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Essential Oils – Beneficial or Hype?

Do you use Essential Oils (EO)?

Essential Oils appear to be all the rage recently.  They have certainly gained in popularity in recent years and there seem to be new brands popping up every month.  They are being touted by some as being able to cure everything from yeast infections to cancer. You would think that they were a new creation made by a pharmaceutical company.

essential oils and medical flowers herbs

The use of essential oils dates back approximately 5,000 years to the Egyptian empire.  They were used in religious ceremonies, for cosmetics, mummification and medicinally.  They became an integral part of Ayurvedic medicine in India.  Aromatherapy massage was prescribed by Hippocrates as a holistic treatment for many ailments.  It was approximately 1,000 years ago that Avicenna, a Persian physician, was reported to have perfected the distillation process of essential oils.  Their uses have continued throughout the Dark Ages, the Renaissance and into the 20th century.

The historical use of essential oils has largely been through application on the skin, as a massage, with absorption into the body.  It has also been proven to be highly effective through diffusion into the air and by inhalation.  The intent of essential oils was never simply to make rooms smell better.  They have been recognized for medicinal properties since their inception.  The process of making an EO was time intensive.

It may feel disheartening that everyone seems to be selling essential oils.  It makes it feel disingenuous.  These EO companies are rolling out extensive marketing campaigns and recruiting individuals to be their representatives to sell their products.  These representatives make an income by not only selling the product to others but also by recruiting others to become representatives themselves.  These representatives may come into your home or provide a talk at a community sight.  They are reaching out to you, as a consumer, to offer an opportunity to buy a product.  How does this make you feel?

Now think about this – Pharmaceutical companies train representatives extensively, and pay them very well,  to send them out to physician’s offices and hospitals to market their newest products and convince these clinicians to prescribe their product based on the information that they are given about the effectiveness of the medications.  You, as an individual, receive prescriptions from your clinician, believing in what they are prescribing and that they are knowledgeable in the product that they are giving you.  Pharmaceutical companies also market directly to consumers through TV commercials, magazine ads, medical journals, facebook ads and other social media.  Do the marketing strategies of the Essential Oils companies seem so bad anymore?

Essential Oils are medicine in a natural form, from plants.  They are a chemical extraction from the leaves or bark of plants that have effects on function in our bodies.  Many have antibacterial, anti-fungal and antiviral properties.  Some assist with detoxification processes in the liver and cells throughout the body.  Others support immune function by either enhancement of white blood cell function (e.g. NK Cells) or through their anti-inflammatory effects that help bring balance.  There are those that assist with balancing of hormones and neurotransmitter functions, assisting with sleep, anxiety, stress and more.

I have medical colleagues that completely disregard essential oils.  They view them as a scam.  They seem to be so entrenched in the pharmaceutical mantra and that only modern conventional medicine can save lives and cure illness.  So let’s look at this more deeply.

We often forget, in our modern world, that all of the medications that were used prior to a few decades ago came from plants.  Some of the most potent chemotherapy agents came from plants.  Digitalis (a heart medicine) is from a plant.  Penicillin was produced by a mold.  Does anyone question the nervous system effects of things like heroin, cocaine, marijuana, caffeine?  Plants. So why should it be so hard to accept that Essential Oils would have therapeutic effects?

Unlike pharmaceutical drugs that are created with a specific target in mind (e.g. blocking a specific enzyme), have been tested on a select group of human subjects for a period of 2 to 3 years, and often have countless side effects – Essential Oils have been used by humans for thousands of years.  There are few side effects reported when used appropriately.  They have no specific target of action.  Many are adaptogenic, meaning that they help the body do what it is meant to do.  They have wide ranging effects and do not irreversibly block a critical pathway in your cells.

The lack of extensive research through double-blinded randomized controlled trials should not be a deterrent to using essential oils.  The research is starting to flow as there is increasing interest in their uses.  It takes money to do this kind of research and some significant influence to have it published in journals that matter.  There are no essential oils that cost hundreds or thousands of dollars.  There is no essential oil that will be worth billions of dollars to the company that makes it.  There is no patent on plants.  The only proprietary benefits for EO companies is the specific blends of oils that they produce for therapeutic purposes.  After all, you can make essential oils at home without any expensive equipment or technology.

As there is a growing hunger for more natural approaches to healthcare there is starting to be an increased interest in researching how essential oils work and what they can be used for. Here are a few examples cited from Pub Med.

Melaleuca in Treating Skin and Nail Fungal Infections
Screening of some essential oils against Trichosporon speciesJ Environ Biol. 2013 Jan;34(1):17-22.


Suppression of inflammation by Melaleuca

Suppression of inflammatory reactions by terpinen-4-ol, a main constituent of tea tree oil, in a murine model of oral candidiasis and its suppressive activity to cytokine production of macrophages in vitro.


Melaleuca in Treating Candida Infection

Efficacy of alcohol-based and alcohol-free melaleuca oral solution for the treatment of fluconazole-refractory oropharyngeal candidiasis in patients with AIDS.


Frankincense in Prostate Cancer

Acetyl-lupeolic acid inhibits Akt signaling and induces apoptosis in chemoresistant prostate cancer cells in vitro and in vivo.


Essential Oil Effects on Inflammatory Mediators (TNF-alpha) and the Flu

Study on effect and mechanism of volatile oil of schizonepetae herba and its essentialcomponents against influenza virus


OnGuard (DöTerra) in use against Influenza Virus

Protective essential oil attenuates influenza virus infection: an in vitro study in MDCK cells


You should feel free to look these up and the thousands of other citations on the therapeutic uses of essential oils available on Pub Med – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/ – the go to website for medical professionals to find the answers they are looking for from research publications around the world.

Important to Note:  They are not a cure-all.  They do not address every condition and may not deliver a cure.  They should be used in conjunction with a healthy diet and lifestyle.  Pharmaceuticals may still be necessary in some circumstances and you should follow the recommendations of your treating physician.  They certainly can serve a complementary role to conventional medical treatments.

It is important to choose quality even when it comes to essential oils.  If your interest is in using them to make a room smell nicer then selecting a cheaper brand that offers a lower concentration of essential oil, with questionable impurities like pesticides, is a consideration.  If your interest, however, is for therapeutic purposes such as treating infection, supporting your immune system, antioxidant activity, then you will want to use the highest quality oils available.  Do your research on the company.  Inquire about their quality control measures and where they source their plants from.

If you are interested in learning more about Essential Oils and their uses, please feel free to contact us for a consultation.  We use DöTerra as our product of choice but there are other reputable brands available.  The most important thing is to know that they are available to you and may offer many benefits beyond a conventional pharmaceutical approach.

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