Sunday, 30 April 2017

Should I ingest essential oils?


I wrote a post on this a few years back and thought I would touch on the subject of essential oil ingestion again. It's still a hot topic that has become quite controversial in the field of aromatherapy. I still stand by my original post in that I don't agree with information I often see on social media regarding the ingestion of essential oils. I thought I would re-post and cover more detailed information on this topic that I have learnt since writing that post.

It is against the codes of professional practice for an aromatherapist in Australia to prescribe the oral ingestion of essential oils. You may have read about the aromatherapists in France who prescribe the oils orally, but they are also medical doctors. In Australia you must be an Aromatic Medicine Practitioner to prescribe the method of ingestion.

The ATMS (Australian Traditional Medicine Society) states that "in Australia suitably qualified Aromatic Medicine Practitioners may prescribe the ingestion of essential oils providing the essential oils are combined with other non-essential oil ingredients that are listed or registered on the TGA ARTG. The prescribed level of essential oil should be regarded as safe. That is the level of prescribed oil should be less than the maximum levels established by the Australian National Drugs and Poisons Scheduling Committee."

This is what Aromatic Medicine Practitioner Louise Gale has to say:

"As an Aromatic Medicine Practitioner it is part of your training to understand all the compounds and their function when preparing a prescription, while understanding the LD50 (Lethal dose, 50%) of the essential oils and what is deemed a safe level for consumption within the therapeutic dose level. As both aromatherapy and aromatic medicine are very different in training, it is hard for some practitioners to get away from the preparation with drops and mls.

When you transfer to aromatic medicine your mind set needs to change so you become clinically focused and dose rates are a huge importance. Everything is now in weights and mg. There is no longer much room for error. There are some techniques and dose forms that can be used by clinical aromatherapists that can be classed as oral ingestion e.g sublingual or buccal. (These applications are dissolved in the mouth and not swollowed. Therefore the oils don't directly enter the digestive tract.)

 Personally if a practitioner can't show their training in this I would not be ingesting any essential oils. I have over 2000 hours of training and clinical practice. I have also been practicing Aromatic Medicine for 3 year on top of this and have worked with medical issues from teething babies to stomach ulcers in adults. Wound management and care is the area I prefer. Internal ingestion as with most Aromatic Medicine Practitioners is our last resort" - Louise Gale Aromatic Medicine Practitioner

 "The IAAMA (International Aromatherapy & Aromatic Medicine Association Inc) acknowledges that essential oils are used in very low doses for applications such as cooking, flavouring, mouth washes and throat sprays.

No Member of the IAAMA shall use or promote the use of 'therapeutic doses' of essential oils for internal ingestion unless the practising aromatherapist has an advanced diploma in aromatic medicine, other ingestive modality with training in essential oils or medical qualifications and holds an insurance policy which specifically covers the internal ingestion and internal application of essential oils. "  

I myself am a certified clinical aromatherapist, however it's still not within my level of expertise nor would I be insured to prescribe the ingestion of essential oils. Therefore I feel that it is certainly not within the level of expertise for someone who has no qualifications in aromatherapy to be making these recommendations either. 

Reasons why the oral ingestion of essential oils may not be recommended for the general public is because a great deal of essential oils knowledge and expertise is necessary for safe practice :

  •     Some essential oils can be toxic to the liver or kidneys when ingested.
  •     Our organs can not process copious amounts of these chemical constituents and they can build up in our system and cause failure over time.
  •     Chemical breakdown of essential oils during gastric processing can change the effects.
  •     There could be potential drug interactions.
  •     Ingestion can cause sensitisation and allergic reactions over long periods of time.
  •     Ingestion can cause possible membrane damage to the digestive tract over time.
  •     Some oils such as cold expressed essential oils can be phototoxic. Ingesting them may also make you sensitive to sunlight in similar ways that topical application can.
  •     Oil and water do not mix. When adding drops of essential oil to water, the oil will float on top of the water and won't actually be diluted. You will end up with neat essential oil entering your digestive tract unless it is properly emulsified under the directions of a trained expert.
  •     Just because something is natural does not automatically make it safe. Essential oils are 70 times stronger than the plant part itself.
  •     The only cases of death, organ failure and hospitalisation in the history of aromatherapy have been caused by a result of incorrectly ingesting essential oils.


