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Special Issues & Guides » Winter Wellness

Ingesting Essential Oils

Not just for aromatherapy anymore

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Essential oils—the concentrated, extracted oils of plants—have long been used for medicinal purposes. In fact, modern medicine relies heavily on organic matter as a blueprint for medications. While essential oils are often used topically or for aromatherapy, some also ingest essential oils as an internal medicine. If essential oils will be making their way into your medicine cabinet this winter, here are some insights and guidelines to keep in mind.

First, it's important to take ingesting essential oils seriously. While they are natural, they also contain chemicals in high concentrations that can be dangerous if used incorrectly. Chelsea Phillips, a licensed acupuncturist with a Masters in Oriental Medicine and owner and practitioner at Hawthorn Healing Arts Center in downtown Bend, advises those who are considering ingesting essential oils to use caution.

Prior to working with the dTERRA products Phillips currently uses, she didn't recommend ingesting essential oils at all. This stemmed largely from labeling issues. The FDA doesn't regulate the labeling or testing of efficacy for essential oils, so while the product you're buying may claim to be lavender oil, it could certainly contain additives that aren't listed on the label. In Phillips' case, the reliability of the dTERRA testing process gave her confidence. Consumers, as well, should thoroughly research their essential oil providers.

Phillips also cautions against chronic ingestion of essential oils. As with any medication, long-term use can be dangerous. The bottom line: Whether an active ingredient comes directly from nature or is produced synthetically, it should be consumed with caution and guidance from professionals.

Although essential oils aren't tested or monitored by the FDA, it's worth noting that the process of bringing to market an FDA-approved medication is complicated and expensive, a quagmire that many nature-based remedies hope to avoid. While some FDA testing is publicly funded, most is not, and a great deal of research, time, and inescapably money must be spent on FDA approval.

According to the National Institute of Health, researchers generally agree that the most reliable sources for new drugs are plants and living organisms, citing nature as "a master chemist;" however, future economic profit is often a driving force behind seeking FDA approval and synthetic alternatives are usually the easier, less expensive choice. That essential oils contain active and potentially effective ingredients is virtually undeniable. The two difficulties lie in ensuring that you are both selecting a treatment that is effective for your particular symptoms with the limited testing available and in knowing that the bottle you are holding does indeed contain what it says it does.

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