AromaBlogWelcome to the AromaBlog. Registered aromatherapist and Aromaceuticals founder Katharine Koeppen is deeply committed to aromatherapy education, and this is her forum for getting the word out on essential oils and all things aromatic. She welcomes your comments, but please do not ask Katharine to answer specific questions related to your personal health issues as it is both unethical and unprofessional for her to give advice to anyone she has not seen in consultation.

The Side Effect No One Ever Talks About

Mar 2, 12:58 PM

by Katharine Koeppen, RA

By now, there has been enough publicity that casual users of essential oil should know that ingestion of essential oils is not a wise choice. I've posted on the side effects of regular, uninformed ingestion before and they are many: ulceration and burns of the mouth and esophagus, duodenal ulcers, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dizziness, seizures, interference with common medications, elevated liver enzymes, fatty liver disease and kidney disease, among others.

However, there is one very serious potential side effect of essential oil ingestion that no one talks about: intestinal dysbiosis. This involves an imbalance of microflora in the gut, and dysbiosis is a hot topic among gastroenterologists. Science of the last decade has found that long term gut flora imbalance is associated with a host of diseases. These include illnesses associated with the digestive system such as colorectal cancer, Crohn's disease, IBS and celiac disease. Intestinal dysbiosis is also being linked to a wide range of other diseases and conditions including Alzheimers/dementia, breast cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing sponylitis, autism and atopic eczema. An increasing number of physicians are now realizing that our overall body health is a direct reflection of our gut health.

When you regularly ingest essential oils, you are killing off bacteria in the digestive tract. What you are killing is dependent upon which oils you are ingesting, and some of these oils, particularly those in so-called weight loss and immunity blends, are fairly broad spectrum antibacterials or bacteriostatics. Contrary to popular belief, essential oils don't "kill all the bad bacteria and leave the good bacteria alone." Daily ingestion can lead to significant alteration of microflora balance over weeks, months or years. The effects of microbiota imbalance may not be obvious for a very long time, and take an equally long time to reverse. If disease has taken hold, it may be irreversible.

Five years ago, it would have been inconceivable for me to post on this subject. Essential oil ingestion was extremely rare and done only by highly trained aromatherapists and a tiny number of medical professionals. There was little understanding in the medical field of the importance of the personal gut microbiome. However, the two are inextricably linked, so think before you drink.

Is It Possible to OD from Essential Oil Diffusion?

Mar 2, 12:58 PM

by Katharine Koeppen, RA

While it seems crazy, the answer is an emphatic yes. Diffusers are a great way to disperse essential oils into your environment, but they weren't ever meant to run for hours on end. If you don't limit your aromatherapy diffusion to sensible intervals, it's possible to get a little too much exposure, resulting in oversedation or overstimulation. This can result in a variety of side effects, depending on the essential oils used:

- Mental confusion or brain fog
- Impaired concentration
- Dizziness or fainting
- Hypervigilance or jittery behavior
- Nausea
- Headache
- Sudden, uncontrollable fits of coughing or sneezing
- Seizures (most likely to occur in babies and small children)

How much diffusion is enough? Generally 15-30 minutes is plenty for most applications. After 40 minutes of diffusion, odor blindness has set in, and essential oils have already accomplished their maximum effect on the body.

Overexposure can actually reverse the desired effect of essential oil diffusion. For example, when properly diffused, sweet myrtle (Myrtus communis) is a lovely, stimulating oil for mental focus and effectively addresses pollen allergies and respiratory issues. Inhaled in excess, myrtle will become stupefying.

When diffusing around special populations such as pets, children, frail elderly or the seriously ill, be sure to monitor them for signs of overexposure. With these groups, a little aromatherapy goes a long way and shorter diffusion times are often required.

Don't sit right next to the diffuser unless you're doing a very short, therapeutic "shock" treatment (5-10 minutes) such as an inhalation for blocked nasal passages. On the rare occasions when I've seen an adverse reaction in one of my classes or presentations, it's inevitably occurred to the person who insists on sitting only a foot or two away from a device that is blowing essential oil mist directly into their face.

I prefer to use diffusers that automatically run on timed on/off cycles to avoid overexposure. If your diffuser doesn't have this feature, you can easily purchase a lamp or appliance timer to set the diffuser to desired run times.

Just remember, everything in moderation. Follow the above guidelines and you'll experience years of enjoyment from your aromatherapy diffuser. 



Essential Oils for High Blood Pressure? Please Don't Burst a Blood Vessel

Feb 21, 09:12 PM

by Katharine Koeppen, RA

Last month I posted about some of the groups I've been following on social media and the unrealistic expectations that many casual users have regarding appropriate utilization of aromatherapy. One topic that keeps coming up is the belief that one can use essential oils to control high blood pressure (HBP), either via inhalation or topical application.

HBP is a condition that affects numerous people, and some have disconcertingly uncontrollable blood pressure readings even with medication. When people hear that most essential oils have the effect of lowering BP, they automatically assume that using aromatherapy would be great for keeping this health problem in check. Not so.

Any given essential oil has a very short term effect on lowering blood pressure, and sometimes the effect is so slight as to be negligible. HBP is a chronic issue which requires regular, long term treatment. Therefore, any reasonably effective utilization of aromatherapy would necessitate daily, round-the-clock applications. This is neither feasible nor sensible. Multiple daily applications of an essential oil blend are appropriate only for the short term in dealing with an acute health condition, not for a chronic cardiovascular problem that has taken years to develop and requires constant monitoring.

