By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury
In addition to freezing temperatures and windy days; winter comes with constant coughs, the flu season and a variety of easily spreadable germs. As more and more people turn to natural and organic products, essential oils are becoming a popular option for wellness during the wintertime.
The use of essential oils has grown more widespread in recent years and the products claim to help with a variety of health issues from lack of sleep to respiratory problems. An Allied Market Research report published in June 2016 predicted that the essential oil market will reach $11.5 billion by 2022. The report explained that essential oils originate in parts of a plant such as the flowers, leaves or roots. The oils are often used as a natural healing or soothing product.
“There are great oils that help to support the immune system so that the body can fight off those germs,” said pediatric registered nurse Christine Russell, of Elverson.
Russell is the founder of Balanced Essential Living. She and her other representatives teach classes on the uses and benefits of essential oils throughout the area. She has a class specifically about natural immune support where it’s discussed how healthy lifestyle choices and the oils help strengthen the body’s ability to fight germs and diseases.
“I used to get sick all the time as a nurse … It was almost a monthly thing that I would come down with a cold and when we (my family) started using oils; that stopped. I actually went two years with only one cold,” Russell said.
The Market Allied Research report listed several key players of the essential oils market including Young Living Essential Oils, Biolandes and doTERRA. The international company doTERRA is based out of Utah. Amanda Bohn, of Boyertown, is a local wellness advocate for the manufacturer. Bohn said essential oils are the “lifeblood” of a plant that helps it to overcome challenges. She said people can also benefit from these compounds since the human body is similar to the chemical makeup of plants. Bohn and her family have been using doTERRA essential oil products for about two years.
“Especially when I started having kids, they had all these recalls on stuff so I wanted to go as natural as we could,” she said.
Like Bohn, Russell also started using essential oils with her kids in mind. Her oldest son has autism, a bipolar mental disorder and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Russell said her son was taking 10 drugs daily to help with his disorders but still remained “unstable.” After he had a couple of traumatic stays at psychiatric hospitals, Russell decided to start using essential oils.
“We gave it a try and within just a few days of using the oils, he was a completely different child,” she said.
Russell said the oils helped to calm her oldest son so he was “emotionally stable.” Within two years of using the essential oils, he was taken off all his medication, she said. After Russell saw the positive effects the natural product had on her oldest son, she decided to incorporate them with her whole family. Her youngest son has an immune disorder where he needed weekly antibody transfusions. Russell originally used essential oils to help with his anxiety but the oils also happened to help improve his immune disorder. She said the oils helped her son to produce his own antibodies to where he no longer needs transfusions.
Essential oils are often used as part of aromatherapy which is when the aroma of something is used to promote well-being. Depending on the specific product, people can gain the healing properties of essential oils by smelling them, ingesting them or putting them on the skin. Often, essential oils are used by inhaling the products for different health benefits. A diffuser can be used to fill a whole room with the smell.
Katie Stroman, owner of Evanescence Massage & Bodywork in Malvern, uses essential oils in her massage therapy sessions to incorporate the sense of smell along with the sense of touch.
“What I like to do in my massages is to create an experience. I want to go above and beyond,” she said adding that oils like peppermint and eucalyptus are great for respiratory issues.
Stroman uses a collection of essential oil products and not just one specific company. She said the oils can be really expensive so she uses online sites like Amazon to find pure-grade oils that aren’t as costly.
“As long as you make sure it’s a 100 percent therapeutic grade, it will have the same quality,” Stroman said.
Essential oils like peppermint can also be placed on certain parts of the body to relieve tension and sooth which is why peppermint is often found in lotions.
“You can put it on the bottoms of your feet. You have very large pores on the bottoms of your feet and when you do that, the oils are absorbed into your body. They can reach every cell within your body within 30 seconds,” Bohn said.
Some oils such as coconut, orange and lemon can be used in cooking recipes. Bohn said the oregano essential oil is great for spaghetti sauce. Oils like lemon can be added to water. She said several of the doTERRA products can be used as a supplement but that it’s important for people to do their research before taking an essential oil internally. She said not every oil should be taken by mouth.
Russell explained that some companies will add fillers or preservatives to their essential oil products which makes them less pure. She said these types of oils are what stem the controversy on whether or not it’s safe to take essential oils by the mouth.
“I would say most companies’ oils are not safe for internal use but there are some companies that really do go above and beyond to ensure that purity,” Russell said.
She said even with companies that offer pure oils, it’s still important to take safety measures like using the correct amount especially when it comes to children. There are also conflicting views on whether or not pregnant women should use essential oils. She said there have been studies of women using pure essential oils and no problems were found. But on the other hand, Russell said it’s true that oils tainted with chemicals or non-natural elements can be dangerous to pregnant women. There have even been questions raised about whether the oils lead to pre-term contractions.
“There’s mixed feeling about that among doctors and midwives. Some doctors will say use it in moderation and just see how your body responds to it and others say steer away from it just in case,” Russell said.
Before Russell started using essential oils personally, she researched them after being concerned that it was a “craze” that could be dangerous. She wanted to make sure they were safe for her clients.
“After reading the science behind it, I was really impressed,” she said.
She said the body responds well to essential oils in a purified form but that there are some companies that produce products that aren’t completely pure.
“There is no standardization for essential oils because FDA can’t control it because it’s natural … so as a result, companies can do their own testing for purity standards or they can choose to not,” Russell said.
A study published in a 2007 edition of The New England Journal of Medicine found that lavender and tea tree essential oils were linked to gynecomastia in pre-puberty boys. It’s a condition where the breast tissue swells and is abnormally large. Gynecomastia is commonly found in men and boys because of hormone imbalances.
There are several people that have experienced negative results due to essential oil use such as skin conditions, according to a review of case studies published in a 2012 edition of the International Journal of Risk & Safety in Medicine. The review concluded that essential oils can potentially lead to adverse effects that range in seriousness.
Russell said when people use essential oils from companies that don’t do quality testing then they risk putting toxins in their body. She said it’s important for people to do their research and find manufacturers that used unbiased companies to test products.
“I would prefer that people go with companies that actually do third party testing,” she said.
Not only is it important to find out how an essential oil product is tested but it’s also a good idea to find out how to correctly use them. Diane Grandstrom is the owner of Aromatherapy Plus in Reading and was an intensive care unit registered nurse for 19 years. She said the statement that “lavender is good for burns” can confuse people. After hearing or reading that statement, Grandstrom said people should ask what kinds of burns it helps with and how should the lavender be used or applied.
“So that statement in itself is very misleading and can be interpreted in a dangerous way. You’re not going to put lavender on a second degree burn,” she said adding that lavender is good for the skin but it won’t be helpful when it’s poured over an area with no skin because of a burn.
There are many varied opinions on the use of essential oils and if they really work. Grandstrom said it simply comes down to if you like the smell of an essential oil then that will help you to feel better.
“Aromatherapy is about pleasure so if you don’t like the scent, that’s the first level of how it works,” she said.
To learn more about essential oils in general or aromatherapy, visit the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy at naha.org.