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May 17, 2017 3 min read

All too often I am asked about if essential oils can be ingested. The answer is not such a black and white one. Let me explain by offering some valuable information.

 

What are some important things to understand about internal usage?

Essential oils are hydrophobic and lipophilic.

  • This means they will not blend, mix, disperse, or dilute into water even if they are pure. It does not matter what the brand is.

Instead, they will mix, blend, and dilute into fatty substances like fixed oils. If they are hydrophobic and our body is made up of 55-65% of water, what do you think happens if you put a drop or two in your water?

  • The answer is that the essentials will attach to the various tissues in our esophagus and other internal tissues that have fat cells.
  • Over long periods of time and excessive use in this manner, damage to those tissues can occur.

If essential oils can cause damage to our internal tissues like the esophagus, how can they be used in the food and beverage industry?

  • The difference is that they are not the same essential oils that many enthusiasts choose to use. The essential oils like lemon, orange, and even grapefruit have been deterpenated.
  • Essential oils are deterpenated to remove the volatile components (specifically monoterpenes) in order to stabilize and allow for a better taste1.
  • In the food and beverage industry, even though the essential oils are deterpenated, the dilution is much lower than the average drop enthusiasts might add to a single glass of water.

Can essential oils be ingested

Internal usage is dose specific. This means there isn't a one size fits all when it comes to using essential oils via any internal route (oral, rectal or vaginal).

  • A person's specific weight must be known.
  • The essential oils used are measured by weight-NOT drops.
  • Depending on the mode of internal dosing (oral, rectal or vaginal), there are specific formulations for each type that should be followed. If they are not, you risk the dose being ineffective or potentially causing harm.
  • The mode of internal dosing is determined through knowledge of how the chemical components within the essential oils will break down within the body as well as how they will affect the body (pharmacokinetics2 and pharmcodynamics3).
  • Internal usage is not based on the use of an essential oil as a whole, but the individual chemical components that make up the essential oil.

It is also very important to note that internal use of essential oils is reserved for acute conditions - not as a preventative method or a means to lose weight or detox.

Internal use only occurs within a very brief period of time. Sometimes, it is only needed once and others less than a handful of times during acute conditions.

Potential contraindications for the specific chemical constituents must be considered if any. For example, an individual taking medication or that has a medication condition could potentially be affected adversely by using essential oils internally. 

So what happens if you decide to ignore the gentle advice of those advocating caution for aromatic medicine?

Let us consider what could potentially happen when you put a drop or two in your water to ingest essential oils. Because essential oils and water do not mix, they will attach themselves to an individual's mucous membranes. With long term use of essential oils in this way, a person can develop minor to severe irritations in their gastric and intestinal organs.

I actually have a colleague that suffered severe irritation that to this day still plagues her. There are several cases that are reported each year discussing injuries related to adding essential oils to water.

Another method that carries a significant potential for injury is adding an essential oil to a tampon. There have been a few cases where the individuals using this method that resulted a trip to the ER for removal of the tampon and severe chemical burns.

If you are curious as to what the potential injuries can be for using essential oils without proper knowledge, take a look at the Essential Oil Injury Reports4 below. 

Can essential oils be used internally?

Absolutely! Honestly any pure essential oil can be, although should they be just because someone says it is safe? While essential oils can be ingested, there is more to using them internally which requires some really advanced training in aromatic medicine.

However, unless you are adequately trained in this advanced modality, using them topically or via inhalation is much easier, safer, and more often than not will get the job done for what you are trying to accomplish.

Remember "with a great potential for healing also comes a great potential for risk."

[1] Deterpination of Citrus Peel Oils

[2] Pharmacokinetics

[3] Pharmacodynamics

[4] Essential Oil Injury Reports