The Facts About Ingesting Essential Oils
In the world of aromatherapy, many debates whether ingesting essential oils is a safe practice. Most of this debate is surrounded by misinformation. Many research trials have been conducted on ingesting essential oils for the treatment of different ailments. My goal is to help the misinformed see the benefit of using essential oils internally for medicinal purposes. This topic became important to me as I started to further my studies in aromatherapy. As a future aromatherapist, I wanted to be sure I had the facts straight and that I knew the safety parameters of giving patients oils to ingest as medicine. Personally, I believe essential oils are very potent and they should be treated with respect as any form of medicine should be. Based on my research, the assumption that ingesting essential oils is unsafe appears to be inaccurate.
Ingesting essential oils is not a new practice. With the boom of natural and holistic medicine in the United States, aromatherapy has been taken to the chopping block. What most people in this debate don’t understand is that during the day they are ingesting essential oils, oleoresins, and distillates in most food and health products they are using. The FDA has approved over 160 of these substances as safe for the direct addition to food and is on the Generally Recognized As Safe List (GRAS)(“CFR-Code of Federal Regulations Title 21”, 2017). This certainly doesn’t mean essential oils are of benefit if ingested as medicine. There are, however, research studies that have been conducted to prove essential oils are safe and effective in medical situations. In a group of 16 studies reviewed in 2007, it is reported that when patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) took 180-200 mg of enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules, 58% had success in reducing or eliminating symptoms. This came with mild adverse side effects such as heartburn or anal burning when eliminating (P., 2017). Another study showed that ingesting peppermint oil capsules twice daily for 4 weeks reduced symptoms of bloating, pain, and diarrhea in 75% of patients involved in the study (Cappello, G., 2017). Patients with non-ulcer dyspepsia who used a combination of peppermint and caraway essential oils also showed an improvement in symptoms. In this study, 94.5% of patients were without symptoms in just 4 weeks of treatment (May, B., 2017). This research proves not only that essential oils are of benefit in medical conditions but also that they are safe and have little to no side effects.
Robert Tisserand is a well-known aromatherapist. He has written several books and is considered an expert in his field. Most misinformation that is out there about essential oil ingestion comes from those who misquote Robert Tisserand. In Tisserand's book, Essential Oil Safety: A guide for healthcare professionals, he states that the use of essential oils can cause irritation in the digestive tracts mucous membranes. He reports that this is a problem when overdosed (Tisserand, 2014 ). In this book, he states that proper dosing can eliminate irritation. It is also noted that testing was done on highly volatile oils such as mustard seed and cinnamon oil (Tisserand, 2014). These are not common oils to ingest for medicinal purposes. When discussing the proper use of ingesting essential oils to reduce irritation, he suggests using a carrier oil to aid in the dispersement of the oil for better results (Tisserand, 2014). When ingesting essential oils the body first processes it through the liver. This is how all other natural and pharmaceutical medicines are processed by the body also. There are only a few essential oil constituents that are hepatoxic (Tisserand, 2014). Hepatoxic is when the substance the liver is processing will cause damage to the liver. In the handful of cases of liver toxicity, small children accidentally drank 5-15 ml of clove essential oil. Clove essential oil contains a constituent called Eugenol. Eugenol is known to deplete glutathione in the liver which will lead to liver damage (Tisserand, 2014). Interestingly though Eugenol is hepoprotective at lower doses. What this means is that at proper low doses Eugenol can help aid in liver function (Tisserand, 2014). Now, most people would not drink 5-15 ml of any essential oil at a time. The risks of liver damage are slim and Tisserand recommends, just as with digestive protection, that essential oils be ingested in proper doses and in a carrier oil.
