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Are Essential Oils Safe To Ingest?

Christine Ross Essential Oils

I LOVE Essential Oils...... I LOVE ESSENTIAL OILS !!

I love the aromatherapy benefits.

I love the topical applications.

I love the healing properties they contain.

I DO NOT INGEST THEM.

One of the most common questions we get about our Essential Oil Blends is whether or not they are “food grade” and pure enough to use internally. I have a hard time answering that question because the answer is yes and no! As with all of the products, the Essential Oil Blends are made with the purest ingredients available so they would be considered ‘food grade’ but I never suggest ingesting essential oils without guidance from a licensed medical practitioner, especially not a proprietary blend.

Essential oils are extremely concentrated—imagine drinking 30 cups of peppermint tea in a single gulp, that’s the potency of one drop of the peppermint essential oil (and since all essential oils aren’t created equally, that number could be even higher). That’s some seriously potent medicine and absorbing it all at once could be too much of a good thing.

Today I am going to talk about the safety of essential oil ingestion and some of the reasons why safety in aromatherapy is just as important as safety when working with any chemical, natural or synthetic.

Let's start from the beginning.

What IS an Essential Oil?

An essential oil is a concentrated hydrophobic liquid, from a single botanical source consisting of volatile aroma compounds. These botanical sources are made up of genus and species (e.g. Eucalyptus globulus). This name tells us exactly which plant the oil comes from. Essential oils are composed of dozens of naturally-occurring chemical constituents. Each oil has a unique mix of constituents, although some constituents occur in many essential oils. Linalool, for example, is one of the major constituents of lavender oil and coriander oil, but it is a minor constituent of about 200 other essential oils.

To fully understand the therapeutic action and any safety issues associated with a particular oil, you need to know the botanical name and (if applicable) the chemotype. If you do not know the botanical name of the essential oil or the chemotype, how can you know what is the safest way to use that oil?

History of Essential Oils

Essential oils are gaining worldwide recognition for their versatility, but their use is not new. The use of botanicals as healing agents is a long-standing practice throughout human history. In fact, essential oils and other botanicals have been used in wellness practices as early as at least 5,000 years ago.

We don’t know very much about our great, great ancestors but one thing we know for certain is that humans have always loved plants that smell good. Some of the earliest known human remains, dating back about 60,000 years, were found with aromatic plants and concentrated extracts from medicinal allies that we still use today like yarrow and mallow.

The first written instruction for distillation of essential oil is from around 2000 BC in the Charaka-Samhita, one of the two surviving Sanskrit teachings of traditional Ayurveda. All around the globe, traditional people were cooking, steaming, pressing yummy smelling plants to increase their potency and make them more effective for healing.

Another compilation by ancient healers is called the Ebers Papyrus. Although it dates from approximately 1,500 B.C., it is believed to have been copied from earlier texts. The scroll contains recipes, ceremonies, and other information that Egyptians deemed worthy of preservation.

Essential oils were used often in the mainstream medicine of the 17th century and even Shakespeare wrote about being perfumed because it seemed a common knowledge that a foul smell carried disease. Before the advent of penicillin, we saw essential oils like thyme, clove, and lemon used to treat gangrene in World War I.

One of the most enduring records of essential oil use during the Roman Empire is the New Testament. Israelites used essential oils such as frankincense, cedar wood, hyssop, and fir, to elevate spiritual communion. The most famous example of the value that essential oils had in Israelite culture is in the telling of the birth of Jesus, to whom gifts were given of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

While people in ancient times quickly recognized the value of using* pure botanicals, methods for extracting the essences of those botanicals have evolved slowly over time. Jump forward to modern day. The first aromatherapy clinics were opened in the 1960s by a European nurse and people started taking notice. From that humble beginning, students and researchers took it to a new level with essential oils and aromatherapy becoming a recognized medicinal practice in England. 

Using Essential Oils Internally

Just because it's “natural” doesn't make it automatically safe

If you were out in the wild, would you eat those red little berries that all the birds seem to be avoiding? How about the pretty belladonna flowers that have long been used in poison, dating back to the ancient Romans and even found on arrows, dating further before that. There are plenty of natural sources of poison, that aren't safe for haphazard use simply because they are natural.

When I read the history of essential oils, I noticed that all of the medical history around essential oils is centered on the doctor-patient relationship. When essential oils have been indicated, especially for internal use, it has always been administered by a healer.

There are of essential oil users have been broken down into

Aesthetic users

  • Love the smell of essential oils—
  • Want to smell good,
  • Know that the scent of lavender is calming and that sage is cleansing.
  • Read up about it on our own time and
  • Interest in using essential oils 
  • Don’t use the oils undiluted or administer for medicinal purposes.

 Holistic users

  • Practitioner that sees the value in using essential oils 
  • Adhere to the safety rules
  • Combine oils for holistic healing / aromatherapy
  • Do not combine for internal use

 Clinical users ( Certified Aromatherapist)

The only kind of users that are qualified to use or prescribe essential oils to ingest is a clinical aromatherapy practitioner that is also a physician. It takes a long time to learn the proper dosages with undiluted essential oils because they’re such concentrated forms of specific plant constituents and although the body of research is growing, it’s also consistently changing and physicians do focus on continuing education throughout their time practicing.