One enthusiastic gentleman argued the point with me on Facebook. "I have a great recipe for HBP but am looking for a better one," he stated in a popular aromatherapy group oriented toward beginners. When questioned, he admitted that 4 daily topical applications (in addition to his medication) weren't adequate to control his HBP, and any change took "a very long time, like 3 or 4 hours" to register in a BP reading. His experience underlines my point. Who is realistically going to apply an aromatherapy blend more than 4 times per day, at regular intervals, 24/7, permanently, to achieve the desired effect?

When essential oil use becomes excessive and long term, a number of other things can start to happen, and none of them are good. One is that the body becomes acclimated to the aromatherapy blend and it no longer works. Another is that the immune system can become sensitized to the blend, resulting in an inflammatory skin reaction, respiratory problems, or in extreme cases, anaphylactic shock. Remember, sensitization is permanent and can lead to cross-sensitization with chemically similar essential oils, limiting the possibility of aromatherapy solutions for future health concerns.

Lastly, prolonged usage may have the opposite of the original desired effect. It is well known that after a certain length of exposure, a stimulating essential oil can become stupefying (sweet myrtle is a great example), or a calming essential oil which results in lowered BP may suddenly become excitatory (as in a recent study of sandalwood administered by inhalation). The "prolonged" state in these examples doesn't involve weeks or months of exposure, but minutes.

In many cases, we simply don't know the long term effect(s) of excessive essential oil usage. Widespread aromatherapy abuse is a relatively new problem, and we are finding out that it may have serious consequences such as cancer or fatty liver disease.

When it comes to aromatherapy, let common sense be your guide. Aromatherapy may be pleasant to use, but it doesn't offer a permanent or sensible solution for controlling HBP.

The Weaponization of Social Media

Feb 8, 02:34 PM

by Katharine Koeppen, RA

During the past few weeks, I've really cut down on my social media time. I'm doing this for the same reason cited by many others: social media has become a very nasty place. To some degree, this has always been the case, but since last fall's election, places like Twitter and Facebook have beecome rife with insults, accusations and general intolerance.

There's a lot of ignorance and miscommunication out there, especially in aromatherapy pages and forums. While these exist ostensibly to educate and network, they can be full of bad advice and misinformation. If you're on Facebook and having a lousy day, the temptation to lash out and attack someone can become great. Don't do it.

Last month, a respected aromatherapy icon publicly and viciously attacked another icon on multiple social media forums. Both parties involved have 30+ years in the business, and many people look up to them. One party felt slighted over a perceived copycat product, and launched into a full frontal assault. The other party did not personally respond, and had an associate put up a defense instead. The reputations of both aromatherapists suffered over an issue which could (and should) have been quietly settled between them via direct personal communication.

I've always wondered why people think they're invisible when they post. It's akin to picking your nose in the car while driving and somehow believing that no one will see you. The perceived anonymity may make you feel good, but it's merely a false sense of security. 

Think about everything you post before you hit the return key. If the strangers in your Twitter feed or Facebook group met you tomorrow at an aromatherapy conference, would they greet you or avoid you? If you think you'll never run into any of these people in person, think again. The world is a very small place, and aromatherapy is a small industry.

The golden rule may sound corny, but it really applies to social media communication.

Great Expectations

Jan 23, 06:23 PM

by Katharine Koeppen, RA

As aromatherapy continues to build in popularity, I am seeing an increasing number of disturbing posts in social media essential oil groups. Here is a sampling from the past 2 weeks:

I want to know if anyone has some good essential oil recipes for controlling high blood pressure. Would you please share?

My mother has cancer and I want to know the best oils to buy for her. I'm especially interested in frankincense and myrrh. She doesn't want to have any conventional cancer treatments.

I'm having persistent retinal bleeding and want to know what essential oils might be safe to apply around the eyes.

What are your opinions [on aromatherapy] for delayed speech in a 3 1/2 year old child?

What do all these posts have in common? They're from people who have extremely unrealistic expectations about aromatherapy. They're from people who buy into the "there's an oil for that" mentality. They're from people who believe that allopathic medicine cannot offer an appropriate solution to their very serious health issue, or perhaps that conventional medicine should be avoided at all times and at all cost. They're from people who want a free advice on a completely impractical solution to a complex and/or potentially life-threatening problem.

At the same end of this unrealistic spectrum, I cannot imagine why anyone would visit a social media group and expect to receive reliable, sound advice about serious, complex illnesses or developmental problems. Why would anyone think that hundreds of complete strangers, most of whom have been newly introduced to aromatherapy, could provide expert (or even remotely safe) advice? If Dr. Facebook, Dr. Pinterest and Dr. Google were real people, their medical licenses would have been revoked long ago.

My message to newbies: curb your expectations. There isn't always "an oil for that." If you're new to essential oils, concentrate on learning basic aromatherapy care for common, everyday ailments such as sunburn, headaches, seasonal colds, stress, PMS or laryngitis, to name just a few. Leave the more complicated stuff to the professionals. That's what we're here for. And for god's sake, if you suffer from a condition that may cause you to lose your eyesight or have a stroke, see a medical doctor pronto. That's what they're here for.

As you begin to use essential oils on a regular basis for simple, everyday health issues, you'll have some hits and misses. Everybody does; that's part of the learning process. Guided by some reputable aromatherapy books and a short class or two, you'll quickly get a feel for what essential oils can and cannot do.

Please don't live in the fragrant fantasy ethers. Get down-to-earth about your expectations of aromatherapy and your sources of essential oil information. Be sensible. Be realistic. Be safe. 




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