The following information is a synopsis of what was covered in The Essential Oil Ingestion Webinar, it is by no means everything discussed nor written verbatim. Some words have been added to help with clarification or rephrased as a question in place of a subject heading.
The Essential Oil Ingestion Webinar was hosted by Jessie Hawkins, co-founder of Vintage Remedies and the Franklin Institute of Wellness (FIW).
Jessie Hawkins extensive education includes diplomas and certifications in childbirth education, labor support (doula), clinical herbalism, aromatherapy, aromatic medicine, integrative health approaches to autism and ADHD. She also has a Bachelor’s in Environmental Health, a Master’s in Health Promotion, a postgraduate education in epidemiology from the University of London’s legendary School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and she is currently earning her PhD in Health. Jessie conducts clinical trials on essential oils and conducts other studies such as meta-analyses. Some of her work is listed on the FIW site: https://franklininstituteofwellness.com/research/.
This webinar covered How to determine risks, mythbusting, and what is safe for your family?
Is it safe to ingest essential oils? Is it effective?
These types of questions can only be answered through scientific inquiry. We actually have really clear scientific research into this field. These scientific fields provide us clear answers to Is it safe? and Is it effective? Historically the field of Aromatherapy has not provided answers, so we need to look at the fields of toxicology, epidemiology and clinical research. When we combined all these things and we look at answering the question Is it safe? then we have to integrate these scientific fields instead of looking at the traditional approach.
One of the main reasons we have to have that scientific training is because our instinctual training is actually quite flawed. It doesn’t line up with actual risk. An example of this would be if you are okay driving, but terrified of flying. Statistically you are for more likely to be injured or have a fatal response to a driving accident than we are to a plane crash. Our personal risk analysis is based more on experiences and perception than scientific data. We see this in multiple health related fields, this is not exclusive to aromatherapy.
There are four specific ways that we use our risk assessment to skew our perception. The first one is perceived control (Am I choosing to do this thing? Can I control it? If I can control it do I some how feel I can control the outcome related to it?). But if I am not in control of it, I feel out of control in my own life and that outcome is going to be more dangerous and threatening to me. Research shows that we perceive risks we did not choose to take to be more dangerous than those we did choose.
As a researcher we assess all the risks the same, whether or not we can control them. We are looking specifically at the data, so there is no personal interference.
Second is trustworthiness. All our personal perceptions are about trust, which can leave us some significant blind spots. If I believe you have my best interests at heart, and aren’t going to harm me, I am more likely to believe what you are going to tell me whether or not it is accurate. We trust the person and assume that have our best interest at heart, and we believe what they say is accurate. When someone who is not educated in oils tells us it is safe, or unsafe, we believe them. Because someone we trust tells us it is okay, or not, for us.
When I am in my Clinical Researcher’s role, I evaluate a data set, bypassing media outlets, professionals, and personal interpretation. I am evaluating the data set itself, and don’t have to hope that whoever is explaining the research to me has done it correctly. I don’t have to put their blind faith in someone, I can to straight to that data set and see what it is saying.
The next thing that shapes our perceptive is our perceived benefits. If you are comparing essential oil digestion against nothing, then the risks are going to appear severe. But if you compare the risks against something like cancer, the risks may seem minimal. An example of that would be the use of antibiotics. There are a lot of side effects and adverse effects when we take an antibiotic. If we look at the question of Is an antibiotic safe? that is an incomplete question. If we take an antibiotic when we are healthy and are not sick, no not at all. It will disrupt our gut bacteria, it will have adverse effects and more for no good reason. But if you have a life-threatening MRSA infection, suddenly your perception on whether or not an antibiotic is safe is going to be completely different. Our perception is always going to be in comparison to some other outcome.
Health professions actually take those comparisons and look at factual risks and factual benefits for both potential outcomes. They establish what is called a risk ratio. This removes all of their personal bias and personal information, so there is a very clear example of the risk analysis. So they can have a very clear idea of risks for the individual. Each scenario is taken into consideration to make a clear decision without bias.
