Below is a downloadable interview (6 parts) between bestselling author Scott A. Johnson and Jessie Hawkins of the Franklin Institute.
Below is a downloadable interview (6 parts) between bestselling author Scott A. Johnson and Jessie Hawkins of the Franklin Institute.
There’s something about being in nature that makes you feel better. Inhaling fresh clean air and the deep aroma of the forest, the recognizable melody of animals and plants of the forest, and the stunning beauty all around unite to ease stress and worry and help you think more clearly. Bathed in the proverbial forest, your mood is enhanced, body rejuvenated, spirit recharged, and energy and vitality restored.
What is forest bathing (forest therapy)?
A decades-old practice in Japan, forest bathing (or shinrin-yoku), literally means to bathe in the atmosphere of the forest using all of your basic senses—sight, touch, hearing, smell, and taste. It involves a profound connection with nature, bridging the gap between us and the natural world. Slowing down and immersing yourself in the natural environment has become an important part of preventative healthcare in Japan. Critics may ridicule this practice as nothing more than a stroll through a forest, but the growing body of evidence suggests that getting outside in nature is food for the mind, emotions, body, and spirit.
People who use essential oils are familiar with the terms terpenes and terpenoids. Inhaling these volatile organic compounds found in all essential oils provides a broad range of biological activities that support human health. Similarly, terpenes and terpenoids emitted by the trees of forests “bathe” us in beneficial volatile organic compounds when walking among nature. These compounds may reach their peak concentration during daylight hours, on clear calm days, from noon to the early afternoon, particularly in forest dominated by conifer trees. (1)
For such a simple health strategy, forest bathing provides huge benefits. Here are some of the benefits science has revealed so far.
Aid cardiovascular health
Your blood pressure is a major indicator of cardiovascular fitness. High blood pressure can damage arteries and increase the risk that they will clog, threatening both your health and quality of life. Japanese researchers studied the effects of walking in a forest on blood pressure. Middle-aged adults who walked in a forest for 90 minutes experienced reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure as well as reduced stress. (2)
Another study tested the effects of forest bathing on middle-aged men with blood pressure on the high side of normal. The men strolled through the forest, practiced deep breathing, and were allowed periods of time to lie down in the forest. Systolic and diastolic blood pressure, as well as cortisol, all significantly decreased after forest bathing. Moreover, the participants reported improved mood and feeling more relaxed and natural. (3)
A third study evaluating elderly persons with high blood pressure showed that blood pressure was not lowered by forest therapy, but salivary cortisol levels significantly decreased. (4) Quality of life also improved. A reduction in salivary cortisol levels suggests the participants were less stressed. Cortisol plays a role in increased blood pressure. The reduction in cortisol and increased quality of life means that forest bathing may be useful as part of an overall high blood pressure management program.
The cardiovascular benefits of forest bathing aren’t just for the middle-aged or elderly though, research shows that young people can benefit as well. When comparing walking in a forest to urban walking among young adults, researchers found that nervous system activity was balanced towards relaxation, which relaxed the cardiovascular system. (5) Overall, this suggests that forest bathing may support cardiovascular longevity.
Improve emotional and mental health
Most anyone who has walked through a forest or even a fruit orchard can tell you that they felt more relaxed. Interestingly, researchers found that just viewing a kiwifruit orchard image can reduce stress. Middle-aged females were split into two groups. One group viewed a kiwifruit orchard image for 10 minutes while the other group viewed an urban building for the same amount of time. The group that viewed the fruit orchard image experienced increased parasympathetic nervous system activity (a sign of recovery and relaxation), a modest decrease in heart rate, and reported feeling more comfortable and relaxed as well as an improved mood state. (9) Maybe you should plaster your office or another room with nature pictures.
A larger study of almost 500 participants showed that forest bathing significantly reduced hostility, depression, and stress in people who were chronically stressed. (10) Interestingly, the more stressed a person was, the greater the benefits of the forest therapy. Similar findings were reported among people who had depressive tendencies when compared to those who did not. While both groups of people realized physiological and psychological benefits after a day-long session of forest bathing, people with depressive tendencies had more dramatic responses. (11) Mother Nature seems to recognize those who need her loving care the most and delivers extra benefits to them.
Remarkably, other researchers found that forest bathing improved mental health measurements in people being treated for a psychotic illness in in a psychiatric hospital. (12) Patients at the hospital were taking to a local forest covered mainly by conifer trees (Scots Pine, Norway Spruce) and some oak and common beech trees. They were encouraged to walk and participate in other exercises like stretching for 105 minutes. The greatest improvements were seen in confusion and depressive-dejection feelings and a significant decrease in anxiety was observed.
Even shorter walks of 15 minutes in nature can improve mental and emotional health. (13)
Relieve pain and reduce inflammation
Chronic pain can significantly reduce quality of life and take a toll on physical, mental, and emotional health. Adults aged 25 to 49 were taken to a forest filled with pine, oak, and maple trees for two days and participated in various indoor and outdoor activities. At the end of the two days, forest bathing improved both psychological and physical measures. The participants reported less pain and depression and a significant improvement in quality of life. (14) Amazingly, the forest therapy also improved their immune function as indicated by enhanced natural killer cell activity.
Exercising in the forest may provide greater benefits according to one study. The researchers compared the pain-relieving effects of forest bathing in comparison to forest bathing with exercise in people with chronic neck pain. People in the forest bathing with exercise group experienced greater neck pain relief than those in the forest bathing group alone. (15)
Another study found that two-hours of exposure to a forest reduced inflammatory cytokine levels in young adults. (16) Reduced inflammatory cytokines indicates forest bathing can reduce systemic inflammation. The forest intervention also increased antioxidant capacity.
