Monday, September 3, 2018

So Many Things, Part 1 - Essential Oils

I have so many things rolling around in my head that I need to get out - things that affect the disabled as well as the rest of the population. So today, I tackle Part 1, which I believe will become a running series of things I need to get out of my head. Today's topic: the rise of the Essential Oils fad. This trend disproportionately affects disabled children because families often buy into alternative medicine when they believe traditional medicine has failed them. It is terribly difficult to sort through the immense amount of information available on the Internet and make heads or tails of what is good information versus disinformation. It is my hope to educate, not berate.

Essential Oils

Medicine is medicine and everything comes from nature. Even the chemicals churning in a lab beaker were derived from something natural else we are talking about supernatural and that’s a topic for another day. So when I hear something being hocked as a “natural alternative” to medicine, I cringe. Essential Oils are today’s panacea. They often smell nice and are now being sold at MLM parties. But are they even safe? Let’s break this all down.

A medicine is generally defined as “a compound or preparation used for the treatment or prevention of disease, especially a drug or drugs taken by mouth” (Google, 2018). However, we all know drugs can be topical – that is, applied to the skin like creams and whatnot. If you have ever had a rash or poison ivy, you’ve probably thought about hydrocortisone cream or ointment to quell the itch. There are very few side effects with this drug if used topically and it can be used during pregnancy under the advice of a physician (WebMD, 2018). Well that’s not natural, you say? Think again.

Though the tubes you pick up at the pharmacy are generally lab created, hydrocortisone is a fancy term for the principal glucocorticoid produced by our adrenal cortex (glands that sit on your kidneys), typically referred to as cortisol (NIH, 2018). Cortisol is a natural hormone your body produces in times of stress. It regulates blood pressure, blood sugar, controls sleep cycles, manages how we use carbs, fats, and proteins, and it helps give us a boost of energy to keep us going. But the reason you use it for poison ivy is because of one its main properties – it reduces inflammation, which is why you are so bumpy and itchy (WebMD, 2018). So the smart pharmaceutical scientists found a way to recreate this natural hormone safely and effectively in the lab and put in a tube for you to use in small doses for these itchy emergencies. How cool is that?

Oh but you want something that isn’t a hormone? So you turn to the essential oils because they are 100% natural and safe, right? Wrong. Let’s just talk about ones commonly touted for poison ivy and other rashes.


Calendula Oil

Calendula oil is derived from a marigold plant (and not the ones you grow out in your yard – those are ornamental marigolds). This plant is considered a drug but it’s marketed as a supplement. Yes, a drug. It is not safe for breastfeeding or pregnant mothers to use topically or ingest and could cause a miscarriage (WebMD, 2018). It can also be dangerous to use if you take antidepressants (WebMD, 2018). Those who are allergic to the ragweed family could have serious allergic reactions to this drug as well (WebMD, 2018). Not such a great alternative.

Chamomile Oil

This oil is also derived from a plant that is in the ragweed family and thus has the same allergy problems. It too is a drug marketed as an herbal supplement. An additional problem with this drug is that it contains coumarin which thins your blood and so you cannot use this product if you are taking blood thinners or are scheduled for any type of surgery (or have any health matters that affect the blood). It is also not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women. And most ironic, skin creams with chamomile can cause allergic eczema and irritate the eyes – not exactly what you want for poison ivy (WebMD, 2018).

Peppermint Oil

Peppermint oil comes from the Peppermint leaf. It frequently causes allergic dermatitis (which is actually the same thing poison ivy causes) when used topically on the skin (NIH, 2010). I’ll just leave this here for you to ponder.

Lavender Oil

While its scent might help you relax, rubbing it on or ingesting lavender oil is considered unsafe for prepubescent boys because it interrupts hormones and could result in abnormal breast growth. Its effects on young girls are not even known. There is no information on the safety for pregnancy or nursing mothers so the advice is to steer clear of it if this applies. It is also possible this oil could interfere with anesthesia (WebMD, 2018). That’s quite enough for me to just say no to lavender oil.

The list of essential oils goes on and on as do the side effects and safety warnings. What’s more is that because these oils are marketed as a supplements, they are not held to the same standards as a drug in their manufacturing process and can even include ingredients not listed on the label (American Cancer Society, 2018).

Essential oils have become a pop culture phenomenon. Companies are cashing in on marketing essential oils as “safe alternatives” to traditional medicine but are not lawfully mandated to test these drugs for safety. They are not lawfully forced to list all the ingredients on the labels. They even are not lawfully required to put the actual drug they are selling in the bottle. In other words, you might have thought you bought peppermint oil, but instead bought snake oil.

Save the essential oils for your diffuser and instead use an FDA approved medicine for you and your family. Essential oils might smell nice, but is it really worth the risk?


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