Monday, February 13, 2017

Essential Oils - What They And How To Safely Use Them

Essential oils are becoming ever more popular and we see many new products for sale which contain essential oils.   Essential oils are plant compounds found concentrated in seeds, bark, leaves and roots of plants.   Because they change from liquid to gaseous state quite readily, when you open the container of essential oils you can smell it often from quite a distance.    They are extracted from the plant by various methods and used therapeutically and in food preparation.   Each plant has a variety of chemicals and it is the particular mixture from each plant that gives that plant the therapeutic or culinary properties for which it is used. 

The oils can be extracted by steam distillation, cold pressing or through the use of solvent compounds to liberate it from the source plant.    The first two methods give a much higher quality product without risk of contamination from the solvent.   Different plants require different temperatures and time for optimal extraction and great skill to ensure that the fragile compounds are not damaged by excessive heat.   Lower quality oils may have some degree of contamination or may not have as much of the essential oil and are thus diluted with carrier oils.   This results in a product with less efficacy than a carefully extracted therapeutic oil.

Essential oils are powerful and can be used for a wide variety of applications.   I’ve mentioned their efficacy in cleaning products that are safe around children and pets.   They may be used to help with muscle and joint pains, relieving skin irritation, repelling insects and have a calming effect.   These are just a few of their applications.   All pure essential oils have some degree of anti-bacterial protection and can increase actions of leukocytes.  This is why medicinal herbs were so effectively used for hundreds of years. 

In my office I see a lot of people with pain issues and over the years I’ve tried many topical analgesics.   The topical analgesics compare favorably with oral medications and do not carry the risk of dependency that may be associated with oral analgesics.   There are several that I’ve used in the office and the best of them have essential oil extracts.   The oils are great for helping skin irritations.  I have used lavender oil on myself and on my dog for skin irritation.   Many oils have antibacterial properties such as tea tree, lavender and eucalyptus.   There have been studies in the literature showing their efficacy in treating oral lesions including dental caries.  Certain oils help relieve headaches and can help with sinus congestion and inflammation.   Peppermint tea has often been recommended to people suffering from colds and congestion for many years and there are lozenges with essential oils that have a stronger effect.   The dried herbs are not as strong as the essential oil because of a lower level of active compounds.  Some essential oils are effective against fungi. 

Essential oils can even be used on animals.   However, it is critical to avoid any oils containing phenols on dogs and cats as they are unable to process phenols.  This would include tea tree (melaleuca) and wintergreen oils, oregano, cinnamon, clove and thyme.  Animals have additional restrictions depending on their species so it would be wise to confer with your veterinary professional before using essential oils on your pet.

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