understanding therapeutic grade essential oils and their benefits

Essential Oils and the FDA

Essential oils are volatile, fragrant substances, derived from roots, bark,  stems, leaves, flowers, buds, seeds and other aerial plant parts.  Food, according to Webster’s dictionary, is defined as “material consisting essentially of protein, carbohydrate, and fat used in the body of an organism to sustain growth, repair, and vital processes and to furnish energy.”    A drug, according to Webster is, ” a substance used as a medication or in the preparation of medication.”  The Food and Drug administration (FDA) goes by the definition of the  Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act,  which is  (1) :  a substance recognized in an official pharmacopoeia or formulary (2) :  a substance intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease (3) :  a substance other than food intended to affect the structure or function of the body (4) :  a substance intended for use as a component of a medicine but not a device or a component, part, or accessory of a device.  The FDA proclaims its responsibility is to protect the public health by regulating the safety of foods, drugs, cosmetics, biological products and medical devices.  This is admirable, but a huge task.  The lines get blurred because the FDA decides things are drugs not by whether they are drugs but how they are marketed and what the “intended use” is.

For example, the FDA says in regard to essential oils, which are generally considered as cosmetics, “This principle also holds true for “essential oils.” For example, a fragrance marketed for promoting attractiveness is a cosmetic. But a fragrance marketed with certain claims, such as assertions that the scent will help the consumer sleep or quit smoking, meets the definition of a drug because of its intended use. Similarly, a massage oil that is simply intended to lubricate the skin and impart fragrance is a cosmetic, but if the product is intended to treat diseases or conditions, such as relieving arthritis  pain, it’s considered a drug.”

The problem with all of this is that in order to protect the consumer , the FDA must make methodical, makes arbitrary decisions, the effect of which may also limit peoples’ ability to educate and inform themselves, and severely limit their access to natural health options in favor of promoting synthetic patented pharmaceuticals which are big business.

According to Jeffrey Dach, MD, there is plenty of scientific research supporting the health benefits of eating cherries, but the FDA considers cherries to be unapproved drugs, and accordingly sent threatening letters to a number of fruit companies warning them not to mention any health benefits of cherries or they would pursue legal action.  In 2010, Diamond Foods received an FDA Warning letter concluding that walnuts are drugs because of links to scientific studies and proven research Diamond had listed on their web page about some of the benefits of walnuts.  This letter states, “Based on claims made on your firm’s website, we have determined that your walnut products are promoted for conditions that cause them to be drugs because these products are intended for use in the prevention, mitigation, and treatment of disease.”     At the same time the FDA advocates a Heart Healthy Diet and links to the American Heart Association’s recommendations for Healthy Diet Goals which includes four servings of nuts per week.  There appears to be no documented evidence that a single person has ever died because they ate walnuts or cherries believing them to be good for their health.  However, a study in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Vol 284, No 4, July 26th 2000, authored by Dr Barbara Starfield, MD, MPH, of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health reported 106,000 deaths per year.  This was  actually a reprint, as the study was first published in 1996.  In case one thinks this is old information, the FDA’s own records of reported Adverse Drug Events (ADEs) admits to 98,518 deaths and 573,111 serious outcomes  (Serious outcomes include death, hospitalization, life-threatening, disability, congenital anomaly and/or other serious outcome) for 2011.

According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, 25% of Americans are now taking Statin Drugs to lower their cholesterol despite over 900 studies proving the adverse effects of statin drugs.    Many statins such as Zocor and Lipitor cannot be taken at all with grapefruit juice – not even three days later – because the reaction, which inhibits a substance in your small intestine that helps break down medications, could cause too much of the drug’s active ingredient to enter your bloodstream with potentially lethal effects.  Yet even though the drugs may be labeled with some warnings, many are not aware of the seriousness or the reason for them.  In fact, a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal mentions that grapefruit-drug interactions have been on the increase, as many as 6 new drugs per year and over 85 total drugs may cause interactions. A study on the popular drug Avandia, prescribed for Type II diabetes, showed a 30 to 40% increased risk of heart attack.  Yet the FDA allows this and other drugs with similar well documented harmful effects to be continue to be marketed while instead endeavoring to suppress knowledge of potential health benefits of natural substances such as essential oils, or foods such as walnuts or cherries with claims they are drugs.

Many essential oils are on the FDA Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list, or as FDA approved food additives and flavoring agents.  According to the FDA, this means “a substance is generally recognized, among qualified experts, as having been adequately shown to be safe under the conditions of its intended use, or unless the use of the substance is otherwise excluded from the definition of a food additive.”    The Code of Federal Regulations, 21 CFR 170.30 (b) also allows a substance used in food before 1958, through experience based on common use in food to be defined as GRAS.

