven. Immediately, big blisters rose on her fingers. After handing her some ice cubes, I remembered soy sauce and poured it all over her fingers. I repeated that again later.

Just now, I got the following email from her: “Must tell you my burnt fingers are mostly healed with no pain or anything. So do not know if it was the ice or soy sauce, but will replicate if it happens again. Have never had any kind of burn heal so fast.”

A. Cold water is the recommended first aid for a kitchen burn. We have heard from many readers that soy sauce applied to a minor burn stops the pain and reduces blistering. Cold yellow mustard also appears to be helpful.

For people who appreciate such practical approaches, we offer our book “The People’s Pharmacy Quick and Handy Home Remedies” (online at PeoplesPharmacy.com). Although there is virtually no research on these kitchen-cupboard treatments, the testimonials suggest that they may be worth a try. A serious burn always requires prompt medical attention!

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Q. Is it all right to cook with coconut oil? I understand that it is full of saturated fat, but I have been reading that coconut oil could be a healthful choice for cooking.

A. Researchers have begun to question the role of saturated fat in heart disease. An interventional cardiologist wrote in the BMJ (online, Oct. 22, 2013) that “Saturated fat is not the major issue. ... Let’s bust the myth of its role in heart disease.”

A review of randomized controlled trials in the journal Open Heart (online, Feb. 9, 2015) also found a lack of evidence that eating saturated fat causes heart disease.

Nutrition experts we have consulted, including Christopher Gardner, Ph.D., of Stanford and Dr. Mark Hyman, of the Cleveland Clinic, assure us that coconut oil is a reasonable choice for cooking.

The People’s Pharmacy radio broadcast airs at 2 p.m. Saturdays on WBFO-FM 88.7.