Improve respiratory and immune function
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic inflammatory lung disease characterized by difficulty breathing, cough, wheezing, and excess mucus production. Forest bathing significantly decreased proteins—perforin and granzyme B—released by natural killer cells that are involved in the progression and activity of COPD in elderly individuals with COPD. (17) The therapy also reduced pro-inflammatory cytokine and stress hormone levels and improved overall mood state. Based on the findings, the researchers concluded forest bathing has a positive health effect on elderly people with COPD.
Speaking of natural killer cells, these white blood cells play a major role in the fight against cancer and viruses. Adults who participated in three-day and 2-night forest bathing trips experienced increased natural killer cell activity that lasted for 30 days after completion of the trip. (18) Forest therapy also improved levels of proteins released by natural killer cells that attack viruses and cancerous cells. In contrast, a trip to the city had no effect of natural killer cell numbers or activity. Forest bathing appears to have long-term benefits on immune system function.
Three additional studies noted increased natural killer cell activity and levels of anti-cancer proteins in people of various ages after trips to a forest. (19),(20),(21) So, a monthly trip to the forest may protect you against infections and reduce your risk of cancer.
The existing research is clear. Humans have an intimate connection to nature and immersing yourself in a natural environment has huge human health benefits. If you need a mood reset, want to reduce stress, or improve your physical health, make every effort to inhale the health-promoting aroma of a forest at least once per month.
The emergence of the novel SARS-coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and the subsequent pandemic it has caused reignited discussions about a common complication of respiratory illnesses known as a cytokine storm. This phenomenon became more widely known outside of medical and research circles after the 2005 avian H5N1 influenza virus outbreak. Illnesses like COVID-19 and influenza can be fatal if a cytokine storm occurs. The scramble to find solutions for cytokine storms has increased since it was associated with a poor outcome after infection with SARS-CoV-2. As usual, Mother Nature has beat drug manufacturers to the punch and provided us tools to keep us healthy. Here are three natural solutions that can help halt a cytokine storm.
What is a cytokine storm?
Cytokines are proteins released by cells, including immune cells, involved in cell signaling. These chemical messengers coordinate the immune system’s response against infection and increase inflammation. Important pro-inflammatory (cause inflammation) cytokines involved in cytokine storms include tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), interleukin 1 alpha (IL-1α), interleukin 1 beta (IL-1β), and interleukin 6 (IL-6).
After infection by a pathogenic germ, your immune system activates troops—like white blood cells—and innate defenses to efficiently control the invader and maintain a healthy state. Sometimes the body’s response to infection overreacts and becomes harmful rather than helpful. When this occurs, activated white blood cells release excessive inflammatory cytokines in response to an invader, which in turn activates more white blood cells. This dangerous feedback loop makes the immune system go into overdrive and allows inflammation to flare out of control. If this cascade of events isn’t resolved quickly, the germ becomes more aggressive and causes severe illness. The subsequent inflammation damages tissues and organs, which can seriously harm or even kill a person.
Cytokine storms can partially explain why younger people are not as affected by COVID-19 and why people with preexisting conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and respiratory diseases are more likely to experience severe illness or die. Young people tend to produce lower levels of inflammatory cytokines and people with certain preexisting conditions have a decreased ability to regulate immune responses. Dysfunction of the immune system makes people more susceptible to an overactive immune response and the release of massive numbers of inflammatory cytokines. Moreover, research shows that older persons tend to have elevated levels of inflammatory cytokines, which makes them more susceptible to experience a cytokine storm after certain infections.
Used for centuries for inflammation, turmeric and its active constituent curcumin, are a promising natural solution for cytokine storms. Curcumin blocks the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as the IL-1 family, IL-6, and TNF-α. (1) Experimental models of illnesses where cytokine storm plays a significant role in severity and mortality demonstrate that curcumin helps improve the subjects condition. It plays such a significant role in regulating the inflammatory and immune responses that the study authors called it as “a potential therapy for patients with Ebola and other severe viral infections.” Another experimental model reported that turmeric reduced the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines when taken after influenza A infection. (2) This shows that turmeric and curcumin can help regulate the immune response and control inflammation after infections.
Emerging clinical research supports the preliminary experimental trials. A clinical study found that taking 500 mg of curcumin twice daily reduced pro-inflammatory cytokine release in people with metabolic syndrome. (3) Another study demonstrated that taking 500 mg of curcumin three times a day decreased inflammatory cytokines in people suffering from chronic pulmonary complications. (4) These studies suggest that taking 500 mg of turmeric—standardized to curcumin content—two or three times daily may help control inflammatory cytokine release.
One of the challenges with turmeric is the poor bioavailability of curcumin. To overcome this, take turmeric with turmeric essential oil (7- to 10-fold higher bioavailability), fenugreek galactomannan (15.8 times greater bioavailability, or turmeric black pepper extract to increase absorption (2000% increase in bioavailability). (5),(6),(7) Most studies use 500 mg of turmeric two to four times daily.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Found in fish and red algae, the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are unique because they are precursors to the production of lipid-based inflammatory mediators called resolvins. Resolvins help resolve cytokine release without dampening the inflammatory response completely. This allows the immune system to continue its inflammatory assault against the germ but not overreact and cause tissue damage. (8)
Supplementation with 1.5 grams of EPA and 1.0 grams of DHA daily significantly reduced blood levels of inflammatory cytokines in older adults. (9) Several additional studies show supplementation with DHA and EPA reduces the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. (10),(11),(12)
A typical fish oil capsule contains about 180 mg of EPA and 120 mg of DHA. Some supplements are concentrated to provide 250 to 500 mg of EPA or DHA per capsule. These are far from therapeutic levels, so you need to take multiple capsules to get an optimum amount of DHA and EPA. Aim for at least 2000 mg of total DHA and EPA (for example 100 mg of DHA and 1000 mg of EPA) daily for maximum effects. Lower amounts are not likely to reduce pro-inflammatory cytokine production.
