The internal use of essential oils is a topic that explodes the interwebs with vehement debate. Whether you agree with the internal use of essential oils or not, it is one way to use them. In this post I am going to do my best to present both sides to the anti-internal usage of essential oils and allow you to draw your own conclusions.
While internal use of essential oils is controversial, the fact that essential oils are very powerful is not. Essential oils are said to be 50 – 70x stronger than herbs. For example, one drop of peppermint oil gives you the therapeutic benefit of 26(ish) cups of peppermint tea.
While this can be a good thing for therapeutic use, it also means that they need to be used with care. The major arguments against the internal use of essential oils include:
- Damage to the mucosal lining. Some essential oils can cause skin sensitivity, and therefore need to be used with a carrier oil or highly diluted. Consider these potent substances in direct contact with the mucous membranes in the digestive system, and there is a possibility of irritation. There has also been minimal research on what the long term effect of concentrated essential oils might be on gut permeability (leaky gut), or whether essential oils might disrupt the bacterial balance in the GI system.
- Higher absorbtion rate, causing toxicity. I have read various reports that discuss exactly how much of an oil gets absorbed by the skin and enters the blood stream. One article suggests very little gets absorbed, another suggests as low as 4% and as much as 50%, depending on the oil. When used internally, however, it can be assumed that almost all of the oil is absorbed into the blood stream, making it a far more potent delivery method, possibly leading to toxicity. Also consider that essential oils are not regulated by the FDA and many “drug store brands” of oil may not be pure and haven’t been tested for internal use. Essential oils are often diluted or cut with other substances to decrease the cost of production.
- Toxic oils. There are some oils that are toxic for internal use, regardless of your stance on general internal use. Oils like wintergreen, pine, parsley seed, and camphor are generally regarded as unsafe for internal consumption. There are a few others as well. Most cases of severe toxicity have come from high doses of certain eucalyptus species, wintergreen, or camphor essential oils.
I recently watched a video where she talked about essential oil quality. She said that we are looking at an industry where contamination and adulteration is not just possible, it is expected and assumed to be so, and that is largely the reasoning for avoiding internal use. She argues that when oils are pure and unadulterated they can be used internally.
Just as there are common arguments against internal use, there are common arguments for it.
- Internal support. It makes sense that if one has an issue in their digestive system, that internal use would be effective in soothing it. For example, I have a periodic digestive trouble that can cause a great deal of discomfort. In the midst of such an episode I attempted to rub an oil externally on the area. It continued to trouble me, so I put one drop under my tongue, swished it around and swallowed. Within a minute or so the episode was over and I was able to continue with the day’s activities.
- Weight management. Some essential oils can help to cleanse the body of toxins and free radicals that can slow the body’s systems down. They can support the normal self-detoxification functions of the cleansing organs (i.e. liver, kidneys), and help promote a healthy metabolism. These are all great reasons to use essential oils as part of a weight management program.
While essential oil toxicity is a real concern, oil ingestion proponents suggest the risks are hyped. AGORA is an international aromatherapy organization dedicated to non-commercial essential oil education. Their article “Toxicity Myths” does agreat job of breaking down the actual risk of toxicity.
There are numerous cases reported in toxicological literature regarding both serious (non-fatal) and fatal outcomes of essential oil ingestion in both children and adults. These cases are generally due to accidental ingestion by young children, attempts at creating abortions in past years and the use of essential oils for suicide attempts. There are more rare cases of toxic effects due to overly large doses of specific essential oils being “self-prescribed”, “prescribed” to children by parents or prescribed to clients by ill-informed therapists.
The article also states that when you look at the toxicity of an oil such as wintergreen, and really look at how much methyl salicylate is necessary to cause toxicity, it is unlikely that a conscientious essential oil user would ingest the required amount.
Make no mistake. Essential oil toxicity is a real concern. Cell membranes can become unstable, disrupting nerve function, and causing heart and respiratory distress. But with access to quality essential oils, the risk may not be as high as we previously believed.
Of course, I can’t get out of this post without sharing at least a bit about what I think. For me, I have chosen to be selective and ingest some oils, sometimes.
These are the ways that I use essential oils internally.
- Dilute in fat. Just as we dilute an oil on our skin with a carrier oil, I ingest my oil with another fat to dilute and distribute the oil in my digestive system to reduce the risk of irritation.
- Distribute with salt. Alternatively, I will add the essential oil to a pinch of salt before adding the liquid. The oil sticks to the salt, and when it’s dissolved in a liquid it will carry the oil with it.
- Put in a capsule. You can make your own “gelcaps” or capsules by purchasing some empty capsules, adding the essential oil along with a cooking oil, and swallow.
I also am cautious with using essential oils internally with my kids. Most of the time we use topical application, diluted, and also aromatic use (since it’s difficult to use oils topically without using them aromatically as well).
In the end, my recommendation is that you research the heck out of this topic, and make an informed decision. Don’t decide to ingest essential oils because someone said so. Isn’t the whole point of using essential oils to take back our power with our healthcare? So take back your power! Make a decision you can live with, and always be teachable.