Essential oils – should I take them internally?

As a medical herbalist, the thought of taking essential oils internally scares me somewhat!  I must admit I have not spent a lot of time studying essential oils, but from what I have learnt Essential oils are a complex compound, they are 100% more potent than a herbal tincture, and for me the very nature of how they work within your body requires the skill of a fully qualified aromatherapist (NZROHA) that fully understands the interactions and constituents of Essential oils.

What has me so concerned is the clearance times of these volatile oils from within the body, the way our body metabolises them, and stores them and the irritation they can cause to your mucus membrane and organs, for me leaves me thinking I would not take them internally unless the practitioner providing them fully outlines the risks associated with them.

Why do I feel this way?  Essential oils are not as harmless as you think, you can’t just throw a few drops in some water or capsule and take daily and think all will be fine.  They are a complex chemical compound that have a different composition to herbs that are extracted from the same plant.   The most common phytochemical in essential oil is terpenes, sequiterpenses, alcohols, phenols, ethers, oxides lactones and coumarins.  These are volatile oils, and your practitioner needs to understand the chemical composition of the oils, in order to understand how they work and are metabolised by your body.

Essential oils are absorbed, metabolised and excreted in a similar way to fat-soluble medicines, they have a short life span in the blood and are distributed to muscle and adipose tissues, they can bind with proteins and can take 72 to 120 hours to be metabolised.  Most herbs and pharmaceutical drugs have a clearance time of 4-6 hours.

The biggest safety concern is the effects essential oils can have on organs such as liver,  renal, cardiac disease,  especially when it comes to elimination of the essential oil (your body clearing it out of your system).  Essential oils that contain aldehyde, phenols, furocoumarins, can cause irritation to the eyes, mucous membrane and skin, high doses and prolonged use of essential oils should be avoided.

If you are having a bath it only takes 4-7drops of essential oil within the bath to be absorbed through your skin to have a therapeutic effect.  That’s in a bath, so imagine how much one drop is having if taken internally.  An example of the potency is one drop of peppermint essential oil is equivalent to 26-28 cups of peppermint tea.   This is why it is so important to understand the safety associated with the use.

If you are pregnant or have a pre-existing health condition be sure to advise your aromatherapist,  if they are qualified and reputable, they will advise you of the risks and would avoid having you take the essential oil internally, as the risk of a serious adverse event is high, especially when ingesting. Using the same essential oil over a long period of time can lead to cumulative effect and cause sensitivity, such as irritation, eczema, allergies & inflammation.

When purchasing essential oils it is really important to check the label,  make sure the oil is from a reputable source the label should contain the following:

Botanical name, species, chemotype of the plant from which the oil was extracted, or if it’s a blend for all of the oils in the blend. Part /s of the plant in which the essential oil was extracted, Country where the plants were grown, what the extraction method was as well as batch number, expiry date, storage precautions, and specific warnings.

If you are purchasing from an aromatherapist, check what professional association they belong to. In New Zealand it is NZROHA  ( NZ Registrar of holistic aromatherapist) This ensures they meet the ethical professional standards for the practice of Aromatherapy, and the professional code of conduct.

Please be careful with ingesting essential oils and make sure you have been fully informed of the benefits and risks associated with using essential oils internally.

For me, I  use essential oil externally, a few drops in a bath, and drops added to my balm and body creams, where they are binding with a fat and applied topically for slow absorption.

Me xx

Your mobile naturopath Maree

Reference

Braun, L., & Cohen, M. (2015). Herbs & natural supplements: An evidence-based guide.

Ganora, L. (2009). Herbal constituents: Foundations of phytochemistry : a holistic approach for students and practitioners of botanical medicine. Louisville, CO: Herbalchem Press.

Tisserand, R., & Young, R. (2014). Essential oil composition. Essential Oil Safety, 5-22. doi:10.1016/b978-0-443-06241-4.00002-3

Tisserand, R., Young, R., & Williamson, E. M. (2015). Essential oil safety: A guide for health care professionals. Edinburgh [etc.: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier.