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.