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Essential Oils Could Replace Overused, Increasingly Dangerous Antibiotics

 
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by Elizabeth Limbach

on March 2, 2015

“It makes you taste like a pizza parlor,” media juggernaut Lena Dunham recently told Elle magazine. “But it is a natural antibiotic, and it’s literally life changing for me.”

The star was referring to oil of oregano, a zesty essential oil made from distilling the flowers and leaves of the oregano plant that can help the body fight bacterial infection.

I, too, swear by a few drops of this potent — and frankly terrible-tasting — liquid at the first signs of any ickiness. A runny nose? Oregano oil. Earache? Sore throat? Achiness? Oregano oil is my first response to all of the above. In my personal experience, I’ve found it highly effective. However, there isn’t much in the way of credible science to back my observations up.

While oil of oregano is known for aiding with colds, acne, bloating, headaches, intestinal parasites, allergies, earaches, and fatigue, according to Medical News Today, “further high-quality study results are necessary to confirm these claims.”

This spicy substance is one of many essential oils that have been handed down through the generations as folk remedies, and are now beginning to be studied as respectable alternatives to conventional medicine.

While inhalation, or aromatherapy, is the most common method of using essential oils (Vicks VapoRub being a well-known example), they are also used topically and internally.

When we think of essential oils we think of aromas, spas and beauty 
products,” says Dr. Lynn Anderson, Doctor of Natural Health, 
author and yoga/exercise professional. “But essential oils are so much more. Essential oils are healing
 modalities.” Their antiseptic power comes from phenolic content, and oils with higher phenolic content, like oregano, thyme, cinnamon and clove, are more potent, she adds.

The centuries-long lasting power of essential oils as a remedy is due to their antimicrobial, antibacterial, and antifungal properties. However, to date, “there is little published research on many of them,” according to the University of Minnesota.

“Research studies on essential oils” that do exist, the University of Minnesota website explains, “show positive effects for a variety of health concerns including infections, pain, anxiety, depression, tumors, premenstrual syndrome, nausea, and many others.”

Most studies so far have been conducted by the food, flavoring, cosmetics and tobacco industries — essential oils are commonly found in personal care products and food stuffs (for preservation). The oils of rosemary, mint, cinnamon, peppermint, clove, lemongrass and others are also used in natural pest control formulations. The medicinal applications of essential oils are currently being studied in the United States, Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia and India. Aromatherapy has been more widely studied than other medicinal applications of essential oils. Some clinical trials have explored aromatherapy’s effectiveness in helping cancer patients.

Of essential oil’s many uses, perhaps its most promising is as an alternative to antibiotics. This potential is earning more attention than ever because of growing resistance to existing antibiotics — a natural phenomenon that occurs when bacteria come to resist antibiotics that are widely used.

Studies on the use of essential oils are being conducted on 
animals and humans mainly in response to the loss of antibiotics’ effect due 
to antimicrobial resistance,” says Dr. Anderson. “What this means is that the rampant use of 
antibiotics in both treating humans and in treating animals is creating a
resistance to the antibiotics as new ‘superbugs’ are developing. These
’superbugs’ then need something stronger to kill them.”

More than 2 million people become ill from bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 23,000 of whom will die.

At issue is the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture: livestock in this country receive 80 percent of our antibiotics — mostly for the purpose of jacking them up in size and keeping them alive in unhealthy conditions. The practice has fed into the creation of resistant superbugs not only in livestock, but in humans, as well.

Some research is now looking at the role essential oils may be able to play in reducing antibiotic use in animal feed. A study published in Poultry Science, for instance, found that diets that included oregano oil reduced chickens’ mortality rate due to infection.

Companies like Modesto Milling, in California, are bringing this solution to the marketplace. Their certified organic poultry feed includes anise oil and juniper berry oil among its blend of herbs and grains.

A paradigm shift in the treatment of infectious diseases is necessary to prevent antibiotics becoming obsolete, and where appropriate, alternatives to antibiotics ought to be considered,” reads a review of the medicinal properties of tea tree oil in the American Society for Microbiology Clinical Microbiology Reviews.

The paper encapsulates the limbo state in which these essential oils are currently suspended — caught between promising possibility and a lack of scientific support. It explains that tea tree oil (TTO), like other essential oils, is budging along that spectrum, inching closer to being an evidence-backed medicine with each new batch of clinical trials.