Ingestion is best done with the guidance of a certified aromatherapist

There is a difference between an essential oil distributor and a certified aromatherapist. A certified aromatherapist will have taken, at minimum, a 200+ hr. class that involves the chemistry of essential oils, anatomy and physiology, and even medical contraindications with medications and medical conditions you might have.

Tisserand & Young (Essential Oil Safety, 2013) write: 

Medical practitioners who favor the oral route are frequently treating infectious diseases that require heavy dosing…therefore only practitioners who are qualified to diagnose, trained to weigh risks against benefits, and have knowledge of essential oil pharmacology should prescribe essential oils for oral administration.”

When it comes down to it, I am not adamantly opposed to using essential oils internally by any means! There have been amazing results using essential oils as internal medicine and if someone is sick, I think that seeking a holistic physician to offer guidance to the right essential oil at the proper dosage is a great idea. What I don’t think is a good idea is choosing individual oils or blends and dosing yourself or others until you’ve been properly trained by a qualified physician.

Think About It

Simply put, essential oils can damage your body.

Lemon Essential Oil:

Though there are MANY blogs and essential oil distributors purporting the magical healing effects of adding a couple drops of essential oils straight to your water, to drink, this practice is actually VERY UNSAFE. Being that essential oils are in fact an oil, as their name states, they do not mix into water, rather they sit on top. When you drink this water, the essential oil is then going into your mouth, down your esophagus, and into stomach all while undiluted.

Take lemon essential oil, for example, one of the most commonly ingested essential oils in water; lemon oil by itself has such great solvency capabilities that it's used commercially in many wood cleaners and paint strippers. I have removed paint from plastic bottles using neat lemon essential oil on a cotton ball, and it worked marvelously. Due to the solvent nature of lemon essential oil, when not prepared properly, the number of potential risks associated with digestive tract irritation increases.

No matter the method of use, all essential oils need to be diluted properly

Not only does dilution help for a slower entry into the blood stream, it also helps prevent irritation (such as blisters, boils, rashes, and chemical burns), as well as sensitization (when you develop an allergic reaction to a specific essential oil from multiple applications of it undiluted to the body in any way.

We think of plant medicine is safe because it’s made from nature but anyone that spends a lot of time in nature will tell you – she’s a tough beast and our safety isn’t her concern. Rather, it’s evolution and the human species’ ability to adapt and change that makes plant medicine effective for us.

Essential oils are a concentration of nature, it’s a removal of nature’s buffers (like plant matter and water and most water soluble parts) and the process of creating an essential oil does turn into a different type of medicine. It’s not quite the same thing as extracting salicylic acid and making aspirin from willow, because you’re not pulling a singular compound but it is similar in that you’re removing everything except the mixture of constituents that make up the volatile oil of the plant and that’s a whole lot of power to put directly into your body. 

Take care of your Liver & Kidneys

When it comes to ingesting essential oils (and when you’re ingesting any kind of medicine, vitamin, or supplement) it is vital to think about how it’s going to be removed from the body later. What will it do to the internal structures of our bodies? We’re resilient but our organs of elimination (liver, kidneys, lungs, skin) are individual systems that are interconnected and codependent.

If you’re inhaling or using an essential oil topically in a carrier oil, the absorption rate is slow and not everything can permeate the system so even though it still has an affect on the body and it’s possible to overdo it, it doesn’t need to be as carefully regulated.

Regardless of your method of application, essential oils are usually excreted by the kidneys, skin, and lungs with the kidneys take the brunt of this type of detoxification. As a general rule, if the kidneys are excreting something it’s in the bloodstream and if it’s in the bloodstream the liver played a hand in that detoxification too. When we use really potent medicine of any kind, it can be overstimulating to the liver and the kidneys and that can cause lasting tissue damage over time. Essential oils are no different.

To ingest or not to ingest, that is the question

I don't want to scare you away from essential oils with other people's mistakes because we have a great use for them in the future of medicine and antibiotics. When they are used properly and with safety in mind, just like you would with any other highly concentrated pharmaceutical, essential oils have been showing fabulous results in the medical community and in studies/trials that are being done today. Some of the many effective uses that have been noted in the medical and scientific community are:

This is why I shy away from advising people to take essential oils internally. When we’re approaching health and healing, we always want to take a long term approach. There’s a time and place (and practitioners) for essential oil use internally. For example:

  • In a US study, pediatric Doctors used enteric-coated capsules containing diluted peppermint oil to treat IBS. 50 children participated in a randomized, double-blind, controlled 2-week study. The peppermint group showed a greater reduction in symptoms compared to the placebo group and no side effects were reported.

My professional opinion is that without the guidance from a certified medical practitioner who is also trained in aromatherapy or a certified aromatherapist that has been trained in internal ingestion, ingestion of essential oils should be avoided.

Many of the ailments that we experience do not need such a heavy dose internally and are better suited to be combated through inhalation of essential oils (diffusers, personal inhalers, etc.) or topical application of essential oils (salves, massage oils, baths, etc.).

I hope you have enjoyed the LONG but INFORMATIVE issue of The Crunchy Corner.

Until Next Week,

Christine

 

All information on Essentially NOLA is meant for educational and informational purposes only. The statements on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products and/or information are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease. Readers are advised to do their own research and make decisions in partnership with their health care provider. If you are pregnant, nursing, have a medical condition or are taking any medication, please consult your physician.

 

 

 

 

 

 



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