AgriFutures Australia’s main function and purpose is investment, dissemination and commercialisation of research and development for the benefit of our primary industries.
Tea tree oil is a well-established natural compound, derived from the steam distillation of the oil from the native Australian species Melaleuca alternifolia. To date over 830 clinical papers have been published on the functionality of TTO supporting its broad potential for consumer products (PubMed, 2018). Over 1000 metric tonnes of 100% pure Australian TTO are used directly and in common consumer products annually.
A case study in 2007 claimed a link between Lavender Oil (LO) and TTO and a condition in young boys called gynecomastia or pre-pubertal breast development. In 2018 a second study was published that claimed these essential oils and some of the components found in them and other essential oils caused endocrine disruption in boys and, for the first time, premature thelarche in girls. The 2018 study was rebutted by ATTIA Ltd
The results from both studies were sensationalised by the media, causing concern amongst consumers – especially parents and GPs – around the world. Multiple letters to the editor and independently published research citing the poor science of the case studies, the low to undetectable concentration of EOs in the product formulations and, most importantly, the demonstrated false positive nature of the in-vitro testing methodology were well received. In particular, a paper published by Carson et al. in Reproductive Toxicology (2014) demonstrated that compounds in these EOs could dissolve the polystyrene material typically used in microtiter in vitro testing 96-well plates and thereby releasing styrene trimers which are known endocrine disruptors, from the polystyrene material. One of the original Authors (Korach) and colleagues made further claims against LO and TTO in 2018 in an oral presentation at the annual ENDO professional conference. These data were also rebutted by several respondents including Australian Tea Tree Industry Association (ATTIA) Ltd.
Tea tree oil is approved by the European Medicines Agency as a natural herbal medicine for specific medical applications. Tea tree oil has undergone extensive recent safety testing, including toxicity and dermal penetration studies, to understand the risks to humans. All necessary testing on TTO has been completed, as required by the European Chemicals Agency for its registration, evaluation, authorisation, and restriction of chemicals initiative. These tests have not identified ‘red flags’ of concern for the continued use of TTO in juvenile males, nor in any other age range.
AgriFutures Australia, in partnership with ATTIA, will disseminate the findings of the Franklin Health Research Centre study, to educate the medical community and reassure consumers around the world that Australian TTO is a safe and well-established natural ingredient with excellent health benefits for consumers and consumer products.