You might be used to reaching for an oil to calm your mood, ease your mind, soothe your coughs, or even help you sleep.
After all, essential oils carry the lifeblood of the beneficial plants on earth.
Now, you might be thinking:
If they’re great for my skin, how much of a more potent benefit can I get when using essential oils internally?
Here’s the thing…
Oils possess many phytochemicals that can help your body’s natural healing process.
But when ingesting essential oils, there are numerous precautions you must take. If you’re blindly taking the advice from friends, family members, or online gurus, you need to think twice.
In this article, we are going to delve into the internal use of a plant’s volatile oils.
There is an abundance of controversy surrounding this topic, and much misinformation to be found.
Rather than telling you to go one direction or the other, we’ll let the research help you make an informed decision.
Is it safe to ingest essential oils?
First, please understand that I am not a physician. No part of this should be interpreted as us saying that if you have this ailment, you should ingest this oil.
I’m not giving medical advice. I am merely arming you with the information you need to make an informed decision and guide you where you need to go if you wish to take your essential oil use beyond inhalation and topical methods.
Always consult a physician before embarking on any exercise, nutritional, or medicinal regimen, natural or otherwise. Just because someone sells essential oils does not mean he or she is qualified to instruct anyone to ingest oils.
Back to the question:
the short answer to this question is yes and no. Probably not the answer you were looking for.
But some oils are safe to ingest in small quantities, while others can cause much damage.
Generally Recognized as Safe List (GRAS)
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a comprehensive list of what they believe is safe for human consumption. This is called the Generally Recognized as Safe list, or GRAS.
The items on this list have to meet precise specifications to qualify. For instance, any food item that was consumed prior to 1958 is recognized based on empirical evidence. Any other item must be approved through scientific study.
Section 182.20 of Part 182 is dedicated to the safety of essential oils, oleoresins, and natural extractives like distillates.
Many people, seeing that an item is on this list, do not investigate any further and think this means the oils listed are safe for internal use.
This is not the case.
These guidelines mean the substances are safe for their intended use. For instance, approximately 10 million pounds of spearmint and peppermint are produced annually for use in the food and beverage industry in the United States.
Over half of that is used for toothpaste, with a significant portion going to gum, candy, and personal care items like soap. These are those element’s intended uses, and what the FDA has concluded they are safe for.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) can calm many stomach ailments. This is why peppermint tea is so popular. Should you put a couple of drops of peppermint oil in some water and drink it the next time you have an upset stomach?
Not on your own without professional guidance.
There are side effects of ingesting essential oils.
With every substance comes side effects, no matter if it comes from nature or is synthetically made in a lab. I firmly believe that some essential oils are inherently safer than pharmaceuticals. Hundreds of thousands die each year because of pharmaceuticals and traditional medicine.
However, people have died from ingesting essential oils incorrectly as well.
Some individuals believe that if something is “natural,” “therapeutic grade,” or “organic,” then it is safe.
But that’s far from the truth.
Only unadulterated, pure essential oils should be used in aromatherapy and any clinical setting. This is not to say they are safe to ingest. Moreover, there are no regulations surrounding the “grades” of oils, which can make choosing them confusing to unsuspecting consumers.
Nature is full of plants that are 100% pure that will kill you.
Belladonna, for instance, is quite deadly, and it does not have to be reduced to a highly concentrated oil to do so.
Oils are chemical compounds.
Volatile oils, at their core, are chemicals. Their building blocks include things like aldehyde, ethers, ketones, various types of terpenes, oxides, phenols, and more.
Let’s use terpenes as an example. They can be antibacterial, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, immunostimulant and a wealth of other benefits.
They are also the main constituents in turpentine. The primary use of which is thinning oil-based paints and for wood varnishes.
You aren’t going to run out and buy turpentine to pour over a cut or drink the next time you get the flu, right?
To be fair, it was once used internally to fight intestinal parasites and as an antiseptic. That was until people realized that it caused a host of issues, including renal failure and even death.
The National Capital Poison Center points out numerous dangers of ingesting oils, as well:
- Sage (Salvia officinalis) oil is beneficial in many ways. The Latin word ‘salvia’ translates as “save,” “alive,” or “in good health.” But it can also cause seizures in children. Hyssop (Hyssop officinalis var. decumbens) may as well.
- Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) oil is often used in head lice treatments and is often recommended for at-home treatment. Even if applied dermally as directed, it can cause seizures.
- Nutmeg is used in food but can cause hallucinations and even coma in large amounts.
- High doses of peppermint (Mentha piperita) oil can cause hepatotoxicity. A study shows that it almost killed a 40-year-old woman.
