Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Unessential Essential Oils

Q: Are essential oils an acceptable way to obtain vitamins and minerals?

“Essential" oils are used for various emotional and physical wellness purposes. They are most known for their role in aromatherapy, a popular generator of  relaxation and meditation. Some oils are also applied topically and absorbed by the skin for their restorative and calming properties with massage. I have used peppermint, oregano and some more obscure oils myself for relieving musculoskeletal pain and discomfort. Additionally, there have been a few studies showing a possible anti-microbial effect of certain oils.

I use “essential" in quotes because the name is very misleading. Essential literally means that something is needed or required. This is not the case with oils that are used for aromatherapy, perfumes, soap and food flavorings. There are only two true essential oils, fats rather, that we need in our diet because our bodies lack the enzymes needed to make them. They are linoleic and linolenic acid, an omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acid, respectively.  

Using essential oils as a dietary supplement is a less common application where research is lacking and something that should heed caution. Some people look to these oils for their high concentration of antioxidants and because they are a proposed catalyst for weight loss. However, their effectiveness and safety have not been proven by scientific research.

 Essential oils are highly concentrated and can be toxic if not diluted. They can be reactive with some type of medications, cause severe irritation of the mucous membrane of the alimentary canal or provoke an allergic reaction. They may also cause nausea and vomiting. You should refrain from using essential oils during pregnancy because of unknown safety concerns.

Furthermore, essential oils do not supply you with any energy from carbohydrates, protein, essential fat or fiber. Another deterrent is the financial investment. Some of these oils can run you anywhere from $20-50 for a 2 ounce bottle. Wouldn't eat be cheaper and much more satisfying to eat a colorful, hearty salad?

Bottom Line: There is no research to support supplementing your diet or relying on essential oils to fulfill your nutrient needs. If you are serious about improving your health, the quality of your diet or losing weight, essential oils do not change your current nutrition and lifestyle habits and, in the long run, are not a sustainable dietary practice.

If you do decide to take essential oils by mouth, please be sure to first talk to a knowledgeable healthcare provider, follow all label warnings and instructions and consider the amount, frequency and duration of application. 

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