In an interview with Labron Allen in 2014, Tisserand is very open on his thoughts of essential oil ingestion. He further explains why you wouldn't want to just put a drop of oil in water and drink it. In this method, the essential oil is not properly dispersed in the body and can cause irritation to the mucous membranes (Tisserand, 2016). Later in the interview, Labron asks about the different methods of teachings when it comes to essential oils. Tisserand states that he and most of his colleagues in the 1980s were not medical doctors so they didn't consider telling people to ingest essential oils. Here is an excerpt of the interview where Tisserand makes his claim on essential oil ingestion;
"I think the problem is yes it is OK, so long as you know what you’re doing and just as you don’t play with surgeon’s knives or pharmaceutical drugs, you don’t play with these things. You use them appropriately if you know what you’re doing and I think the same applies to essential oils that, yes, you use them appropriately if you know what you’re doing. And by the way, I have never said you should not ingest essential oils. You may think you heard me say that today. I have not said people should not ingest essential oils; I don’t believe it’s an absolute no-no. What I do believe is that you need to know what you’re doing. You need to know why you’re doing it; what dose you are taking; how long you are going to be taking it for; what the reason is. I don’t think essential oils are substances that we should use just pro-actively, because if you do get a viral infection, if you do get a serious illness and then you want to use aromatherapy and you have been dosing yourself with large amounts of essential oils for years, well now what are you going to do? Because your body’s already now habituated to these oils you have been taking. If you’re talking about very small amounts as you would use in food flavors – if we’re talking about one or two drops a day – that’s fine, that is OK, but if you’re taking a therapeutic dose of essential oils, if you’re taking 10 drops, 20 drops a day just because somebody told you it was a good idea, it’s not a good idea." (Tisserand, 2016).
Essential oil quality is an important aspect when considering taking essential oils internally. The FDA does not consider essential oils as medicine, therefore, they are categorized as cosmetics, The FDA currently has no regulations on defining “natural” or “organic” standards in this area (Aromatherapy, 2017). I choose to use Young Living essential oils in my practice and with my family. I do so because I trust the Seed to Seal Promise they have for their company. I also appreciate the in-house and third party testing that is conducted on each batch of essential oils. The idea that each bottle is numbered and can be traced back to a specific crop, harvest, distillation and testing is comforting to me as a mom and practitioner.
I have studied and used aromatherapy for 20 years. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. I didn’t give much thought to the purity of oils or where they came from. I was a consumer of a quality product at a conservative price. I read blogs and surrounded myself with people to support my beliefs. Little did I know, I was being misinformed and mislead by a community of people who just didn’t like multi-level marketing companies and their practices. It is so important to do your own research and educate yourself to the facts. Imagine someone at home, or ourselves, get sick and self-medicates with over the counter medications from the pharmacy, or with herbs and supplements from the health food store or internet. I would guess all have done this many times. I wonder how many people have sick children and after dosing with an over the counter medication see it's not working so more is given. This is not a safe practice and yet there is very little controversy over it. More are admitted to hospitals for drug overdoses than essential oil overdoses. Through my research, I now know that Robert Tisserand is a supporter of ingesting essential oils for medicinal purposes when taken in proper dilutions and doses. The research that was conducted on essential oils for digestive issues completely supports that ingesting essential oils is safe and effective in proper doses.
CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. (2017). Accessdata.fda.gov. Retrieved 18 March 2017, from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm? fr=182.20
May B, e. (2017). Efficacy of a fixed peppermint oil/caraway oil combination in non-ulcer dyspepsia. - PubMed - NCBI. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved 18 March 2017, from https:// www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9006790
P, G. (2017). Peppermint oil in irritable bowel syndrome. - PubMed - NCBI. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved 18 March 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16121521
Tisserand, R. (2016) Robert Tisserand interviewed on ingestion, dilution and other safety issues.
http://roberttisserand.com/2015/08/robert-tisserand-interviewed-on- ingestion-dilution-and-other-safety-issues/ (Accessed: 19 February 2017).
Tisserand, R. and Young, R. (2014) Essential oil safety: A guide for health care professionals. Churchill Livingstone.