Finally, frequent exposure to the risk decreases your fear of the risk, skewing the way you view the risk. For example, when you are always baking and in the kitchen, you are going to burn your hand on the oven from time to time. It is a familiar risk. Whereas you may be a bit more cautious with the extra sharp knife you just bought. Another example of this is my husband grew up in California with earthquakes and when we go to visit, the small shakes are nothing to them, but to me, who never grew up with them, it is pretty scary. Sometimes the unknown is scarier than then known.
What that means in terms of essential oils is if you were trained in essential oil without exposure to essential oil ingestion then it is going to be unfamiliar. It is going to seem risker than it is. Alternatively, if your first exposure to essential oil digestion was it was no big deal, then you are going to have a familiarity with essential oil digestion that skews that risk. It is going to skew it to the side of safety, given your false sense of security.
As a Health Professions and Researcher, we use that frequency as a variable to establish risk assessment. Frequency does not mean it is safe, it means that the risk could be increased due to frequent exposures.
You can address the risk through education. Use education as a tool to integrate essential oils into our lives safely and effectively. Remember risk changes over time and is completely dependent on the situation. It will always be dependent on the factual scientific benefits. You will always need the context to determine if it is safe or dangerous.
We use a combination of Health Sciences to form these analysis. Toxicology which tells us if something will harm us right away, and it estimates safe exposure method. Pharmacokinetics tells us how these drugs, essential oils, and herbs act within the body. Epidemiology to monitor the outcomes in the population as a result of these exposures. Finally, we conduct clinical trials to tell us whether or not these things are actually working and to pinpoint any further adverse outcomes that might be possible.
It is crucial that we evaluate this essential oil question from a source that is capable of doing each of these things.
Myth 1: Is it true certain brands are safe to ingest while others are not?
Yes, while it is true there are some good brands and there are some not so good brands. But usually when this question is asked it is referring to a specific brand. We look at phrases like “Therapeutic”, “Better than organic” that are a lot of catch phrases. These words are more specific to companies for marketing terms to substantiate their claim. There is no one brand that has the corner on the market to say they are safe for ingestion. We should only be using high quality oils for any application in aromatherapy, especially for medicinal purposes.
To say one brand is purest and therefore safer to ingest is counter intuitive. Purity is going to equal potency. So if you are more pure you have more of these chemical components in your oils and we are going to have a bigger question about safety because we are going to have to evaluate these components more specifically.
There are several safe brands to ingest, and of course there are more questionable brands that we wouldn’t recommend ingesting.
Myth 2: The Government said…GRAS Status (Generally Recognized as Safe) is for food additives in small quantities.
First of all there are no brands that are marked generally recognized as safe. Second of all, that is a designation for food additives, in small quantities. It is not a designation for medical substances or drugs. When we look at using additives, we are looking at parts per million, to make food. GRAS Status is not something we really want to be reliant on. Lots of questionable substances are also GRAS. It is completely unrelated to medicine, nor is it in favor of one brand.
Myth 3: “Essential oils are perfectly safe! I’ve done it for years!”
“Look at me I’m fine!” is never evidence for safety of anything. When we look from a scientific perspective we’re are looking at not just whether or not you think you look fine, but we are look at sub-clinical effects, or asymptomatic damage. We are looking at damage being done to body that hasn’t taken place yet. For example, those who smoke do not see damage right away, it is done gradually over a period of time. It is also not the same for each person. Epidemiologists deal in bell curves, which means it does not apply to every individual or at first inhale. A single experience is not an argument that demonstrates safety.
Myth 4: Blame the British! (British vs French)
This is a never ending mythical debate. In Britain aromatherapists use ingestion where as in France the aromatherapists use essential oils in massage therapies. If they are trained in aromatherapy they typically do it. The only difference is from the school the aromatherapists trained from, that is it.
Myth 5: Oil and Water don’t mix
Proper ingestion does not dilute oils with water. This isn’t an argument to not take essential oils internally, it is a good argument for proper education. There are documented risks of ingesting essential oils, but not when it is done properly through aromatic medicine.