Claims from MLM Essential Oil Distibutors

There is a difference between an essential oil distributor and a certified aromatherapist. A certified aromatherapist will have taken, at minimum, a 200+ hr. class that involves the chemistry of essential oils, anatomy and physiology, and even medical contraindications with medications and medical conditions you might have. Most essential oil reps are trained in sales, not in aromatherapy. I've noticed from my past experience with MLM groups that safety is rarely discussed. Many believe that it will cause fear about using essential oil and therefore people won't purchase from them. Promoting the ingestion of essential oils also means you will use them up faster and therefore need to buy oils more regularly.

Certain MLM (Multi Level Marketing) companies have stated that their essential oils have been approved by the FSANZ (Food Standards Aust and New Zealand) or the FDA & GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) for use as 'food additives' in attempts to make it seem that their oils have been approved for ingestion therapeutically. There is no denying that some essential oils are commonly used as food flavourings but that does not make them automatically safe for medicinal use. One drop of essential oil might not seem like much, but it's a lot more than would be used in regular food flavourings.
Something to consider : 1 teaspoon of dried herbs, or 2 to 4 teaspoons of fresh herbs, usually supplies enough plant oil to flavour an entire recipe. With essential oils it takes 8kg of the fresh peppermint leaf to produce approximately 28g of essential oil!

Being approved as a food additive is completely different to being approved for medicinal use.  This is a loophole which makes it possible for them to market the oils as being safe to administer orally by anyone, without taking other health and safety factors into consideration.

Essential oils used in the food industry are very different to those used in aromatherapy. Often the essential oils used for food products are 'folded', which means they are a fractionated essential oil. These types of essential oils are re-distilled at a low pressure to isolate and remove a number of the chemical components. The oils used in the food industry do not contain the same chemical constituents found in the oils used for aromatherapy. Other essential oils used in the food industry as actually essences which have been diluted with alcohol. The alcohol then evaporates when cooked and the flavour remains.
Another term I see used is 'Therapeutic Grade' and that this means the essential oils are safe for ingestion.  Simply put, the term 'therapeutic grade' is actually just a registered trademark. This just basically means that other companies can not actually use this term when advertising their essential oils (even though they do). No governmental agency or generally accepted organisation grades or certifies essential oils as 'therapeutic grade' , 'medicinal grade', or 'aromatherapy grade'. Just another marketing ploy to make people presume that they must be purer or safer than other brands.


Final Note

I am aware that certain individuals will not happy with my post on this topic due to it's controversial nature. I chose to post this as I believe strongly in essential oil safety and I wish more people would too. I do not agree with the practices of some essential oil distributors, and this is the main reason I have since distanced myself from MLM companies.  I hope that others read this and have a think about what information that they might be sending out to new essential oil users that could possibly be detrimental to their safety.

I won't deny it, before I was trained in aromatherapy I did follow advice to drink lemon oil in water and a 'weight loss' oil blend in capsules. Not to scare anyone, but I only used a few drops of a well known weight loss assisting blend in a capsule and I ended up terrible dizzy and light headed from it. I felt like I was going to pass out. The feeling was absolutely awful. I blamed something else at the time, as I could not believe that my precious oils that are totally natural could possibly be the cause. It's a lesson well learnt!  Now I just add some fresh slices of lemon and peppermint to my water instead.  Another reason which inspired me to do my formal training.

 In conclusion I certainly do feel there is a place for essential oils medicinally, but only when prescribed by someone who has an Advanced Diploma in Aromatic Medicine. If you are not qualified and insured then you are operating outside your scope of practice.

All my essential oil safety posts are not intended to scare anyone about using essential oils. Essential oils are regarded as safe when used correctly. I am mostly just disappointed by the lack of safety information that other essential oil distributors have to offer. The promotion of unsafe topical dilutions is another concerning issue that I see far to regularly. You can read my article about safe topical dilutions here.

Hope you enjoyed my post more related blog posts can be read here:
 Essential Oil Topical Dilutions

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