As Aromatherapy products, essential oils are generally regulated by the FDA as cosmetics unless specific health claims are made which would cause the FDA to view a particular oil as a drug.  The cosmetic title of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act has not been significantly amended in more than 70 years, and consists of only one page as compared to 112 pages regulating foods and drugs.  It is important to note that cosmetic products are not required to list all the ingredients, particularly those considered trade secrets and fragrance.  “Fragrance” in the ingredients list on a label usually indicates some or all ingredients are synthetic.

An essential oil may be labeled as “pure”, “organic”, “wildcrafted, or “therapeutic”.  These terms mean little unless you know the company, know the source, and have a clear understanding of what they mean by these descriptions.  They do not tell you, for instance, whether expert botanists have been hired to correctly identify the correct species and seed selection.  They say nothing of soil conditions, whether the seeds were planted at the optimal time,  were free of disease, had the needed water and weather conditions during growth, and were harvested at the right time of day.  There are many variables, and they are different for each oil.  There is no standardization in the US for essential oils, and neither the FDA or any other official organization in the US which certifies whether an essential oil is pure or has therapeutic properties.  Neither does AFNOR (Association Francaise de Normalization), a standardization system of the French government with a membership of some 3000 companies, or The ISO (International Organization for Standardization), a worldwide federation of standardization bodies from 130 countries of which AFNOR is one member, representing France.  These misconceptions are easily perpetuated when information is copied on the internet from one site to another, even when the original company is not making such claims, or have defined the terms they are using, but copied information is taken out of context.  Young Living, for example, the world’s leading and the world’s longest running producer of high quality therapeutic grade oils, was the originator of the term “therapeutic grade” in describing their own oils which were defined as “Young Living Therapeutic Grade” or “YLTG”.  When they began producing essential oils for this purpose, there were very few essential oils available in America except fragrance grade, most of which were, and still are, extended or adulterated for lower cost production.  Other companies, seeing a high demand for therapeutic grade essential oils have since sought to join the market.

Another myth  that many of these companies are passing on to the customers is to create the impression that any average person can discern the purity of an oil by smelling it. There is absolutely no scientific evidence to support this theory.  There are many tasteless and odorless chemicals that can be, and frequently are, used to extend and adulterate essential oils, and other artificial means of enhancing the fragrance which will not show up on any but the most sophisticated testing equipment.  FDA labeling requirements again do not adequately represent this as the structure of an essential oil is such that even very tiny amounts of trace components, whether real or synthetic, will affect both the purity of an oil and any therapeutic action it may have.

For example, an oil could be labeled “100% pure Frankincense” and it may be all Frankincense but could be adulterated or extended with multiple species, or it could be improperly distilled.

If one is truly interested in therapeutic properties of essential oils,  it is important to know the company, and find one which adheres to the highest standards and state of the art testing.  
To  learn more about different therapeutic grade essential oils and how they may 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 click the donate button to contribute a small amount towards the cost of research.  Thank you!

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.




Essential Oils and Maintaining a Healthy Immune System

One of the risks of hospital stays or visits to other healthcare settings is contracting MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) Infections. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics updated for 2013 indicate at least 2 million people in the U.S. become infected each year with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections. Many more people die from other conditions that were complicated by an antibiotic-resistant infection. In a medical setting, MRSA can cause life-threatening pneumonia or infections of wounds or surgical sites, or in the bloodstream. MRSA infections are easily transmitted from person to person by direct contact with the skin, clothing, utensils or other objects, or general area touched or used by an infected person. They may often begin at a wound or surgical site, or location where medical devices such as catheters and IV lines are placed. MRSA infections are generally very resistant to most drugs and antibiotics, making them difficult to treat. Studies show that about 33% of people carry MRSA in their nose without any sign of illness. A number of serious infections can result if staph enters the bloodstream, resulting in a condition known as a condition known as staphylococcal sepsis.  Even though incidence of MRSA infections have decreased slightly in the last few years due to more awareness, they are still a serious problem, tied to overuse of antibiotics for both humans and livestock.

