Are Essential Oils Safe?

A report published by Choice magazine this week was scathing in its criticism of the use of essential oils. It was peppered with one liners like “Can you trust the health claims made by doTerra?” and “MLM sellers are just normal everyday people… they’re not qualified [health] professionals.” It went as far as to warn users of potential toxic effects like seizures, nausea, vomiting, mucosal irritation and burns.

Is it safe to ingest essential oils?

Most of the furore was around the oral administration of essential oils, a practice that has grown exponentially in the past few years, thanks to powerful MLM campaigns and endorsement by the companies selling the products.

Meanwhile in social media land, thousands of doTerra faithfuls were up in arms at the Choice article, and many of us shared posts from the sidelines that jokingly included the quip “Grabs popcorn…”

The stage had been set for an oily showdown.

But seriously – my 2 cents?

When it comes to ingesting essential oils, there’s a time and a place – the time is when other herbal options are exhausted or ineffective (for example in stubborn SIBO or parasite cases), and the place is in an enteric coated capsule, NOT “diluted” in a glass of water or placed inside a standard gelatine cap.

Last time I checked, oil CANNOT be diluted in water. Think back to your Year 7 science class – water and oil don’t mix. Which means the concentrated oil in your glass of water is touching your delicate upper digestion. All. The. Way. Down.

And even when the oils are delivered in capsule form, is that capsule enteric coated? Or does is open up on the way through your upper GI tract?

These are very, very concentrated medicines and need to be given a level of respect that I don’t believe is currently forthcoming in the essential oil community.

Stronger is not always better.

Ingesting all kinds of different oils, because something is new, in fashion, or on special (hello, BOGO promotions!), is not a safe or targeted approach.

Some of these oils may also interact with other medicines or natural remedies, and could potentially make those other medicines less effective. It could also potentiate the drug’s actions and make their effect too strong. Antidepressants, the contraceptive pill, blood pressure meds, thyroid meds, probiotics and blood thinners immediately come to mind.

Reading copious amounts of company materials on the oils they sell is NOT the equivalent of research. If they sponsored the study it is usually biased and does not count.

And don’t even start me on getting your education via Facebook forums.

ANY powerful herb, oil or supplement that is recommended to you by a layperson (that is ANY person who doesn’t have tertiary qualifications in either health science – or in the case of oils – aromatherapy) is going to be hit and miss.

At worst, the “miss” will cause you lasting damage, or at best, it’s money wasted. I’m hoping for most users, it’s just the latter.

The feedback from readers…

There was some fantastic (and I’m happy to say – very civilised) debate going on over at my Facebook page, with one reader asking “So what are your thoughts on those who have been ingesting oils for years without a problem. Just asking.”

I replied, “You could say the same thing about eating junk food, smoking or drinking. Some people will be totally fine. Some won’t. Some will be doing themselves damage that they won’t’ be aware of till later. But if you’re 100% sure that’s not you – that’s ok too. But we can’t assume that’s going to be the case for everyone else.”

She responded “Fair call.”

Another reader commented, “A friend just happily spent $400 on a set… I asked her why she bought them and then asked me for advice ( I am also a naturopath) she said that they go hard on the ‘evidence and research’ and was literally told she would be able to throw away her prescription meds soon….ethics??”

Promising that someone will be able to throw away their medications is downright dangerous and chills me to the bone. I mean – great if that’s the outcome for them, but promising this as an outcome?  It’s completely irresponsible. As qualified health practitioners, we are taught to NOT guarantee these sorts of results, or give patients false hope. And I always, always work in with the patient’s doctor and take their lead when it comes to weaning off or stopping meds.

I’m not saying don’t use oils. I have plenty myself and love them! But I’m advocating for a safer approach that’s guided by qualified practitioners and the latest unbiased research, not by the dollar.

I’ll go back to my popcorn now.

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