Monday, June 24, 2013

Using Essential Oils Internally. Is It Safe?

There is a lot of articles floating around, and a lot of questions flooding essential oil forums about using essential oils internally.  I am getting a lot of questions about whether the brand of essential oils I am carrying are "safe" for internal use or not.  And the amont of questions I am getting about the internal use of essential oils is a little alarming to me honestly.   So I wanted to just take a moment and talk about using essential oils internally, and what "safe for internal use" practically means when dealing with essential oils.

First, I want to note that historically the use of essential oils has been almost exclusively external application, or inhalation, of course there are some exceptions, but usually these were for treatments of serious diseases, not every day use.  Also, a lot of the work siting the use of essential oils in ancient cultures or mentions of essential oils in the Bible is false, as they did not have the ability to distil what we know today as "essential oils."  They actually used aromatic oils, or infused oils, which much more closely resemble tinctures made from whole plants than they do the "essential oils" we know today.  They did come along later in history, but not in ancient cultures.  And this makes a big difference, as whole plant extracts that have been used for thousands of years are much safer with many fewer risks involved than the highly concentrated essential oils we use today.  Using the whole plant in many cases may eliminate risks associated with using just certain components from the plant, such as essential oils.
 In my opinion from years of using and studying essential oils and herbs, and how and why they work, in over 90% of cases there is never a need to use essential oils internally.  The push to use oils internally is a relatively new idea that has come largely from a couple companies in the US pushing their use internally, and also a couple French doctors who advocate using essential oils internally to treat ailments and diseases.  It should be worth a bit of extra caution and consideration that most of literature promoting the use of all types of essential oils internally comes from these few companies, or from people that are selling or promoting products from these select few companies.  Most experienced aromatherapists still strongly disagree with this "new" concept of ingesting oils of all varieties for a host of ailments, or even every day health.  And this should be a caution sign.  Not saying it is the end all, but should warent a bit more digging.  I very passionate about encouraging everyone I discuss essential oils with to get their information on using essential oils and what is safe and what is not from un-biased sources, herbalists, and experienced aromatherapists rather that from any essential oil company no matter how reputable.  While these companies may provide some good information, a filter that comes from a base knowledge of herbs, traditional and historical uses, and chemical compositions of oils is often needed and vital for safety.  It is even more important if you wish to share your love of essential oils with others.  I could write whole blog posts siting instance after instance (if you are curious of specifics feel free to ask me about it) where large "reputable" companies post and publish mis information that shows a basic lack of knowledge of chemistry, and biology, and the herbs the oils come from themselves.  And when these companies are claiming to be the "best in the world" and the "leaders in research, but yet lack the basic knowledge that is the foundation of their whole business, this makes me very cautious.  Why I hav studied and researched these herbs and oils for many years, I am not in any way claiming to be a "formost expert" or any such titile, so if even I can see the grose inconsistencies and mis-information that is being put out, that should be reason for a warning flag to go up.  Like I said, companies want to make money, even if that means putting out sub par, or unproven information about the products they are selling.   And if you lack the basics which everything else rests on, your conclusions and future studies and findings have a high probability of being false.  Even testimonials claiming wonderful benefits and lack of side effects from essential oil use internally must be taken with a grain of salt.  There are testimonials for most everything you can imagine claiming no ill effects.  And lots of people who will site "I do it all the time" as if that is a  reason to throw out caution, or ignore science or lack of research.  Also, there are not well funded, unbiased studies going on to determine how these oils change the bodys chemistry or internal functions over long term use.