Copaiba essential oil
Derived from the oleoresin of Copaifera species trees, copaiba essential oil contains very high levels of the sesquiterpene and cannabinoid beta-caryophyllene. This bioactive constituent can directly bind to CB2 receptors in the immune system and regulate immunity and inflammation. Experimental models demonstrate that copaiba essential oil significantly reduces the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and helps control the immune response to infections. (13),(14) Clinical studies for copaiba essential oil are sparse currently but anecdotal evidence from tens of thousands of people show that copaiba oil can reduce inflammation and support healthy immune and respiratory function.
Because of a lack of clinical research, the optimum amount of copaiba oil to take is a bit of a mystery. Commonly used amounts are one to two drops directly under the tongue up to three times daily or three to five drops in an empty vegetable capsule (fill the rest with olive oil) up to five times daily. Adding a drop of lavender, lemongrass, or fir (balsam of Siberian) to the capsule can augment the bioavailability and activity of copaiba oil.
Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The mentioned natural solutions are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Consult an integrative health professional before using the solutions.
With growing concern over COVID-19 (Wuhan coronavirus 2019), many people are wondering which essential oils are antiviral and might help them stay healthy all season. Infectious illnesses, caused by a variety of pathogens, are more common during certain times of the year. While we don’t have research showing the direct activity of essential oils against COVID-19, researchers have discovered multiple essential oils have antiviral properties. This doesn’t mean we can use these oils to prevent or treat COVID-19, but does show many oils have demonstrated antiviral properties against a variety of viruses. Use of these essential oils may support the normal protective activities of your immune system.
Researcher shows the following essential oils are antiviral and the virus they were effective against: (1)
Note: Most of the above were gathered from Medicinal Essential Oils: The Science and Practice of Evidence-Based Essential Oil Therapy. See this book for the references and more information.
Further research is needed to determine if these preclinical studies translate to humans. In the absence of clinical research to show how much of each oil to take and how to use them, savvy essential oil users know the best protection comes from using them three ways: aromatically, topically, and orally (for those that are labeled as dietary supplements, pure, and unadulterated).
Here are some general guidelines for using essential oils:
Aromatic: Add 2 to 4 drops of your chosen oils per 100 mL of water in your favorite diffuser. Diffuse in multiple rooms to keep your environment clean.
Topical: Apply 2 to 3 drops of oil in mixed in a carrier oil and rub on the upper chest and back or massage into the feet.
Oral: Take 1 or 2 drops directly under the tongue of milder oils a few times daily; or add 1 to 5 drops of essential oil in a capsule and take every 4 to 6 hours.
Essential oils work with your body through multiple pathways and mechanisms of action to help restore health. Using them responsibly and wisely will help you stay healthy all season and get back into your normal routine more quickly.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Seek appropriate medical advice if you have an illness of or medical condition. Consult an informed healthcare professional before using essential oils.
Essential oils are leading natural solutions for a variety of ailments because of their potency and proven properties and benefits. With their increasing popularity among the general public and health professionals, more people are seeking factual information that can help them use them safely and effectively. So, what are essential oils? It turns out defining what an essential oil is is much harder than you think.
Traditionally, the aromatherapy industry has held to the following definition, likley adopted from an earlier definition used by the flavor and fragrance industry:
The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) defines essential oils as highly aromatic substances made in plants extracted by distillation.  They further explain that essential oils can be extracted by steam distillation, hydrodistillation (also called water distillation), or expression.  The NAHA prefers to call substances extracted by enfleurage, solvents, and carbon dioxide (CO2) as extracts rather than essential oils. Interestingly, the NAHA alludes to accepting CO2 extracts as essential oils when they state “An essential oil’s chemical make-up may vary from the plant from which it was extracted from due to its method of extraction; for example, distillation vs. carbon dioxide extraction vs. expression.”
Another industry organization, the Alliance of International Aromatherapists (AIA) does not have an official definition that I could find on their website. 
However, some scientists and scientific organizations allow for a broader definition:
“An essential oil is a product made by distillation with either water or steam or by mechanical processing of citrus rinds or by dry distillation of natural materials. Following the distillation, the essential oil is physically separated from the water phase.” is a definition that closely matches that given by the NAHA for an essential oil by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). 
A 2012 review article published in The Journal of Essential Oil Research states that essential oils can be obtained from plants by “hydrodistillation, solvent extraction, cold pressing, and supercritical fluid extraction (CO2).”  The article also notes that essential oils are most commonly extracted by steam distillation.
Similarly, a 2018 review article from the Asian Journal of Green Chemistry includes a variety of extraction methods for essential oils, including steam distillation, hydrodistillation, solvent extraction, supercritical fluid extraction, instantaneous controlled pressure drop process, microwave-assisted extraction, and ultrasound assisted extraction.  The article further states that the traditional methods of extraction (steam distillation and hydrodistillation) have several drawbacks, which led to the emergence of newer processes to “optimize the performance of the essential oil in both quantitative and qualitative terms.”
Another review article from 2015, uses a simple definition that essential oils are “a mixture of saturated and unsaturated hydrocarbons, alcohol, aldehydes, esters, ethers, ketones, oxides phenols and terpenes, which may produce characteristic odors” and “extracted from the flowers, barks, stem, leaves, roots, fruits and other parts of the plant by various methods.” 
A study even specifically calls a CO2 extract a “supercritical essential oil.” 
