understanding therapeutic grade essential oils and their benefits

Essential Oil ingestion debate – is Frankincense oil the same as turpentine?

Recently, a discussion was posted on a social media page comparing the GCMS for a high quality frankincense oil with a GCMS for turpentine paint thinner from Home Depot as a chemist’s perspective on whether or not essential oils should be ingested. It was stated that while the point is not that turpentine is exactly the same thing as frankincense, but rather that they are the same class of molecules (terpenes) with many of the same molecules in common, a-pinene being the dominant component of both, and both distilled from tree resin and therefore have solvent properties. This example was given to caution people against putting 10 drops of an essential oil with a dietary supplement label in your water and drinking it down multiple times per day.

The information which follows is not intended to be an argument about whether you should or should not ingest essential oils, but about sifting the information out there which might influence your choices.

Ok, first of all, there are no essential oils with dietary supplement labels sold by any company which the suggested use on the label directs one to add 10 drops to water multiple times per day. In fact there are none which give a suggested dosage on the label of 10 drops at all, much less added to water multiple times per day, so this is an exaggeration to say the least. It may be true there are some individuals who recommend adding 10 drops of an essential oil to your drinking water and doing this multiple times per day. The unspoken implication here is that typical recommendations for water consumption are 8-10 8 oz glasses per day so that could be 80-100 drops of essential oil per day. There are 100 drops of oil in a 5 ml bottle. One company which offers Frankincense oil as a dietary supplement is priced at $29.75 for 5 ml wholesale and $39.14 retail. The suggested use is 1-2 drops, up to three times per day, not 10 drops multiple times per day equaling possibly an entire 5 ml bottle a day.

Secondly, it needs to be understood that there are a whole range of dietary supplements out there, and different people take them for different reasons. However, no one takes the maximum dose of every single dietary supplement they might decide to try, every single day for the rest of their life.  Much less some highly inflated dose that is drastically different from what the label recommends. Especially when the cost of this ridiculously inflated dose could be $30 or more per day. No one is doing that, and even if they wanted to, it would be cost prohibitive. Besides the very obvious fact that 100 drops a day would be a toxic dose for almost any oil, especially if continued for multiple days indefinitely.

Now lets examine the logic that ingesting frankincense oil is equivalent to ingesting turpentine because both happen to be high in terpene molecules. Following a similar logic we could argue that house cats are potentially as dangerous as lions and cougars because they are all members of the family Felidae and share many characteristics. They are all carnivores with fur, four paws and a tail, and they all have sharp teeth and claws. They all growl when they are mad. Neither is it just size that makes one potentially more dangerous, as there are many species of wild cats similar in size and appearance to house cats which are quite vicious.

Ok, so how about the argument that you should not ingest solvents? That sounds like a bad idea, right? However, a solvent is merely the liquid in which a solute is dissolved to form a solution. WATER is a solvent and we all drink that and need to.

Now lets consider a seemingly harmless substance regularly consumed by most Americans. Did you know that according to the USDA, the average American consumes 150-170 POUNDS of sugar per year? Just imagine if you took 30 or more 5 lb bags of sugar and stack them in the corner of your kitchen on New Year’s Day and declare to yourself that you are going to eat all of that by the end of the year. Sugar causes many more health issues than essential oils and these issues are well documented.

In many social media groups and blog posts you hear horror stories of people having holes burned in their esophagus, kidney and liver destroyed etc etc. Often people “know” this so and it is “proven” that essential oils caused these issues because they heard it from their best friend whose aunt’s doctor had a patient who suffered these consequences of essential oil ingestion. In some cases people say it is their own first hand story of what happened to them and they know it was the oils and their doctor agreed it was the oils that caused their issues.

However, it is nearly impossible to find documentation of medical reports or published peer-reviewed studies to confirm these reports, while at the same time, such information abounds for many prescription drugs, foods, and other products. Key information such as age and previous health history such as being a cancer survivor (no one is cured from cancer, they are only said to be in remission if the cancer goes away); family history of kidney or liver disease, medication history, or a host of other issues are often not taken into consideration when someone posts a claim stating they know their issue was caused by essential oils. Also missing is key information on which oil or oils were used, brand, quality, dosage, duration, and other factors which might be pertinent. Instead you see statements like “”lemon oil will dissolve a styrofoam cup! Imagine what it would do to your insides!”” (Never mind that our intestines are not made of styrofoam).

According to analysis conducted by Transparency Market Research, the global essential oil market is expected to reach $24.79 billion by 2022. According to Grandview Research, the essential oil market in the US is expected to reach $7.34 billion by 2024 while the US population is projected to reach 334.5 million by 2020. Although current and projected essential oil use includes a wide range of quality and purity, it is not difficult to see that use is certainly widespread enough that if essential oils really were causing a fraction of the health issues claimed in these Facebook groups and blog posts, real proof and documentation that these adverse events were occurring would not be so difficult to find.