Certain therapeutic grade essential oils can help maintain and support balance of healthy body systems. RC, a proprietary Young Living blend contains  several species of Eucalyptus: Eucalyptus globulus which helps support a healthy respiratory system.  Eucalyptus radiata may help support the ears, nose and throat as well as healthy lung function.  It is may help calm irritation.  Eucalyptus australiana ,  Eucalyptus citriodora, are also calming and may help provide bronchial support.  Also included in this blend are:  Myrtle (Myrtus communis)  which supports the respiratory system.  It is very gentle and may be used for this purpose with children older than two years of age.  Pine (Pinus sylvestris)  may be useful in helping support the respiratory system.    Spruce (Picea mariana)  helps support the nervous system as well as the respiratory and immune systems. Marjoram (Origanum majorana) provides support to the muscles and respiratory system.  Lavender (Lavandula angustiolia) helps support circulation, soothes irritation, and is calming.  True pure therapeutic grade Lavender is very soothing, cooling, and gentle for topical application, however most brands of Lavender oil are extended or adulterated.  Young Living Lavender is the highest quality and reliably safe to use in this regard.  Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens)  helps support healthy circulation and normal lymph function.  It is soothing and relaxing as well as refreshing, also helping to support the immune system.  Peppermint (Mentha piperita)  is excellent for supporting the sinuses and respiratory function. It also has a long history of being soothing for digestion.

Lemongrass, (Cymbopogon flexuosus) may support digestion and detoxification.  It also supports lymph flow, circulation, and healthy joint and cartilege function.  Other oils which may help maintain a strong immune system include  Lemon Myrtle (Backhousia citriodora),  Mountain Savory (Satureja montana) Melissa (Melissa officinalis), and Cinnamon Bark (Cinnamomum verum).

It is very important however, to ensure that one uses only the highest quality therapeutic grade oils which have undergone extensive testing with state of the art equipment, and matched against a comprehensive library of documented therapeutic components to ensure these constituents are present in the required amounts.  Young Living is the first and by far the oldest company in the U.S. which has a history of producing high quality therapeutic grade oils for more than 20 years.  They have compiled an essential oil reference library with more than 280,000 compound references, much larger and more extensive than any other of its kind, and are the only essential oils company in the world using instruments matched and calibrated to those at the National Center for Scientific Reserch in France (CNRS) by Dr. Herve Casabianca.  Young Living is also the only company who hires experienced botanists and other trained experts to personally verify the entire Seed to Seal process from selecting the correct species of plant for seeds, planting, growing, harvesting, distilling, and bottling for both their own farms and partner growers and distillers all over the world, instead of simply relying on the word of remote suppliers that their standards have been met, or soil sample tests which may or may not be from the actual crop in question to verify that no chemicals or pesticides were used.  Young Living oils are also tested at both their own and third-party labs with far more testing than used by any other company, and they continue to lead the way in cutting edge research regarding the therapeutic benefits of essential oils. More than fifty U.S. hospitals use Young Living oils exclusively, and the list continues to expand.

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 to you, please consider a small donation to defray the costs of time and research:

To  learn more about different therapeutic grade essential oils and how they may benefit 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

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.

Therapeutic grade oils and how they work.

First of all, it is important to understand that there is no governing body, either in America or anywhere else that “certifies” whether an essential oil is pure or therapeutic grade.  The FDA does not set any standards for essential oils to determine whether they do have therapeutic properties or not.  So, when you see essential oils offered for sale with labels stating they are “pure”, “organic”, “therapeutic grade”, “certified pure therapeutic grade”, etc., these are statements of the company attesting to the quality of their products.  It is still up to the consumer to do their own research on the sources they are obtaining essential oils from and decide for themselves whether a particular oil will meet their needs and the uses for which they intend it.  Some questions to ask are:

1)Where does the company source its oils?  If they obtain different oils from many suppliers all over the world, does the company have sufficient numbers of experienced personnel who will regularly visit these many different suppliers during their various phases of planting, growth, harvest, and distillation to ensure that purity standards are met?  Or do they simply rely on the word and reputation of  their suppliers, in turn stating to their customers that the oils are “100% pure and therapeutic”?  Ideally, a top company will not just take the word of their suppliers, no matter how trusted, or rely on testing alone, but will make sure the growth, harvest, and distillation of all partners is regularly monitored by trained experts

2)Does the company offer information on the testing and quality standards they conduct?  Do they explain what tests are done and by whom?  Does the company own and operate any of its own farms, labs, and distilleries?  Ideally, a company will have both farms, labs, and distilleries of their own as well as working with trusted source partners to obtain quality oils in different regions of the world.