While another study considers CO2 extraction as an innovative technique to extract essential oils allowing for the extraction of additional essential oils that cannot be obtained with traditional methods. 
A recent symposium (Essential Oil Symposium for Medical Professionals) I attended that included some of the foremost and respected researchers and clinicians on essential oils defined essential oils as “distilled or extracted from a single botanical variety [where] nothing is added or taken away.” This means no addition of natural isolates, synthetic petrochemicals, or cheaper essential oils. Supercritical CO2 extracts can certainly meet this definition because they do not add any residual solvent.
Even Josh Axe, DNM, CNS, DC weighed in on the subject during an interview with Shape Magazine, defining essential oils as “highly concentrated compounds extracted from plant parts using a steam-distillation, cold pressing, or CO2 extraction process.”
Why must we hold to such a limited definition of essential oils—oils obtained only by distillation or expression—when CO2 “select” extraction can produce an end-product very similar to—sometimes even superior to—traditionally distilled essential oils without leaving residual solvent? For example, CO2 bergamot can produce an oil similar to expressed bergamot, distilled caraway closely resembles CO2 caraway, CO2 lemon and expressed oils composition are comparable, CO2 tea tree produces an oil similar to distilled oil but with less loss of bioactive constituents due to thermal degradation, and many more essential oils could be cited.
Indeed, I recently asked a group of trained aromatherapists to review the complete composition of 10 essential oils and tell me whether it was a distilled or expressed essential oil or one extracted by CO2. Trained aromatherapists were only able to correctly identify the extraction method about 50% of the time, which is not statistically different than guessing really. This emphasizes that many CO2 oils look just like traditionally extracted essential oils when you compare compositions.
In addition, some essential oils extracted by CO2 may be more therapeutic due to the preservation of bioactives. For example, supercritical German chamomile select CT bisabolol oxide essential oil contains similar levels of bisabolol oxide A (50.4% to 56.8%), bisabolol oxide B (0.2$ to 21.5%), alpha-bisabolol (1.5% to 8.9%), and sometimes minor amounts of chamazulene (0.0% to 1.8%)—some of the key active constituents in the oil identified by research—while preserving some matricine (up to 3.5%). This is highly desirable because matricine is significantly more anti-inflammatory than chamazulene.
Another example is supercritical ginger select essential oil. Gingerols and shogaols are pungent compounds found in ginger roots with proven anticancer, antiobesity, antiallergic, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. These compounds are not present in distilled ginger essential oil but the selectivity and better extraction properties of CO2 allow these health-promoting constituents to appear in high levels in CO2 ginger essential oil while still maintaining other key bioactives (e.g. alpha-zingiberene, beta-sesquiphellandrene).
Instead, I propose that we accept as essential oils any plant extract that produces an end-product similar to traditionally distilled essential oils without introducing a foreign substance (such as animal fat or solvents) during the extraction process. This would allow select CO2 oils, distilled oils, and expressed oils to each be called essential oils being delineated as such: supercritical lemon essential oil (select), distilled lemon essential oil, and expressed lemon essential oil. Absolutes would not be included as an essential oil because they leave trace to small amounts of solvent in the end-product.
One argument against using CO2 essential oils in clinical practice has been the lack of safety information because of the presence of these additional constituents. However, I performed a literature review on the safety of these constituents and list additional cautions in my book “SuperCritical Essential Oils” based on these new constituents. For the clinician, the name and definition are not as important as reliable efficacy and safety. Supercritical essential oils may produce more therapeutic end compositions making them a great addition to the clinician’s natural toolbox.
Essential oils could therefore be defined as “mixtures of volatile aromatic compounds and select nonvolatile compounds (e.g. coumarins and fatty acids) extracted from plants by various methods that do not introduce foreign substances (e.g. solvent residue) during the extraction process.” Doing so, allows us to use plant extracts for therapeutic purposes to improve overall well-being and removes self-imposed limitations.
A consensus definition among scientists, health professionals, and the aromatherapy community will likely never be obtained. More importantly than a consensus definition, scientists and sellers of essential oils should clearly delineate what extraction method was used for the product they are evaluating or selling. So the bottom line is, the definition of essential oils depends on whether you abide by traditionally held views, definitions from published research, or a hybrid.
Constructed beginning in 1961, The Berlin Wall was built to divide East and West Germany physically and ideologically following the conclusion of World War II. This wall was erected to protect against the principles of freedom and democracy seen as the enemy by Soviet-controlled Germany. It was a physical and mental way to maintain control. Similarly, proverbial walls are erected in the aromatherapy community to protect against what some see as the enemy to the status quo.
There is an entrenched group among traditional aromatherapists who see it as their mission to protect aromatherapy from “outsiders” no matter the consequences. They seek shelter from health professionals and researchers that have a passion for essential oils, from individuals and companies that market essential oils in a network marketing model, and most of all ideology that comes from an unfamiliar perspective and falls outside established paradigms.
Until recently, I felt like people on both sides of the Berlin Wall did in the 1970s—that the demise of the walls of aromatherapy would never occur. That all changed when I met a 40 plus year veteran and traditional aromatherapists, Sylla Sheppard-Hanger. Rather than reject me outright, we had multiple communications to seek a better understanding of one another. She epitomized the old adage “seek first to understand and then to be understood.” Our conversations gave me hope and for the first time in my professional career, I felt respected by a long-time leader of the traditional aromatherapy community.
Unfortunately, this hope was immediately diminished by the sharp criticism I have come to know well and expect from the traditional aromatherapy community. Sensing the walls of aromatherapy were weakening, a group of traditional aromatherapists vehemently rejected the efforts of Sylla to unify aromatherapy and dug in their heels to maintain the existing state of affairs.
