Is It OK to Ingest Essential Oils?

Mar 14, 09:46 PM

I've been asked this question often lately, and the queries have come from both healthcare professionals and consumers. This is an issue which concerns me greatly, because oral ingestion is heavily promoted by several essential oil multi-level marketing companies in an attempt to sell their products. These companies focus on sales rather than education and safety, and the average person who attends their presentations does not understand that essential oils can be potentially misused... and by far the easiest way to misuse these fragrant substances is through oral ingestion.

British and American aromatherapy deals with application of essential oils via inhalation or topically in dilute form. When applied in this manner, the oils initially bypass the liver and engage with various cellular structures and neurotransmitters to have the desired effect on the body. Ultimately, the metabolites of these essential oils leave cells, are taken up by blood and lymph, recirculate in the body, are processed through the liver, and finally excreted through the urinary or intestinal systems. By the time the oils or their metabolites leave the liver, they have largely done their job.

Not so with oral ingestion. In this case, essential oils may have time to act upon some digestive system issues, but by the time they reach the small intestine, they are absorbed into the circulatory system and taken up by the liver. There, they are broken down into various phytochemicals, which are then further metabolized. Problems can occur when the liver decides it prefers to process other substances first, and phytochemicals accumulate in line waiting to be processed, sometimes accumulating in toxic amounts. For example, the liver doesn't "like" 1,8 cineole, a common bioactive fraction of peppermint, tea tree, niaouli and many eucalypts. Taken orally in improper doses, 1,8 cineole can quickly accumulate to the point where it causes liver failure. In a child, less than 2 milliliters are a deadly dose. In an individual with compromised liver function, even small amounts of oils containing 1,8 cineole taken orally can cause dangerously elevated liver enzymes in a matter of a few days.

There is also the matter of drug interactions. All essential oils have some sort of effect upon P450 liver detoxification enzymes. Some inhibit or accelerate phase 1 enzymes, some inhibit or accelerate phase 2 enzymes, and still some interact with both phase 1 and 2 enzymes. This does not pose a problem with the majority of essential oils when inhalation therapy or topical application is used, but does create problems with oral ingestion. If a pharmaceutical medication has a narrow therapeutic window, it is undesirable (and may be downright dangerous) to limit the effectiveness of the drug by slowing or speeding up the way it is processed in the body.

There are different protocols for ingesting essential oils, depending on the part of the body that the aromatherapy needs to target. If you don't know these protocols, don't take essential oils orally. Taking oils incorrectly may cause burning of the mucous membranes of the mouth and throat, upset stomach, heartburn, diarrhea, or may be altogether ineffective.

A surprising number of consumers believe that all natural remedies are safe, and see no problem using essential oils with abandon. A person who would never consider taking half a bottle of aspirin in a sitting has no problem downing a teaspoon of highly concentrated essential oil. Unbelieveably, these people do exist... and I've written about them in previous blog posts on grapefruit and peppermint oil abuse.

Unless you have the time and energy to devote to your own serious research, or wish to invest in classes covering aromachemistry, pharmacology, anatomy and physiology, don't experiment with ingesting essential oils. If you find this suggestion intimidating and still feel you must take aromatics orally, book a consultation with a qualified clinical aromatherapist for guidance.

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