Myth 6: Gut Bacteria
Everything you eat impacts gut bacteria, meds and botanicals, not as strongly though as antibiotics. Essential oils can be both harmful or beneficial. This is another argument for education.
Myth 7: “I knew a guy…”
Everyone knows someone who is a friend of someone who has had a bad experience with essential oils. Misuse often leads to adverse events. This is another argument for education, not avoidance. There are known effects of essential oils to study before ingesting.
Myth 8: “You have to be a doctor to recommend essential oils.”
Heath educators in the United States are protected in all 50 states. Health educator professionals are specifically trained to communicate information to the public. The lacking component is not a medical license, but rather is training and education. Aromatherapists and Herbalists do not diagnosis or prescribe, but educate and advice.
Myth 9: Professional Aromatherapist in the United States.
American training programs typically do not include training in relevant scientific fields. Without training, aromatherapists are not in a position to offer advice for ingestion and educators are not in a position to advise.
So how do we use essential oils safely?
The biggest factor of safety is the lack of trust worthy sources of education. You need to find an aromatherapist with proper training. You also need to identify conflicts of interests such endorsements or offer to blend formulas. A vast majority of sources are untrained in Health Science and unqualified to read.
What is safe for my family?
Education is crucial, along with evaluating sources and interpreting recommendations accordingly. Recommending does not mean they are trained in scientific research. If you are unsure, keep it and confirm it. Diversify the tool kit, as well. There is not always an oil for everything. Contrast perceptions with risk analysis.
How do I know I am getting a quality education?
Look for Instructor qualifications in Health Sciences. Comprehensive training in research methods and epidemiology. Also look for conflicts, such as kickbacks, ad revenue (sidebar ads, click bait) formula endorsements (blends, pay for play quotes), and anything that may be a conflict of interested that can effect their research (brand endorsements, or funding a research project). This is because if a person is recommending a brand they are more than likely not going to say anything bad about it to deter you from purchasing it. The school should include sciences other than chemistry, so you can put things into practice.
Also, when you look at an oil you should have a full oil profile that includes contraindications, complete dosing instructions, recommendations, adverse effects and exposures, specific application type, duration, efficacy, and expectations (Addresses the issue right away? Addresses root cause?) available to you. If it isn’t offered then it isn’t a good idea to use it, because you don’t have the complete information.
How do we apply this information?
There is not an essential oil for everything. There is a place for essential oil in the tool kit though. Ensure you are using an essential oil from a trusted source, and remember not every oil is suitable for application.
Use caution with children, elderly, pregnant or lactating mothers, and those with underlying health conditions before you start treating and individual in the home.
Does dosing matter?
Yes, dosing matters. Each essential oil is different, so the dose is dependent on the oil.
Culinary use is not the same as medicinal injection. The dose is much, much lower and the risk is much, much lower. Culinary is not the same as medicine.
There is no one dose for all oils. It should be oil specific with full dosing guidelines. Oils do not contain vitamins and are ineffective and risky to ingest as a routine supplement. There is no evidence to support preventative measure when taking them daily.
Is there a safe way to ingest essential oils?
Oils and water do not mix. Always dilute an essential oil in a lipid or a sweetener, such as coconut oil, honey, or simple syrup. Ensure that the formulas are safe for specific application.
Can you recommend an essential oil brand?
I cannot personally recommend a brand as it is a conflict of interest with my current research study. Although I can tell you how to know if your oils is good. First make sure it has a third party organic certification on it, especially for citrus oils. This is a party outside of the company itself. Make sure the gas spectrometer report is readily available or can be provided to you, as it tells what is exactly in the oil. Finally,
Is ingesting with essential oils safe with children?
Yes, specific oils are safe to use with children. But if you don’t have the training, or the education, don’t do it.
If you would like more information on how to use essential oils as medicine check out the Aromatic Medicine class at Vintage Remedies!