3)Does the company employ expert botanists and chemists to ensure proper identification of plant species used and that test results are properly interpreted. A quality company should ensure they are capable of providing state of the art testing by expert chemists in their own labs, and also use top-rated third-party labs for independent verification.  Once distilled, the oils must be properly sealed and stored in dark glass bottles, away from extremes of heat and light, for optimal protection and maximum shelf-life of their delicate compounds.  Once opened, bottles should be re-closed tightly to prevent leakage and oxidation.

While it is true that plants grown in their native regions without chemicals or pesticides or wildcrafted may have superior therapeutic properties, it is possible for plants of the same species grown on the same hillside to have different chemotypes  and/or considerable variation in the range of minute chemical components which affect its therapeutic balance.  Distilling at low temperatures and pressures is generally good, but different oils have very specific requirements for exact temperature, pressure, and length of cooking time, and this may also be affected by the type and quality of distillation equipment used.  An oil which has some therapeutic properties may be truthfully described as “therapeutic grade”, but this does not necessarily mean it has all the therapeutic properties normally expected for that oil, or in the proper degree.   Therefore, if you really are looking for a therapeutic grade oil, its important to carefully review the information offered by the company you choose, and understand exactly what they mean when they call their oils therapeutic.

A truly therapeutic grade oil properly grown, harvested, and distilled will have hundreds of trace chemical components, as even in very tiny amounts they affect the balance of the overall oil and how it works.  AFNOR (Association Français de Normalisation) was established in  France in 1926 to set standards for a variety of European products and services, including some very general standards for a specific group of essential oils.  The agency sets minimum standards to validate quality, safety, reliability and performance for French, European Standards.  The ISO (International Organization for Standardization) is a worldwide federation that includes 130 countries and is based in Switzerland.  This also sets standards for a variety  of products, but its standards for essential oils are the same.   However, AFNOR/ISO standards only cover a fraction of the essential oils available, and those they do cover are primarily focused on components important to the food and flavor industries since that is the major market for essential oils.  By the same token, the FDA has compiled a GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) list for a number of essential oils as well as FA designation for many used as food additives.  However, these ratings do not address therapeutic properties, and  many oils may not be on this list not because they are unsafe but simply because they have not been reviewed for that purpose.  Also, in the case of oils which may have been chemically altered or extended by synthetic compounds or additives, these ratings may not even accurately apply.  Depending on what tests have been conducted, the presence of many synthetic additives are not always  revealed by several common tests, and cannot necessarily be discerned by sight or smell – especially not to the average layperson.  It is a complete myth that an average person with no special training or experience with a large memory bank of comparative fragrances can accurately judge the purity of a given oil just by smelling it.  Strength or mildness of fragrance are not reliable indicators of purity, or of an oil’s therapeutic properties. Therefore, caution is always advised for anyone wishing to try essential oils for therapeutic purposes, first in being sure oils obtained from a reliable high quality source which conducts extensive testing, and second, since all individuals are different, proceed slowly and allow time to see what works best for you.

There are three different “schools”  of application to follow in the use of essential oils, which are the British, German, and French models.  The British is the most conservative. This school advocates diluting a very small amount of essential oil in a large amount of vegetable oil for purposes of massage and relaxation.  The German model focuses on inhalation and diffusing the oils.  This is supported by research which has shown certain fragrances are capable of exerting strong effects on the brain, especially the hypothalamus which governs hormones, and the limbic system which governs emotions.  According to Dr. David Stewart, PhD, a highly regarded chemist, a single drop of essential oil may contain as many as 40 million-trillion molecules (think 19 zeroes in this number!).    Oils such as Cedarwood, Vetiver, Spikenard, and Sandalwood are particularly high in Sesquiterpenes. The French model calls for “neat” or undiluted application of the oils and/or ingestion of pure oils, for example a drop or two taken with a spoonful of honey or agave nectar, or on a piece of bread.

Generally, depending on the individual and the therapeutic results desired, the type of application may vary, but being open to all three schools of use and combining different methods will offer the most options for a variety of possible benefits.  For topical application, it is recommended to first dilute with a carrier oil such as a high quality vegetable, olive, or almond oil, or at least have one close at hand until you learn your own tolerance levels.  For most, a 50-50 dilution works well, (ie one drop of essential oil to one drop of vegetable oil).  However hot oils such as Clove, Cinnamon bark, Lemongrass, Oregano, and Thyme are especially strong and should be diluted one drop of essential oil to 4 drops vegetable oil.  The bottoms of the feet are usually a good place to apply oils if skin sensitivity is a concern, and will be quickly absorbed into the system.

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

If you like this report and would like to make a small donation to help defray the costs of research, you may click the donate button here:

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.