As essential oils have become more and more popular, many want to learn internal use. Over the years, I have said as well as other Aromatherapists on different levels of knowledge “do not ingest without proper schooling”, leaving people scratching their head and looking elsewhere for this wealth of knowledge. Naturally we will turn to what resources we have available. And at times, those resources end up being salespeople or other essential oil novelists that give unsafe advice. Unfortunately, unsafe advice is also given through some not so reliable websites. Knowing which oils are safe to use internally, knowing the safest methods, having the knowledge to determine whether your ailment is an internal issue or external issue, all play an important role in your decision to use your oils internally. My recommendation is to not ingest unless you have been trained on the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of essential oils. Clinical Aromatherapists have been and can assist. If you decide to take on this type of application, there are a few things you can do to minimize risk.
Tisserand outlines hazard identification, dose-response analysis, exposure quanitification, and risk characterization of internal use. Dose-response analysis is gathered through research, analyzing how much is enough and how long is enough to be effective for the issue without becoming a risk. The complexity of steps to do this ensure safe use. However, even in research, it is known that to determine what becomes a risk to an individual, we must know the basis of ones’ genetics. Research gives us a “guide” to go by but we must analyze the individual person as well.
When there are chemicals involved, whether produced by man or referring to the chemistry of nature, there is always a risk IF the appropriate steps are not taken to protect you or your client. “Nature” or “natural” does not mitigate safety.
Essential oils, are by nature, made of chemical components. There can be anywhere from 20-200 components within an oil. Although all components make up an oil, it's the major components that play the healing role and, dependent on the component, can actuate risk. “With hazard comes risk”. Knowing which components within an oil is considered a hazard or toxic, or are irritants, can save one from taking hazardous risks.
There are both harmful and protective therapeutic chemicals within oils. The “one shoe fits all” scenario does not apply. Along with knowledge of chemical components in essential oils, to avoid risk of a toxic reaction, you need the susceptibility of an individual. To understand the susceptibility, you need to know the age, body weight, health issues including chronic illnesses, pregnancy, blood pressure or other circulatory problems, as we as medications related to the individual. Even hereditary traits can be taken into consideration.
Before taking on internal use, it necessary to know what components and percentages are within your oil and to know this, you must obtain a Gas Chromotography/Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS) analysis report. This should be easily attainable from the company where you purchase your essential oils. The companies that I purchase from always have these upfront with each oil. The purpose is to not only show you what components are in your oil, it also reveals the percentage of each component as well as finds any synthetic ingredients that may have been added. You’ll use these reports to look up the safety and therapeutic uses of the components within the oil. I prefer companies that use outside labs for testing.
Components, therapeutic uses, safety concerns and, in some cases, the molecular structure can be located using various resources: Tisserand’s Essential Oil Safety, 2nd Ed., Sylla Sheppard-Hanger’s ‘The Aromatherapy Practitioner Reference Manual’ from Atlanta Institute of Aromatherapy, The Practice of Aromatherapy by Dr. Jean Valnet or join the Aromahead component database at https://components.aromahead.com/. A resource of scientific based research and a place to learn about the individual components can be located at https://PubChem.com.
Many components are mucous membrane irritants and whether delivered in the proper dosing vehicle or not, in the wrong vehicle (ex.: water) or in large doses the essential oil can become harmful and irritating rather than have the healing effect. With large doses brings risk of irritation to your gastric intestinal tract and mucous membrane irritation. Some oils/components can affect blood coagulation, some exert hypoglycemic effects, or more.
Pharmacodynamics is the study of the biochemical and physiological effects of drugs on the body or on microorganisms or parasites within or on the body and the mechanisms of drug action and the relationship between drug concentration and effect. This applies to essential oils as well. The other aspect of internal use is pharmacokinetics of essential oils; how our body interacts with essential oil components and how these compounds are metabolized and excreted from the body. Pharmacokinetics is of crucial importance to those seeking to fully understand the therapeutic dynamics of essential oils. Learning pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics leads to safe, effective use.
In the drug industry, at the pharmaceutical phase, when designing drugs for oral administration product formulation is taken into consideration. A pill is not simply a compressed mass of drug molecules. Rather, it is a complicated mixture of fillers, binders, lubricants, disintegrants, colouring agents, and flavoring agents.