One proclaimed on Facebook “Really? Not a fan of Scott Johnson. These type of books [referring to my essential oil reference books] should be written by aromatherapists and other professionals who work in this field.” This statement is akin to the segregation practiced in the 18th and 19th centuries in America and is wholly inaccurate—I have a certificate in aromatherapy from an aromatherapy school. It is a judge the book by its cover mentality without even evaluating the information it contains. It is willful ignorance at its best. Indeed, no other person has added more evidence-based pages to aromatherapy and essential oils than I have in the last decade. Contributions that have largely been ignored or disrespected.
I have witnessed similar attacks against chiropractors and other health professionals who have made valuable contributions to aromatherapy. The reality is that these health professionals not only look at essential oils from a fresh perspective that can lead to innovations, but they are also likely more qualified to discuss clinical aromatherapy because of their greater knowledge of biology, anatomy, physiology, molecular mechanisms, cellular function, organ system function, and so forth.
The overwhelming majority of published papers on essential oils are written by scientists that are not aromatherapists. Does this mean we should reject their works too because they don’t abide by the unwritten rule that only writings from aromatherapists are valid? Indeed, it wasn’t a traditional aromatherapist that the medical community sought out when a chapter on essential oils was needed for a medical textbook. Instead, they chose me and my colleague to write the chapter because they recognized our evidence-based approach.
Another deep-rooted dogma among traditional aromatherapists is the belief that network marketing is ruining aromatherapy. Whether methods of use or sales model in general, many traditional aromatherapists abhor network marketing companies involved in aromatherapy.
In truth, network marketing companies have done more to advance the popularity and acceptance of essential oils—in both the general public and medical/scientific community—in the last decade than any other factor. They also tend to invest money into research that advances our scientific knowledge of essential oils and make sizeable donations to hospitals and medical centers that advances the use of essential oils in clinical settings.
Methodological differences exist, but network marketing companies aren’t too far from moderate methodology taught in aromatherapy. I have been called a “quack” and one who promotes “dangerous” practices because I take a moderate approach to essential oils. The biggest reason for this is my stance on oral administration and neat topical application. There is sufficient evidence (through published research and millions of user experiences) now to confidently say that ingestion of most essential oils is safe and an effective way to experience benefits. So much so, that insisting that you cannot ingest essential oils is not only obsolete it is anti-science.
When it comes to topical application, my books provide ranges of dilution, some of which allow for the neat application of essential oils. What people overlook is that I teach dilution is a more effective way to use essential oils because it improves absorption. I teach that dilution should be practiced in most cases and neat application reserved for a few instances such as toenail fungus, trace amounts on a bug bite, or application to a mouth sore. Most of the time, dilution up to 50% (depending on the oil being used and the purpose) is the best option for both safety and efficacy. Moreover, I was among the first—if not the first—to report that people with compromised immune systems are more prone to skin irritation by essential oils.
Sylla agrees that oral use and topical application I higher dilution above normal guidelines (up to 50%) is warranted, “I have learned in 40 years of practice on myself and others that sometimes higher dilution above normal (up to 50%) or internal use is called for.” She continues on the topic of safety, “Once we have the proper information and safety data we can make safe and effective remedies. There is no need to be scared to use our oils, just be scared enough to know your oils safety and use appropriately.” In other words, become properly educated on the composition, usage guidelines, and cautions of essential oils through an evidence-based book or aromatherapy certification to use them more confidently.
Other traditional aromatherapists consciously reject the truth—despite the preponderance of evidence—to pander to their prejudices. They argue until they are blue in the face, using much speaking to support their established beliefs even when inaccurate. For them, it is easier (or maybe an ego thing) to maintain paradigms than change (or maybe admit they were wrong).
Instead of building walls, I encourage both sides to build bridges. Let’s focus on our common love and passion for essential oils and other natural solutions. Together, we can work on more pressing issues than arguing with one another, like essential oil quality and adulteration, sustainability, maintaining medical freedom, and increasing the use of essential oils in mainstream clinical settings.
Sylla makes an impassioned plea to her colleagues, “For the good of the global aromatherapy community and the health of the world, it is time for us to come together, and learn what we can from each other instead of ‘othering.’ Let’s move forward together, it feels so much better and creates bridges instead of walls.”
Just like the Berlin wall fell in 1989 due to a series of revolutions by brave reformist-minded individuals, the walls of aromatherapy need to come tumbling down for healing and the advancement of essential oils. The demise of the aromatherapy walls, built over decades, will lead to improved collaboration and the advancement of aromatherapy and essential oils. As Ronald Reagan stated, “tear down this wall.” Make a commitment today to reach across the aisle and seek commonality and to understand one another. We will all be better for it.
Pharmacies, health practitioners, grocery stores, and big-box stores all heavily push the flu vaccine this time of year. It’s hard to go anywhere without being bombarded by advertising for the annual flu shot. This frenzy occurs to capture a piece of the flu shot money pie. There is big money to be made for both the manufacturers and those administering the vaccine. But, given the questionable ingredients and lackluster effectiveness of the vaccine, many people are seeking alternatives to the flu shot.
What is the flu?
Influenza, or the flu for short, is a contagious respiratory system infection caused by a group of viruses known as influenza. Human influenza viruses A and B are the strains responsible for the flu experienced in humans during the winter months. It spreads from person to person by contact with tiny droplets expelled into the air when infected people cough, sneeze, and even talk. Contaminated surfaces are less often the cause of transmission from one person to another.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
The flu can cause mild to severe illness depending on the age and health of the person. Its hallmark symptoms include:
Flu shot efficacy
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the 2018–2019 flu shot had an adjusted vaccine efficacy of just 29% for all ages. People at greatest risk of the flu—elderly individuals aged 50 and older and infants 9 to 17 months—fared worse with vaccine efficacy of only 12% and 6% respectively. Between 3% and 11% of people get the flu each year, making the 6% to 12% figures hardly significant and causing one to question whether you are receiving any protection at all by getting the flu shot each year.