A lot of very misleading information is posted on these threads, particularly when understanding what it means to say essential oils are concentrated, and unfortunately, people are drawn in by it. One blog proclaims that a single drop of lemon essential oil is the equivalent of eating 20 lemons! This is incorrect. Dr. Jean Valnet, a medical doctor who practiced aromatherapy for more than 30 years and who was considered one of the leading authorities in the world on essential oils and their therapeutic use, stated that about 3000 lemons were required to distil one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of essential oil. This works out to about 50 lemons per 15 ml bottle, or per 300 drops; 5 lemons per 30 drops, or 1 lemon per 6 drops. In other words consuming a drop of lemon oil is nothing like eating 20 whole lemons, it is like adding one small slice of lemon to your water or tea, a fairly common practice.

And while some may argue that essential oils added to foods are trace amounts measured in parts per million, the truth is most are proprietary formulas and don’t really state how much is in them. Many essential oils have been ingested in foods and home remedies for hundreds of years, well before the term “aromatherapy” was coined. That is not to say that one should ingest essential oils without investing in the training and/or research to learn about the oils you are using and why you might ingest them. What is right for one person may not be right for another.  However, exaggerated safety claims promote drama, not education.

The UTI Dilemma

According to the National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearing House, a urinary tract infection (UTI) is the second most common type of infection in the body and accounts for more than 8 million visits to health care providers in the US each year.  Although UTIs are more common in women, older men are also at risk and more likely to be hospitalized as a result.  Enlarged prostate, kidney stones, and diabetes increase risk factors for men.  Increasing rates of diabetes are also putting more women at risk, and for both men and women, increasing resistance to antibiotics is a factor. Symptoms include a burning sensation when urinating, feeling a need to urinate more frequently but producing only small amounts, sometimes bloody urine, general fatigue.  If the UTI is not dealt with, symptoms may become more serious and include fever, nausea and intense pain in the lower back and kidney area.  If you experience these symptoms, prompt attention is needed.

Most UTIs are caused by E. coli (Escherichia coli). Many women suffer recurrent infections, with 20% of young women who have experienced a UTI being likely to have another.  With each recurring UTI, risk of chronic infections increases. While in general UTIs are non-life threatening and easily treated if they are caught early, complications do arise.  In addition to strains of bacteria becoming more resistant to antibiotics, many of the antibiotics used to treat UTI can have very harmful side effects.

For example, one commonly used drug, Nitrofurantoin (also marketed under names such as Macrobid, Macrodantin, Furodantin, etc) has been on the market for more than fifty years despite the fact it has been well-known to cause serious side effects including multiple fatalities. In February 2010, my 86-year-old mother was treated for a UTI.  She was prone to chronic infections and had been successfully treated many times in the past so this did not seem to be a major concern.  At the time, she had gone to the Emergency for other reasons and happened to have a scan of her lungs done, which showed both her lungs to be clear and healthy.  This proved to be important later on.  I had spent some time with her regular doctor going through her list of medications and getting everything adjusted, so for several months she was doing quite well.  But, we missed the Nitrofurantoin which had been prescribed at the Emergency room, and as she had been treated for UTI many times before, I did not realize she was being given something new.

By June she began to suffer a chronic cough and her energy levels began dropping.  Her regular doctor happened to be out and she was seen by someone else who diagnosed her with bronchitis.  Her condition worsened and did not respond; her regular doctor was still away so she was referred to a specialist who diagnosed Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).  Still her condition continued to deteriorate until she began to need oxygen, and soon had to have it all the time.  In August she was hospitalized and after a week of being seen by several different highly respected physicians who all believed she had pneumonia, a prominent lung specialist came in who pointed to the Nitrofurantoin as the cause of her trouble.

The drug was stopped but the damage was done.  The scan of her lungs compared to the earlier scan in February showed a shocking difference – both lungs were now a complete mass of scarring, utterly destroyed by the Nitrofurantoin. While we hoped that stopping the drug might allow enough improvement for Mother to survive with care, this did not happen.  She did show some minor improvement but the scarring in her lungs was unchanged.  Ultimately she suffered another oxygen crisis and was hospitalized again in October and placed on a respirator.  As her condition continued to deteriorate, we were forced to turn off the machines and let her go.  Only then did she waken from the sedation to see us all standing around her bed, but she was unable to speak to us or breathe on her own at all, but we could see in her eyes that she understood what was happening, and with tears rolling down her cheeks, finally passed away, all due to the effects of the Nitrofurantoin.