- Everyone knows that aspirin can be harmful to children. But are you aware that oil of Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) also has methyl salicylate and can cause the same problems?
- A small boy presented with the inability to walk and confusion after ingesting less than 10 milliliters of Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) oil, which is a commonly distributed bottle size.
- Essential oils are listed in the top 25 causes of poison center cases for 2015 in the 33rd Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Center’s National Poison Data System.
This is just a small list of what can happen when oils are misused. In some cases, this is what can happen even when they are used correctly!
The Mayo Clinic has it right when they say to consult a trained Aromatherapist as well as your doctor when considering ingestion of essential oils.
There are laws surrounding the controversy.
The FDA has some pretty stringent laws about what can and cannot be recommended in the industry. Essential oils usually fall under the category of cosmetics, meant to enhance a person’s looks or as cleansers.
Once this turns into recommending a product to “treat” or “cure” an ailment, the oil falls under the category of a “drug” which requires FDA approval.
Here’s a prime example:
In 2014, the FDA sent letters to both doTERRA and Young Living which blew up on the internet as the MLM lawsuit. Many members of these groups made unlawful claims. Here’s a direct quote from the FDA warnings.
The therapeutic claims establish that these products are drugs because they are intended for use in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease.
While I do not believe these were done maliciously by the individual sellers, the law is the law. And uneducated persons encouraging ingestion of “topical dietary supplements” is in violation of section 201(ff)(2)(A)(i) of the Act [21 U.S.C. § 321(ff)](2)(A)(i)].
We used to depend on friends and family to give us recommendations for what ailed us. We didn’t have neighborhood pharmacies to go to pick up pills and creams to heal us.
Now that we do have this luxury, we also have regulations in place to keep us safe. Many people balk at the pharmaceutical industry and want natural solutions. This is completely understandable.
Today, just like in the days of our ancestors, there are snake oil salesman promising cures that are not backed up by science. The regulations are there to protect us from these unscrupulous individuals.
Because of this, there are a lot of people in the industry getting in hot water over what they say about the products they sell.
Science is catching up, albeit slowly.
You have likely grabbed a cup of chamomile tea to unwind from a stressful day or to try and get some restful sleep. Perhaps you have used peppermint tea to calm your child’s upset stomach.
But you probably haven’t researched why these teas worked in the first place.
With increasingly more people wanting natural cures, science is starting to pay attention. At the time of this writing, there were 17,300 resources on PubMed that are returned when searching “essential oils.”
Many of these are showing the promise of oils in many scientific and healing facets, from having antioxidant qualities that can aid in the preservation of food to suppressing cell proliferation in breast cancer.
There is no doubt that the volatile oils hold amazing capabilities. But with great capabilities come great risks. It is imperative to be wary of these.
I still want to take oils internally. Do you have any advice?
It is completely natural to want to aid your body’s healing ability through natural means. Here are some tips on using essential oils internally:
Do not take essential oils by placing drops directly on your tongue.
Your mouth is a big mucous membrane. It can easily burn. Many oils are irritants, and you can incur chemical burns on your skin and your mucosa if you do not adequately dilute them.
More preferable methods would be mixing a drop in honey or putting the recommended drops in a capsule. Stirring in a glass of water will not work, either. Oil and water do not mix.
Volatile oils are highly condensed.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking more is better. With oils, less is better. More can be harmful.
When you consider it takes approximately 10,000 pounds of rose petals to make a pound of oil, you start to get an idea.
One drop of peppermint oil equals almost 30 cups of tea! Respect the oils you are using.
Always, always, always check the botanical name of the oil when purchasing for any use.
There is a big difference between even similar-sounding oils.
Keep in mind that this is not a foolproof method of determining safety. The orange tree Citrus aurantium produces three different oils that are all used for different things. This is yet another reason to consult a trained Aromatherapist.
Above all, never take any oils internally under the advice of someone not trained to give it. You would not take a prescription drug under the guidance of an accountant, right?
Think of oils the same careful way you think of drugs, and keep this in mind for yourself, family, and friends.
Some oils can be taken internally. Others can’t.
The essential oils from plants carry within them a host of benefits for our wellbeing. They are extremely concentrated, however. Less is more.
While it is natural to want to get as much as you can out of your little vials of plant nectar, you must be careful.
If you want to take oils internally, consult an aromatherapist that can guide you to do so safely.
Do you use essential oils internally? Or maybe you’re considering trying it? I’d love to hear about your own usage below.
I’m Lauren. Just a new mom trying to share her love for essential oils. Follow me on my journey to learning how I use EO’s daily in my home.