Harmful and questionable ingredients in the vaccine
In addition to poor efficacy, some choose not to have the flu shot because of the harmful and questionable ingredients they contain. Chief among these is mercury (thimerosal), which is added to prevent the growth of microbes. Research links thimerosal to neurological damage, especially in children, by interfering with folate-dependent methylation. Moreover, the vaccine also contains toxic formaldehyde, aluminum, chicken egg proteins, gelatin, polysorbate 80, and antibiotics that have various risks.
Natural flu shot alternatives
Vitamin D. One of the most important steps to support healthy immune function is to take therapeutic levels of vitamin D when the flu virus is most virulent. In fact, some experts hypothesize that flu season is directly correlated to a lack of vitamin D synthesis in the skin because humans are not exposed to sufficient sun during less sunny months. Indeed, research suggests that supplementing with vitamin D—a very inexpensive supplement—can reduce the risk of flu with better efficacy than the bleak 29% of last year’s flu shot. Elementary-aged children should take 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily, while teens and adults should take 2,000 to 5,000 IU daily for optimal protection.
Probiotics. Given that up to 70% of your immune system lies within your gut, it is no surprise that taking a probiotic can reduce your risk of flu. One study found that taking combinations of various probiotic strains—three to five strains including Lactobacillus plantarum LP01 or LP02, Lactobacillus rhamnosus LR04 or LR05, and Bifidobacterium lactis BS01, lactoferrin, and prebiotics—reduced flu-like respiratory illnesses by a remarkable 75%. The probiotics also reduced symptom severity in people who did get the flu, by a significant 37%. Take a probiotic at least once daily with at least three of the above mentioned numbered strains.
Elderberry. Clinical research confirms that elderberry syrup (15 mL, four times daily) reduces the length and severity of flu symptoms, but it can also be taken to maintain healthy immune function. Most manufacturers recommend one teaspoon (5 mL) daily to maintain healthy immune function.
Essential Oils. As shown in Medicinal Essential Oils, some essential oils contain anti-viral properties and some demonstrate specific activity against the flu. These include tea tree, cinnamon bark (its primary constituent cinnamaldehyde), orange, clove, eucalyptus, rosemary, and melissa. Blending these oils together and taking two to three drops of the blend in a capsule, twice daily, may help support healthy immune function.
The evidence-based conclusion
Rather than expose your body to a largely ineffective and potentially harmful flu shot, keep your immune system in tip-top shape with natural products. Taking more than one of the solutions above is likely to enhance the protective effects you experience. By doing so, you’ll stay healthy during the challenging winter season and avoid missing life’s important celebrations.
The umbilical cord—consisting of one large vein and two smaller arteries—forms very early in pregnancy and serves to shuttle oxygenated blood from the mother to the baby and deoxygenated blood and waste from the baby to the mother. The umbilical vein carries oxygenated blood from the placenta to the fetus, and the umbilical arteries carry deoxygenated, nutrient-depleted blood from the fetus to the placenta. Shortly after birth, the umbilical cord is clamped and cut leaving us with a constant reminder of the nourishment we received from our mother in the form of a belly button (also called the umbilicus or navel).
Once cut, the exterior remnant of the umbilical cord withers away and turns into a firm stump until it falls off. But what about the blood vessels that once exchanged blood between mother and baby behind the belly button? The part of the blood vessels closest to the belly button degenerates into a ligament called the round ligament. This ligament extends from the belly button to the porta hepatis—a deep fissure on the surface of the liver where neurovascular structures (except the hepatic veins) and hepatic ducts enter and leave the liver—where it joins with the ligament vernosum (the fibrous remnant of fetal circulation) to separate the left and the right lobes of the liver. The round ligament contains some small veins, called paraumbilical veins, which can expand when high pressure occurs in the veins around the abdominal organs.
Two additional ligaments are formed from the remnants of the umbilical cord behind the belly button. The medial umbilical ligament runs from the belly button to the liver and contains the obliterated arteries of the umbilical cord, whereas the median umbilical ligament is formed from the veins. Essentially, the inside of the umbilical cord behind the belly button degenerates into connective tissue and becomes a vestigial remnant.
Recently, essential oil users have adopted a technique used by cannabis users called the Pechoti method and administered essential oils through the belly button. This method is commonly used among cannabis users to absorb CBD and THC into systemic circulation. The claim is there is a gland called the Pechoti gland behind the belly button that houses more than 72,000 veins and millions of nerves. When substances are applied in or on the belly button, this gland distributes the substances into systemic circulation. However, the existence of the Pechoti gland is not accepted in science and there isn’t any actual evidence to suggest this gland exists.
Essential oils rely on entrance into systemic circulation through capillaries (the smallest blood vessels in the body that are only one endothelial cell thick) not veins. Since the belly button does not have a noteworthy capillary supply, it is not likely that significant amounts of essential oils will enter systemic circulation via this route. Instead, you are more likely to experience a localized effect to the abdominal region. There are however some capillaries within the abdominal region, so it is possible small amounts of essential oil may enter systemic circulation.
This doesn’t mean that application of essential oils to the abdominal region is pointless. It simply means that you need to choose the method of administration based on what you are trying to accomplish.
A more practical approach for systemic circulation is to take the essential oils in a capsule or sublingually. This method will result in more essential oil reaching systemic circulation. So, for now, this method seems to be more myth than reality.