Although of course we filed reports and complained to the FDA, nothing was done and I continue to read stories similar to my mother’s of people dying from this drug.  Apparently the deaths are considered acceptable since the reported numbers of such instances are claimed to be low in proportion to the overall numbers of instances in which the drug is prescribed.  In all liklihood however, these statistics are misleading.  Symptoms usually do not appear until months after the drug has been prescribed, in many cases, even after it has been stopped.  When they do, as in my mother’s case, they are often confused with some common respiratory ailment.  Mother was misdiagnosed by several doctors, even in a hospital ICU setting before a specialist finally happened along who pointed to the real cause.  Moreover, I was surprised to find that the majority of doctors, nurses, and health care professionals treating my mother were completely unaware of Nitrofurantoin’s dangerous history, even though it has been widely published in medical journals.

Another popular drug commonly prescribed for UTI, Ciproflaxin has recently been linked to as many as 1000 deaths, not to mention the unpleasant side effect of  having one’s tendon rupture suddenly, even months after the drug has been stopped.  These side effects may occur in people of all  ages. The truth is, the safety of many of  these drugs has NOT been adequately tested. If an infection does occur, either for yourself, a child, or elderly loved one who may not be able to monitor the side effects of medications, it is important to realize that everyone is different.  It is up to you to find out and know potential side effects of medications prescribed, and not assume that just because your doctor prescribes something he or she already knows you won’t have side effects.  Your doctor depends on your help in this area,  and to help others, if you do experience any negative effects with a prescribed drug, these should be reported.

Most UTIs have been found to be caused by E. coli.  Cleansing habits, drinking plenty of water, getting adequate rest, and a healthy diet are all important factors.  An alkalizing diet and avoiding sugar will also help.  UTIs can be easily avoided, but if they do occur, must be respected as something which can turn deadly and the drugs prescribed may be far more dangerous than the UTI itself if not monitored carefully.

As with many things, pure therapeutic grade essential oils can support healthy kidney function.   Thyme (Thymus vulgaris CT thymol), Oregano (Origanum compactum), Mountain Savory (Satureja montana),1:4 dilution; Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) 1:1 dilution; and Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis CT Cineole) 1:1 dilution are among several that  may help to support a healthy urinary tract.

Blends which may be supportive of urinary tract health include:

– Melrose – Melaleuca (Melaleuca alternifolia); Niaouli (Melaleuca quinquenervia); Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis CT Cineole); Clove (Syzygium aromaticum).  1:1 dilution

-Purification – Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus); Lemongrass (Cymogogon flexuosus); Lavandin (Lavandula x hybrida); Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis CT Cineole); Melaleuca (Melaleuca alternifolia); Myrtle (Myrtus communis) 1:1 dilution

– Thieves –  Clove (Syzygium aromaticum); Lemon (Citrus limon); Cinnamon bark (Cinnamomum verum); Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus radiata); Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis CT Cineole) 1:4 dilution

Oils may be applied topically by diluting 1:1 or 1:4 (one part essential oil to one or to four parts vegetable oil) as noted.

Oils listed by the FDA as GRAS for dietary supplement may also be taken internally in a clear vegetable capsule.   For individual oils, 3-4 drops, filling the rest of the capsule with olive oil or vegetable oil up to 3 or 4 times per day.   Be aware that many companies or brands may claim their oils to be pure, organic, or therapeutic grade.  Young Living is the only company that monitors the entire Seed to Seal process not only on their own farms but with every partner around the world they use as a supplier.  Also Young Living is the only company who does both third party testing as well as testing in their own laboratories and does the most extensive range of testing – not only for purity but to ensure maximum therapeutic standards are met.  Young Living has compiled a reference library of over 280,000 essential oil compound reference – the largest such library of its kind anywhere.  Internal use of other brands of essential oils is not recommended.

Another Young Living product, K & B Tincture, contains extracts of various herbs which may be soothing to the bladder and help support healthy kidneys.  It contains Juniper Berries, Parsley extract, Dandelion root, Roman chamomile, and Royal Jelly is included for its rich content of minerals, B5 and B6 vitamins, and amino acids. Pure therapeutic grade essential oils which have been extensively tested are included in this tincture as well.  Clove (Zyzgium aromaticum), Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma and Juniperus scopulorum); Sage (Salvia officinalis) for supporting metabolism and strengthening vitality; Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) for  helping support digestion; Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens); and Roman chamomile (Chamamelum nobile) for supporting the liver.

To  learn more about different therapeutic grade essential oils and how they help support a healthy lifestyle, please visit The Oil Well.

For more information on the leading essential oil companies, their history, testing, and quality standards, check out the 45 page Young Living/DoTerra report.

If this information has been helpful, you may make a small donation to help defray the costs of research.

These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA, and this information is for educational purposes only and not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.