Ingesting essential oils is (another) hotly debated topic here in the good old US of A. I must say I cannot fully comprehend why this subject is a major issue. Then again, why are so many things “issues” in the first place. What happened to live and let live? But, I digress. You see, I was born and raised in another country, a country in which
Back to the subject at hand, you see, I was born and raised in another country, a country where anyone can walk into a Pharmacy (yes, a pharmacy) and purchase an essential oil. Said essential oil will have on its label instructions on how it can be ingested!
In France, where I am from, essential oils are considered to be “medicine douce” or soft medicine – meaning they are not seen as dangerous, but rather they are seen as a product which any layman can use WITHOUT the recommendations of a professional. Essential oils are not seen as drugs because – while potent – they are not drugs. Only the most potent oils require a prescription by an aromatherapist. However, it does not mean they cannot be ingested at all.
Again, in France, we are told that the oils can be used topically (on the skin), by mouth, by inhaling them in via steam, and by simply smelling them. No special training required.
Ingesting Essential Oils: Negative Reactions
You see, essential oils are the lifeblood of plant materials (leaves, flowers, bark, etc) in a concentrated form. So while you might squeeze a whole lemon in your water first thing in the morning, you would not choose to use a whole bottle of lemon essential oil. Rather, you would use one or two drops.
The use of essential oils does require some common sense no matter how you plan on using them. Something the French do not feel is lacking in most people (not sure I agree there, just kidding).
I am well aware that we have all heard anecdotal stories of people who used their oils either by mouth or neat (not diluted on the skin) and who consequently suffered from a reaction.
Let me address these stories.
I am not denying some people could be allergic to the oils, in which case, even diluted they will create a reaction. I have friends and/or family members who are allergic to gluten, dairy, strawberries, watermelon, chocolate (bummer right?), etc.
Yet, not one of them feels the need to write blog posts about “the reasons you should not ingest watermelon!” I mean this is no joke, some people can (and do die) from allergic reactions. Anaphylactic shock is VERY serious. I had a friend pass away almost two years ago from anaphylactic shock.
While I fully understand the dangers of allergies and negative reactions, “having a reaction” does not automatically infer that something is wrong with a product. Gluten is not “bad.” However, it is “bad” FOR the people who cannot digest it.
How do essential oils behave after ingestion?
Excuse my French, but…
1) Pour expliquer très simplement, les huiles essentielles que l’on avale vont agir au niveau de l‘intestin grêle (le petit). Les nutriments, mélangés aux molécules d’huiles essentielles vont traverser la paroi des intestins.
Elles passent ensuite directement au foie par la veine porte. Là, 80% des huiles essentielles sont métabolisées, c’est-à-dire qu’elles y sont dégradées et préparées à l’élimination.
2) Les huiles essentielles, que l’on pose sur ou sous la langue, traversent rapidement les papilles de la langue et passent rapidement dans la circulation sanguine. (1)
In simple English, this means that:
- The essential oils when they are ingested take effect in the small colon where they are absorbed through the wall of the colon and transferred to the liver where 80% of them will be metabolized.
- If used under the tongue they are rapidly absorbed through your mucous membranes.
If you are toxic, you better believe your liver will complain as it should and as it would if you decided to do a detox through any other mean in which case, adverse reactions – or a cleansing response – are likely. This does not mean something is wrong with the oils or as in my detox example with the mean of detox you chose. It does however mean your liver cannot handle it at this time. Something which should be addressed. You want a healthy liver.
Ingesting Essential Oils: Adulterated Oils
Another point, even though there are many companies on the market which say their oils are “pure,” the reality is that most essential oils on the market today are adulterated.
It takes about 75 lemons to produce one 15 ml bottle of lemon essential oil. That’s a lot of lemons!
How many essential oil companies are there in the United States alone?
Do you really think some companies do not cut corners?
Of course they do because producing a superior product means it is going to be pricey. It is much easier to produce an inferior product and then to say for “external use only and please dilute!”
Are all essential oil manufacturers dishonest and produce inferior products on purpose?
There are reputable companies which put out inferior products out of ignorance.
