One of the biggest concerns I hear about essential oils and the one I was most concerned with myself, was, "Do they really work?" I recently came across several blog posts boldly asserting that, "there are no studies that support the medical benefits attributed to essential oils." I decided to check a few of the common claims I have heard about essential oils to see whether or not there was research to back them up.
I started with one of my favorite oils, Tea Tree, which is purported to be an effective antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral. Sounds great. But what does that the research say?
- A 2004 NCCIH-funded review found that in vitro (in a test tube) studies suggested tea tree oil may help with difficult-to-treat bacterial infections such as MRSA (Caeli et al, 2001). A large-scale study is needed to confirm.
- A study comparing a 5% TTO solution to a 5% benzoyl peroxide solution and found that the benzoyl peroxide worked only slightly better but TTO had less side effects.
- Small-scale studies show TTO to be an effective treatment for athlete’s foot, nail fungus, acne and dandruff, although large-scale studies are still needed.
- The University of Western Australia showed TTO to be effective against a wide array of bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
- Studies suggest that TTO is helpful in treating all types of Candidiasis (Mondello et al, 2003).
- Eucalyptus is a US registered insecticide and miticide, and studies published I Clinical Microbiology & Infection and American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation indicated that it “may have antibacterial effects on pathogenic bacteria in the upper respiratory tract,” and it “produced significant physiologic response that may be beneficial for pain relief,” respectively.
- A study by Weber State University found that diffusing Thieves for 10 minutes kills 99.96 of airborne bacteria.
- A study published in 2015 in Eur Rev Med Phaarmacol Sci showed Rosemary to be useful in pain management.
But what about cancer claims? For many people, claims about essential oils supposed effects on cancer cells are the most offensible to their senses, and it's understandable. But are these claims really as outlandish and false as alternative medicine critics would have us believe? Again, I turned to the research articles. Here are a few highlights from what I found in my brief search.
- Researchers at the University of Leicester showed that Frankincense killed ovarian cancer cells.Kamla Al-Salmani, lead researcher for the Leicester study stated that, “After a year of studying the AKBA compound with ovarian cancer cells, we have been able to show it is effective at killing the cancer cells.”
- In 2011, the Journal Cancer published the results of a small clinical trial that showed that 60% of brain cancer patients displayed 75% reduction or greater in cerebral swelling after being treated with Frankincense.
- A Chinese study published in the journal, Molecules studied the anti-cancer properties of ten different essential oils--chamomile, cinnamon, ginger, grapefruit, jasmine, lavender, lemon, mint, rose, and thyme—showed that the oils reduced prostate carcinoma cell survival rate to 4%, and that some of the oils were just as potent against lung carcinoma cells and breast cancer cells.
- Research at the Arnold & Marie Schwartz College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences at Long Island University has shown Oregano Oil to effectively eliminate nearly all the prostate cancer cells it was tested against.
That being said, the vast majority of research previously done on essential oils have been either very small clinical trials or in vitro (in a test tube) trials. There are several reasons for this including financial restrictions and the practicalities of holding a double-blind placebo study using strongly fragranced oils.
Obviously, while the current body of research strongly supports essential oils' effectiveness at treating a vast array of diseases and disorders, much more research must be done before EOs could be definitively said to be cures for the variety of ills that ail us today. However, the research that is currently available does in fact suggest that essential oils do have a place in our medicinal arsenal and deserve to at least be studied more.
The fact remains, that sensible medicinal claims made about essential oils--while they may be a bit premature or bold--are not fabricated. Case studies, personal experience and even legitimate research studies typically back up these claims. Yet, as we learned in Part 2, it is illegal for companies, distributers and anyone else involved in the sale of essential oils to make any such claim.
As always, I encourage you to do your own research. In the next post in this series, we will try to answer the question, "Does quality matter?"