That being said, I do think the use of essential oils internally can be a good thing, but used wisely, with only certain oils that are known and well recognized to be safe to ingest both as a raw herb, dried herbs, extracts and tinctures and as an essential oil. (two examples would be peppermint, and clove, both an herb and a spice that you can consume in their natural forms.)  But these oils should still be used with wisdom, and generally only as a remedy for a temporary condition, not as a ongoing supplement.  In my opinion, anyone considering using essential oils internally should first have a base knowledge of herbs and their properties, and cautions to be aware of.  Also, they should know the chemical composition of the essential oil they are considering for internal use, and learn what the possible cautions of the chemical components they contain could be.  For instance, ketones are found in large quantities in oils such as peppermint and spearmint (30% in peppermint and 55% in spearmint.)  Ketones generally stimulate the formation of tissue, dissolve fats, and are potentially neurotoxic.  Ketones are one of the most common toxic substances in essential oils, and this does not change based on higher "grades" of oils, it is simply a naturally occurring substance.  According to Dr. Penoel, ketone molecules can penetrate the blood-brain barrier more easily that other molecules.  Some of the oils high in ketones can cause liver damage.  After absorption from almost all regions of the gastrointestinal tract, most substances pass directly to the liver, where the great majority will be deactivated, but some may be made more toxic.  Not all ketones are equally problematic, but this is the reason why many oils that are high in ketones carry the caution: do not use in pregnancy.

Even in Europe where essential oil use is much more widely accepted and even prescribed my many medical doctors, and where standards of extraction exceed any in america, you will still be hard pressed to buy essential oils off the shelf marked "for internal use."  Because it is still recognized that experience is required when and if you use oils internally.

 Now are there some essential oils that can be used very safely and effectively internally?  Of course!  However it is imperative that their formulation in products for internal consumption is undertaken by someone who really understads what they are working with.  Just because someone else tells you that they take a drop or two of an essential oil for a specific health benefit daily, does not mean it is safe to do so, or that it will be safe for you to do so.  Keep in mind that each person's system is quite unique and individuals and not everyone's system can deal as easily with what are relatively large doses of active ingredients.  So please be caution.  Please educate yourself on historical uses of the oils, and the herbs and spices they come from.  Or at the very minimum ask someone who is well versed in the use of herbs and essential oils what the cautions might be for ingesting a particular oil.  Lots of companies and writers spend a lot of time on the benefits, but much less time is spent on the potential hazards.

So, to conclude, do I use oils internally?  Yes I do.  Do I think they are wonderful both internally and externally?  Yes I do!   However, I do not use them internally every day, and when I do, it is with a lot of knowledge and research to back it up.  So the question "are these oils safe for internal use?" should not be at the forefront of your mind when looking for what essential oil brands are the best.  Just because a company claims their oils are all safe for internal use does not mean they are higher quality than other oils on the market that take a traditionally approved more cautious approach of labeling their oils for "external use only."  External use is by far the most common, most studied, and most widely accepted use of essential oils, and often the most effective as well.  So start using essential oils externally, start learning and educating yourself on them, and then grow into expanding how you use them to include internally.
This does NOT mean the purity of oils is less important if you are not taking it internally though, rather, it is still just as important if not more so when using these oils only externally.  Oils applied to your skin are absorbed directly into your blood stream and are not filtered by the liver like oils that are ingested.  This means the purity of your oils in still vital (if not even more so) even when not ingesting them.
So again, please be wise, please be informed, and please educate yourself from sources that have nothing monetary to gain from the information they give out.  Educate yourself from sources such as aromatherapy schools that have been around for years and years.  See what they recommend, what they caution against, and why.  Brush up your knowledge on using herbs in their whole forms.  All of these things will expand and broaden your knowledge and give you wisdom you can then apply to using essential oils, both internally and externally.

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  1. I've been experimenting making my own skin care products. I purchase most of my essential oils from health food stores or vitamin stores. Can you tell me the brand you trust and use? Also, are there any essential oils I should stay clear from topically? Thank you , Terri

  2. Today I got an offer from Better Essentials to try out their lavender for FREE. If you go to this link, you get a FREE bottle of lavender when you pay $7.95 shipping. I ordered a bottle of Peppermint and Energize to go with it and the shipping was free and so was the lavender. Sweet Deal that I thought I would share :)

  3. Today I got an offer from Better Essentials to try out their lavender for FREE. If you go to this link, you get a FREE bottle of lavender when you pay $7.95 shipping. I ordered a bottle of Peppermint and Energize to go with it and the shipping was free and so was the lavender. Sweet Deal that I thought I would share :)