By Lisa Profera MD
What is an Essential Oil?
Essential oils are volatile aromatic compounds that are extracted from parts of plants (flowers, seeds, fruits, leaves, stems or roots). They are the “essence” of the plant, comprised of hundreds of small molecules that have the ability to interact with every cell in our body in a matter of minutes. Whether they are used aromatically, topically, or internally, they are generally safe and natural as our bodies have evolved with these plants for thousands of years.
Way before the pharmaceutical industry took hold, plants had been used as medicine for centuries. This is still the case in many parts of the world. In ancient times, essential oils were considered precious and “worth their weight in gold” in some instances. In fact, tomb robbers would often steal these before taking the actual gold, as plant-based compounds were recognized as powerful medicine.
Pharmaceuticals started being derived from botanicals in the mid-19th century. The first synthetic drug was made shortly thereafter. Many of the prescription and over-the-counter drugs taken today are synthetic copies of components of plants and since our bodies do not recognize these compounds as “natural” many people often experience side effects. It seems that every other commercial on TV is an advertisement for a drug that has many nasty side effects, some of which seem worse than the disease they are supposed to help.
Why Use Essential Oils?
Essential oils are “packaged” by nature and are often quite complex; containing many compounds that act synergistically. This is referred to by some as the “entourage effect” where both major and minor biochemical constituents are balanced. They act better together than the sum of their isolates.
Because essential oils are balanced and “packaged” in a more natural state, our bodies may not experience as many adverse effects as compared to singular synthetic compounds. This is why I am fascinated by this new “old” medicine and enjoy helping people with whole plant solutions as much as possible.
Which Essential Oils are Best?
As a physician, my mantra is “to do no harm”. There is no universal standard or governing body that regulates the quality and purity of essential oils. It seems that you can find essential oils everywhere. The essential oils industry has become quite profitable and with that, many companies are cutting corners or making fraudulent claims about their products. Labels can be deceiving and unless you read the fine print or recognize the red flags, you may be doing more harm than good.
In their purest form, most essential oils are safe for ingestion. Some exceptions are Arborvitae, Blue Tansy, Cypress, Douglas Fir, Spikenard and Wintergreen. Many brands on shelves in stores state that their product is 100% pure, yet they are not for internal use. The label may also read “for aromatic or topical use only”, or “aromatherapy grade”, or “for massage only”. If an essential oil that we know should be safe for ingestion, like Lemon for example, is not safe for ingestion, what else is in it? I recently saw a package of “100% Pure Lemon Oil” at a popular bed and bath store. When I read the very fine print on the side of the box it said, “call Poison Control immediately if accidentally ingested”. On the label of the brand of Lemon oil that I use, there is a Supplements Facts section which has been required for all packaged foods since 1990. Since this industry is unregulated, a label can state that it contains 100% pure oil when it actually contains less than 2% of pure oil. The rest of the bottle can contain fillers–some of which are synthetic. There can also be other contaminants present such as herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, plant growth hormones, microbial organisms, carcinogens, and heavy metals.
What should you look for in an Essential Oil?
An Essential Oil company must have integrity and transparency. Third party testing can establish ultimate safety and purity without bias. The consumer should be able to access the results of these tests easily. I have not found this degree of quality in stores. You certainly should not shop for your oils on Amazon or eBay. The market is rife with cheap copies and products that have been tampered with. There are class-action lawsuits being filed against some EO companies. Very few companies self-regulate and adhere to the rigorous battery of biochemical tests that provide assurance of ultimate purity and consistency from batch to batch. The brand of oils that I use are Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade (CPTG) ® made by doTERRA. They are only sold though essential oils wellness advocates; people like myself who educate and empower the user with information on proper use.
Better Health with Whole Plant Products
As a physician and a mother, I only want the best for my patients and my family. If I suggest using Lavender for sleep or soothing skin irritations, I want to be sure that it not only works but that it will do no harm. I have been amazed at the many healing benefits of high quality CPTG® essential oils for preventative medicine as well as treatment of acute and chronic issues. Research in this field is exploding and the double-blind, placebo-controlled studies are being done in partnership with many prestigious medical institutions. In fact, essential oils may be “the new antibiotics” as we face the ever-increasing threat of bacteria that have developed resistance to all conventional antibiotics (https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/essential-oils-and-future-antibiotics-new-weapons-against-emerging-superbugs-2329-8731.1000105.php?aid=14230). When I first heard Johns Hopkins researcher Dr. Nicole Parrish speak about using essential oils to kill superbugs at the doTERRA Global Convention in 2016, I knew that this was something that I should look into.
The first fully integrative essential oils medical center is scheduled to open this year in Salt Lake City, Utah with plans for satellite clinics throughout the country. The best of traditional medicine will be partnered with the best of essential oils knowledge to provide a novel approach to healthcare. I am excited to be involved at the cutting edge of this field and to be able to help people in a clean holistic way for better health and wellness, emotional well-being, and the management of specific conditions. Ancient knowledge is being recaptured and it just may be the future of modern medicine!
Lisa Profera MD / Your Essential Oils Doctor
This information has been designed to help educate the reader in regard to the subject matter covered. This information is provided with the understanding that the author and any other entity referenced here are not liable for the misconception or misuse of the information provided. It is not provided in order to diagnose, prescribe, or treat any disease, illness, or injured condition of the body. The provider of this information shall have neither liability nor responsibility to any person or entity with respect to any loss, damage, or injury caused or alleged to be caused directly or indirectly by this information. The information presented is in no way intended as a substitute for medical counseling or care. Anyone suffering from any disease, illness, or injury should consult a qualified health care professional. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
Lisa Profera MD is a member of the Ann Arbor Wellness Coalition