Although one of the least explored senses in the field of research, the sense of smell (or olfaction) may be one of the most important senses for overall health. Smell has a unique relationship with memory and emotions that is unmatched. No doubt you’ve experienced déjà vu due to exposure to a scent. This familiar and memorable aroma—like grandma’s oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, your dad’s garage, new car smell, or the flowers outside the house you grew up in—activates specific areas of your brain reigniting vivid memories and emotions. These nostalgic experiences intimately linked to aromas are called scent memories and demonstrate just how powerful the sense of smell is.
Your sense of smell is directly connected to your brain. Functional magnetic resonance imaging shows that when you smell something two parts of the brain are activated—the amygdala and hippocampus. The amygdala is the emotional center of the brain and the hippocampus plays a major role in memory, so it is not surprising that scents arouse powerful memories and emotions. Indeed, a captivating and familiar aroma has the power to not only remind you of a past person, place, or event, but it triggers emotions more powerful than those generated by other senses like sight and sound. (1)
Collectively, the amygdala and hippocampus (both parts of your limbic system) coordinate a conditioned response that rapidly links familiar aromas with their associated memories. Other senses (visual, auditory, and tactile) do not pass through these areas of the brain, which explains why aromas produce greater emotional responses than the other senses.
Scientists are just beginning to understand the complexity of the sense of smell and its involvement in human health. The discovery of olfactory receptors outside the nasal cavity in areas such as the kidneys, heart, skin, and immune cells highlighted a wider role for olfaction in human health than previously known. (2) A growing body of evidence suggests that olfactory receptors not only play a role in the function of multiple organs and systems, but they also have potential to be used in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease. (3) This research has revealed that olfactory receptors perform important functions such as:
Nostalgic memories and positive emotions can also be produced by the potent aromatic molecules found within essential oils. When an essential oil is smelled, aromatic molecules are carried by olfactory sensory neurons to the olfactory bulb. The olfactory bulb filters and processes the incoming signals and then mitral cells carry an outgoing signal to the olfactory cortex and the limbic system, which includes the amygdala and the hippocampus. A wide variety of psychophysiological responses occur in response to this outgoing signal that can promote improved health. Here are a few essential oils associated with improved memory and emotions:
These few studies—and many more existing studies—show that essential oils can improve mood and memory function simply through inhalation. For more research to support the use of essential oils for memory and emotions, see Medicinal Essential Oils: The Science and Practice of Evidence-based Essential Oil Therapy.
The power of the sense of smell should not be overlooked nor underestimated. The evidence is clear that olfaction plays a significant role in overall human health, so don’t cut your health short. Stop to smell the roses and be sure to incorporate essential oil inhalation into your regular daily routine.
A recent study reignited fear and confusion in parents about one of the most versatile and trusted essential oils—lavender—and whether it has estrogenic properties. The study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism claims an association between lavender products and premature thelarche (PT; the development of small breasts typically before age three) and prepubertal gynecomastia (PG; the growth of breast tissue in males).
Dozens of sensationalized articles ran with this study’s assertions blurring the line between good scientific journalism and clickbait publicity. Most journalists only read the study abstract and do not dive deeper into the methodology and other important details, which leads to an oversimplification and sometimes misinterpretation of the results. Many health professionals and well-meaning people spammed their family and friends with these oversimplified and misconstrued articles to “prove” they should not use essential oils. So, is it time to throw out lavender and tea tree essential oils and avoid their use in children, or is this a case of scientists untrained in and ignorant of essential oils making absurd conclusions?
Previous research findings
Previously, a study argued that chronic lavender exposure caused PG, while another study alleged that both tea tree and lavender “probably caused” PG in boys. These studies spread like wildfire because they create doubt in people’s minds whether they should use one of the most popular and effective natural solutions available—essential oils. However, one should be cautious in jumping to conclusions and remember correlation does not mean causation.
The first study contains three case reports of PG that resolved after the discontinuance of lavender-containing products. One was a shampoo with lavender listed as an ingredient and the other two regularly used the cologne agua de violetas. They analyzed the cologne with HPLC, and based upon an “assumption” and comparison with an analysis of lavender essential oil concluded that linalool and linalyl acetate were components of the cologne.
The scientists failed to provide the full HPLC analysis of the oil for verification of lavender biomarkers and to rule out synthetic and adulterant markers. Given the substantial adulteration of lavender essential oil and the common practice of perfumers to use petroleum-derived synthetic chemicals (like synthetic linalyl acetate), it is highly likely that the cologne does not contain true lavender essential oil but synthetic bioidentical chemicals. It is also probable that an adulterated lavender was used in the shampoo product. In addition, reports show that about half of tea tree oil samples don’t meet the composition standards to be considered genuine and pure tea tree oil.
If you want to read the flawed science of the latter study, I invite you to review page 24 of my book Medicinal Essential Oils. For additional insight into how these studies are flawed—including confounding false-positive results due to the use of 96-well plates and the fact that essential oils may extract plastic chemicals up to 10,000-fold—see my Facebook live video.
Estrogenic activity of lavender and tea tree essential oils
Each of these studies validity is entirely dependent on lavender (or tea tree) producing sufficient estrogenic effects to disrupt the endocrine system. However, compelling evidence suggests lavender and tea tree do not have estrogenic potential.
The rat uterotrophic assay is the gold-standard test in living organisms to detect the estrogenic activity of a substance. During this test, immature female rats are repeatedly exposed to doses of a substance for three days. The weight of their uterus is measured on the fourth day, which provides a sensitive and toxicologically relevant measurement of the estrogenic activity of the tested substance.