Because most companies do not manufacture their own essential oils but rather buy them from a supplier. They do not directly produce the plant material nor do they process it, and most cannot (or do not) test the quality of their essential oils. They simply apply their labels to the bottles.
Moreover even if tested, some oils have enough plant material to pass a test. For example, the AFNOR label only means an oil was tested and has met THE MINIMUM required constituents benchmark in order to pass that test. I don’t know about you but I don’t want the minimum, I don’t want an oil that just squeaked by a test. I want the best – especially if I am going to ingest these oils or use them anywhere on my body or on my family.
Ingesting Essential Oils: Therapeutic Grade Oils
Another important point, in France, the essential oils you can ingest are labeled THERAPEUTIC grade also called pharmaceutical grade. People should NEVER ingest an essential oil just because they think it is pure and the label says so. Pure means very different things to different people. You could not pay me to ingest an oil from a company I do not trust. So if you plan to have essential oils in your life, do your homework beforehand.
Essential oils are not medications and should not be treated as such. Yet, they should be treated with the respect and wisdom they deserve.
Are they potent?
People should use common sense. “Concentrate” on a food label means your product is concentrated. Oils are concentrated, a little goes a long way and more is not always better.
Ingesting Essential Oils: Aromatherapists
My last point is about certified aromatherapists. In the United States, aromatherapists as a rule state that ingesting oils and using them neat are dangerous practices.
They are correct.
The training American aromatherapists receive does not include such practices as ingesting oils. As a matter of fact, this is a habit which is spoken about in a negative light.
American aromatherapists are also taught that using the oils neat is dangerous and must be avoided.
An aromatherapist wouldn’t be there worth a lick if she suggested otherwise against her education.
However, this does not mean American Aromatherapists are correct in their beliefs. We can learn wrong information and believe we are right when this may not be the case. As a matter of fact, it has happened to me quite a bit throughout my life thus far and I assume it will happen again.
Maybe we can just agree on the fact that not all countries train in the same manner nor share the same beliefs on this subject.
Are there guidelines for ingesting essential oils?
Yes, there are.
Let me share the French recommendations:
- Do not use essential oils internally during the first three months of pregnancy except under the supervision of a trained aromatherapist.
- Go slowly. Use one drop at first on a sugar cube or some honey, with a piece of bread, etc.
- The oils are best taken with some food: milk, an oil, bread, honey, etc are all acceptable. In France, you can even buy a “neutral medium” aka a little pill you can put some oil on for ingestion.
- Avoid ingesting essential oils which contain phenols for they are powerful and can be toxic in high amounts. If you must do so, contact a trained professional.
They can be toxic to the liver and irritant to the skin if used in substantial amounts or for too long a time. A number of phenols appear in essential oils as phenolic ethers. These are more complicated structures and have various word forms as seen in the following examples: safrole, methyl chavicol, eugenol methyl ether and asarone. Some phenolic ethers occur in two forms, as in trans-anethole and cis-anethole, the latter being the more toxic of the two. Phenolic ethers have some similar therapeutic effects to phenols, but, being more powerful, several may be neurotoxic if present in large amounts in an essential oil, thus indicating short term use in low concentration. (2)
Some essential oils that have a high amount of phenols are Wintergreen, Clove, and Tea Tree.
Ingesting essential oils scares you?
That’s fine and understandable. It is okay to be leery and it is okay to say “this is not for me.”
I respect your choices and I ask that mine be respected as well. My decision to ingest the oils when necessary is an educated choice – albeit, one you may disagree with and I am okay with that.
If you are inclined to learn more about essential oils, let me recommend this book: The Complete Aromatherapy and Essential Oils Handbook for Everyday Wellness.
Note: I use Young Living exclusively and have done so for over a decade. I can only speak for these oils. I am sure there are other brands out there with quality essential oils. I have also used my oils when making my DIY charcoal deodorant.
Sources for ingesting essential oils:
- (1) http://www.aromalin.com/pour-debuter-cest-ici/prendre-huile-essentielle-voie-orale/
- (2) http://www.nature-helps.com/infopage/engels/component.htm