The Fine Line of Essential Oils and Treatment of Disease

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Aromatherapy products accounts for millions of dollars in sales yearly in the United States. One of the most popular companies, doTERRA’s website states, “For people who care about improving their health and that of their loved ones, we provide simple, safe, and empowering solutions that enhance well-being.”  Also, ” (Be sure to use only 100 percent pure, therapeutic-grade essential oils and follow all label warnings and instructions. Essential oils should not be used in the eyes, inside the ear canal, or in open wounds. If redness or irritation occurs when using essential oils topically, apply any vegetable oil, such as fractionated coconut oil or olive oil, to the affected area. Consult your physician before using essential oils if you are pregnant or under a doctor's care.)” In other words, ask your doctor first since the majority of people are under a physician’s care.

The FDA sent a warning letter to reprimand these false claims made by three of the companies back last fall 2014, Natural Solutions FoundationYoung Living, and dōTERRA International LLC. According to FDA regulations, neither dietary supplements nor essential oils are allowed to be marketed by the company that sells them in such a way that it appears as though the products can prevent, cure or treat any disease. If a company does market in that manner, the product is considered a drug by the FDA. If a product is a drug, it must be approved by the FDA. So, any product marketed to cure, treat or prevent a disease that is not already an FDA approved drug, is considered an illegal, unapproved drug by the FDA.

The FDA found that one of the companies Young Living essential oils were marketed for “viral infections (including ebola), Parkinson’s disease, autism, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, insomnia, heart disease, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dementia, and multiple sclerosis.” Meanwhile, doTERRA consultants made claims that their therapeutic grade oils could treat “viral infections (including ebola), bacterial infections, cancer, brain injury, autism, endometriosis, Grave’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, tumor reduction, [and] ADD/ADHD.” Given these marketing claims, the FDA sent out the warning letters allowing the companies 15 days to rectify the illegal marketing and respond before facing any punishment.

Just last summer, a friend sent me a message over Facebook stating, “Essential oils are plant extracts that are more potent than herbs. If you’re looking for a natural way to deal with stuff, they’re a great option. My sister had chronic headaches for 22 years, used peppermint oil and now she’s not getting headaches anymore. We still go to the doctor when we need to, but if we can handle some things naturally at home, when we do need those antibiotics then I figure we won’t be resistant because we haven’t used them 70 times on ear infections.” Also, “I’m also attaching a link of a quick news clip for a study Vanderbilt’s wellness committee did diffusing oils in their ER. 67 different hospitals and medical establishments are using essential oils now. And “Lavender naturally lowers cortisol. And it’s great for sleep and calming. It’s good for a lot of things. The citrus oils definitely help with stress. It’s a little tricky with this, because we definitely don’t want to seem like we’re making medical claims, but a lot of pharmaceutical drugs are derived from plants, so I guess it’s not that far-fetched that these oils have therapeutic properties!” She also claims that these oils treat ADHD.

One article I found stated, “Another danger of lavender in particular is it can be harmful to skin. The doTERRA blogger suggests rubbing some on the forehead to cure watery eyes from allergies. A quick search in PubMed tells me this is a really bad idea. In vitro tests show lavender oil is harmful to skin cells, with a proposed mechanism of membrane damage. If left exposed to air, lavender oil oxidizes, forming chemicals very irritating to the skin – with the study both identifying the oxidized components causing the irritation as well as showing irritation on patches of skin on test patients. Sounds like a bad idea for your skin.” I know of another family where an ear infection was treated with essential oils and the child ended up with a more complicated infection affecting much more than just her ear.

Though the FDA has asked these companies to not proclaim the treatment of disease, their sellers continue to do so both in blog posts, pinterest pins and home parties. There is hardly any science behind essential oil use. Yes, Vanderbilt is using essential oils to reduce workplace stress, but the claims to treat illnesses, especially infection is concerning with no studies to back anything up.

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