In 2013, scientists evaluated the estrogenic effects of topical lavender in the rat uterotrophic assay. Immature female rats were administered 20 or 100 mg/kg of body weight over (roughly the equivalent of an adult applying 1.5 mL to 7.5 mL of lavender essential oil each day for three days) the course of three days. A positive control group was administered 2.5 mcg/kg of 17α-ethinyl estradiol (a synthetic estrogen used in birth control pills). The weight of the uterus and ovaries were recorded 24 hours after the final dose was administered. As expected, the positive control group that received 17α-ethinyl estradiol experienced significant increases in mean absolute and relative uterine weights. However, uterus weights of the lavender treated group did not increase relative to normal values. The scientists concluded that lavender essential oil “was not active in the rat uterotrophic assay and gave no evidence of estrogenic activity.”
Tea tree has not been tested in the uterotrophic assay, nor could any convincing research be found supporting an estrogenic or hormone-disrupting effect. Although a group of scientists contended that individual chemicals within tea tree oil disrupt hormone function, they relied upon flawed methodology that in essence makes their finding invalid (see the Facebook video above for more details).
The most recent study again used an in vitro (laboratory) method by placing human cells in 6-well, 24-well, and 48-well plates. While the authors took measures—also assessed soybean oil—to assess whether essential oils dissolved plastic chemicals in the plates to elicit the observed hormonal activity, they did not use the gold standard in vivo (performed or taking place in a living organism) rat uterotrophic assay. In vitro studies don’t always correlate with in vivo studies, and particularly human clinical studies. With the conflicting results in these studies, the appropriate approach is to weigh the in vivo study results more heavily. In other words, the in vivo study that suggests lavender has no estrogenic activity supplants the most recent study that reported lavender has estrogenic activity in laboratory research.
Lavender and tea tree essential oil major constituents
Essential oils are complex mixtures of volatile aromatic molecules. They can contain from a dozen to hundreds of constituents depending on the oil. The ratio of these molecules is what gives essential oils their therapeutic benefits. It is also known that certain essential oil constituents can synergize, buffer, or counteract the effects of another constituent in the oil.
To aid in this discussion the typical percentages of major constituents in lavender and tea tree essential oil are provided.
Tea Tree Oil
Penetration enhancing effects of essential oil constituents
Essential oils have been used to enhance the penetration and absorption of various substances through the skin. Indeed, scientists have observed this effect of essential oils for decades in relation to the transdermal delivery of drugs. Knowing this, synthetic chemicals—some of which are known hormone disruptors—are likely to penetrate through the skin at a higher rate when combined with essential oils.
Terpenes are the most common class of constituent found within essential oils and they are known to acts as penetration enhancers of multiple substances (vitamins, drugs, phytocompounds, etc.). Some of these individual terpenes have been explored for their ability to act as penetration enhancers. It is also possible that essential oils that contain multiple penetration-enhancing constituents—like tea tree and lavender—could possess a synergistic effect.
Lavender essential oil itself is a known penetration enhancer. Looking at the major components in lavender we find that the following are known penetration enhancers:
Tea tree essential oil also contains constituents that enhance the penetration of other ingredients or chemicals through the skin:
These lists are far from inclusive of all constituents in these two oils that increase the penetration of other substances through the skin.
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the products
A more plausible answer for the link between products that contain essential oils and PG or PT is interactions with other known hormone-disrupting chemicals present in the products. Many commercial personal care products (shampoo contains parabens and phthalates, which disrupt hormone activity) and colognes (many contain phthalates that disrupt hormone function) are a smorgasbord of harmful chemicals. Not to mention that essential oils may react with the chemicals (like bisphenol A, a known hormone disruptor) in the plastic containers of these products and cause them to leach into the product. Application of the product to the skin leads to absorption of both the plastic container chemicals and the synthetic chemical ingredients in the product.
While ingredients in wash-off products like shampoo and soaps have minimal contact with the skin, repeated exposure to these chemicals can have a cumulative effect. This is particularly true if the chemicals are being absorbed at a higher rate because the product includes lavender or tea tree essential oil. Colognes and perfumes are often sprayed directly on the skin and can have a higher absorption rate as a leave-on product.
In reality, exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals is pervasive today because they are found in our water, air, clothes, food, furniture, vehicles, household cleaners, industrial chemicals, cosmetics, and personal care products. Indeed, one study found that infants are born with a tremendous toxic burden—an average of 200 chemicals present in umbilical cord blood at birth. Exposure to additional hormone-disrupting chemicals that are absorbed at a higher rate due to the presence of essential oils may have simply been the tipping point to trigger PG or PT.
The evidence-based and logical conclusion
Dozens of clinical trials using lavender or tea tree, combined with anecdotal use among millions of children, has not reported a statistically significant amount of estrogenic activity or hormone disruption for these two oils. We are each biologically unique and will respond to different substances uniquely. Most people can eat watermelon, but some have their throat itch and close if they do. Some children can eat peanuts, but to others, peanuts represent a threat to their life. Even among natural products, you will have a very small number of people that respond adversely or experience undesirable effects.
The presumed link to essential oils and hormone disruption in these studies is far from proven and frequently based on poor science and flawed methodology. The observations do not prove definitively PT or PG was caused by essential oils. This has been grossly overstated and aggrandized by the media. What we can learn from these studies is that consumers should be more selective about their products. They should choose natural products and products with essential oils that do not contain hormone-disrupting chemicals. Unfortunately, this is a major trend among companies selling soaps, lotions, shampoos, and other personal care products to capitalize on the growing essential oil industry.
The bottom line is you can still use tea tree and lavender essential oils on your children when diluted appropriately. With anything in medicine or health, the risks versus the benefits have to be weighed. And in this case, the vast whole-body benefits of these two essential oils far outweigh the minimal and rare risks that are far from proven.