If you insist on using essential oils internally prior to a formal education, stick with oils that are non-toxic, non-irritating oils. That means staying away from irritant oils including but far from limited to Clove, Cinnamon, and Peppermint. These oils are known as mucous membrane irritants because of irritant components within the chemical family/families of these oils. Some concerning components are cinnamaldehyde, eugenol, carvicol, menthone and menthol. There is an excellent choice of essential oils that are great for digestive issues without these irritants. How do we know which oil is great for digestive issues? There can be any number of digestive issues from nauseous migraines or vertigo, gastritis, ulcer, stomach bug, IBS, etc. Safe oils for these issues can vary including sweet marjoram, roman chamomile, lavender lavendula angustifolia, frankincense boswellia sacra and frankincense boswellia carterii.
I use one delivery method of essential oils, and depending on the ailment, it may be either gelatin or enteric capsules. The carriers I use within my capsules is either honey, olive oil or other vegetable oil and herbs. There are several other methods but requires training to use safely. The dose depends on who you are treating and the above concerns as discussed earlier; i.e. age, health, weight. When using gelatin caps, you need to know how much they hold. For example, a 00-gel cap holds about 0.75 mL. One to two drops of essential oil is sufficient dispersed in a carrier. If the symptom is due to an ailment in the lower bowels, for example IBS, you would need to use enteric capsules which do not dissolve before reaching the lower bowels where the environment is pH6.8 or above. Another alternative is vitamin C tablets with one drop of essential oil. Internal use should only be used short term. What defines short term? It depends on the ailment. I would suggest 1-2 days every 2 hours or for more chronic ailments, 1 week every 4 hours. Remember that less is best. Choosing to use more than directed will not cure your ailment any faster.
Before reaching for your essential oils, keep in mind there is a gentle and effective choice of other treatments. When treating ailments and most certainly children’s ailments, the first thing I reach for and recommend is infusions of herbs, tinctures, or syrups. Chamomile flowers are perfect for an infusion for the littles ones’ tummy, to calm our minds or to assist with a restful night. For otherwise healthy adults with tummy issues, I would suggest using 2 to 4 drops of Roman chamomile (not German) essential oil, in honey or other suggested solution 2 or 3 times a day. This suggestion is found in Dr. Jean Valnet’s ‘The Practice of Aromatherapy. Pg. 102. Another method is a vermifuge. Using 1 tablespoon of chopped plant per cup of boiled water, infuse for 10 minutes and drink before bed or first thing in the morning and a cupful half an hour before meals. As you can see, it is unnecessary to use essential oils for each ailment or concern when the parent plant works quite well, especially with children. And this method can be used with other safe oils/herbs/flowers, such as Lavender Lavendula angustifolia.
For aches and pains, local booboos, headaches, allergies, sleep assistance, depression, and other issues that herbs cannot help, you can use safe essential oils, treat topically or through diffusion. It’s imperative to understand that internal use should only be used for chronic or acute internal symptoms/illnesses and not all internal symptoms require or need internal treatment.
To better understand the importance of internal use knowledge, let’s look at treating infections. Infection does not automatically follow the penetration of an organism by a microbe; the germ must locate a suitable breeding ground. A microbe (bacterium, virus, bug, germ) isn’t always the reason for being ill. A microbe finds an organism that is deficient and attacks. Although the microbe needs to be addressed, if we only treat the microbe and not find the root of the problem and bring homeostasis back, it defeats the purpose. The fact that a microbe has invaded an organism is not in itself sufficient for the infection to develop. The germ attacks when the right breeding ground is located. To truly address your ailment, we go full circle back to the importance of training for proper internal use and to understand the therapeutic properties of components within the oils as well as the safety information. Without training and component knowledge, you may not know which essential oil is considered an anti-microbial, anti-bacterial or immune supporter.
Bottom line, reach for those herbs first. The parent plant is powerful and healing; when used correctly and are relatively safe. When in doubt, grab those herbs. Always put safety first.
Clinical Aromatherapy, Jane Buckles
Tisserand and Young, EO Safety, 2nd Ed.
The Aromatherapy Practitioner Reference Manual, Sylla Sheppard-Hanger
The Practice of Aromatherapy, Dr. Jean Valnet