Unfortunately, the medical profession has been slow to embrace these therapies, and good scientific data are still scarce,” it reads. “However, as we approach the ‘post-antibiotic era’ the situation is changing. A wealth of in vitro data now supports the long-held beliefs that TTO has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Despite some progress, there is still a lack of clinical evidence demonstrating efficacy against bacterial, fungal, or viral infections. Large randomized clinical trials are now required to cement a place for TTO as a topical medicinal agent.”

There are some notable obstacles to studying essential oils that prevent quicker progress. For one thing, they come from naturally occurring plants, which means there are a lot of variables from instance to instance.

The problem with standardized essential oils is that they are no longer natural, genuine, and authentic,” explains the University of Minnesota. “This variability in essential oils by time, place and conditions is a big challenge to conducting valid research. Currently the International Standards Organization sets standards for each essential oil that include a range of acceptable concentrations for its major chemical constituents.”

Research is particularly challenging as essential oils are highly volatile at room temperature, and it’s difficult to conduct double blind studies for aromatic substances.

The consensus in the literature seems to be that more studies are necessary, but funding for these studies — partially due to the above obstacles, but also because of its standing as a holistic, “non-scientific” option — is hard to come by.

“Essential oils have been used on humans for thousands of years,” explains the University of Minnesota website. “As a result, they don’t fit into the conventional clinical science approach of testing a substance in the lab first, then on animals, and then on humans. As a result, if a researcher proposes to test an essential oil with humans first, they may be turned down. This is because research review boards tend to approve research studies that follow the more usual scientific research path. 
Many conventional drug studies are funded by the pharmaceutical industry. There is little motivation for these companies to fund research on natural plant substances because they cannot easily be patented, limiting the potential for profit. Thus, finding funding for essential oils studies can be challenging.”

Antonio Pizarro, MD, a board certified Ob-Gyn, says this antimicrobrial crossroads must be addressed — in his field of women’s health, it is necessary for the treatment of conditions like urinary tract infections, bacterial vaginitis and gonococal infections.

The need for new antimicrobials is
 urgent, but clear safety data for essential oils are nonexistent,” he said. “It is a 
promising field that desperately needs funding.”

Pizarro adds that focusing on essential oils as a replacement for antibiotics may miss the larger problem.

“It’s also important to remember that several antibiotics were originally 
derived from nature, and that a new source from plants will only stem or
 divert the crisis,” he said .“Our society’s consumption of antimicrobials must be more
 judicious to preserve the integrity of any new drugs derived from essential
 oils or otherwise.”

In the meantime, Dr. Lynn Anderson
 warns that, when consumed medicinally, essential oils should be treated with caution.

More research is need as to the proper use of the oils,” she said. “Oils should not be ingested without the guidance of a trained physician.
 Essential oils are potent medicine that should not be abused. Further they 
are not a cure all and should never be promoted as such.”

  • the wiles

    Wouldn’t haphazard treatment of the sniffles with essential oils just hasten microbes’ resistance to these antibiotics? Treating a cold (virus) wuth any antibiotic is still going to be ineffective.

    If there is some utility there, affiliates of some large distributor selling it out of the back of a Subaru while making unsubstantiated claims about medicinal properties is almost certainly not best practices. Plus it may squander their utility, if there is indeed some utility.

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  • ThatHerbalGuy

    Yeah, for the sake of your own health, don’t take essential oils internally. That’s not what they’re for at all, despite what this article would make you think. These people are ignorant.
    Just because something is “stronger” (they’re distilled, after all) doesn’t mean it will work better, or faster. Go ahead and try taking oregano essential oil and drinking it. Welcome to the world of a literal burn in your esophagus. Please, people – do some research before writing these kinds of articles. You’re going to get yourself hurt, and worse, you’re going to get someone else hurt or killed because of lack of knowledge.

  • Bryanhewey

    ^Pure ignorance, i drink oil oregano daily diluted in an organic lemon ginger honey and turmeric tonic, for you to say it’s dangerous is just plain asinine

  • Bryanhewey

    They’re meant to be used as a preventative measure. Ever hear the old adage, an ounce of prevention is worth more than 2 pounds of cure!?

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  • http://www.cinchshare.com Heili Erika

    “More research is need as to the proper use of the oils,” she said. “Oils should not be ingested without the guidance of a trained physician.
 Essential oils are potent medicine that should not be abused. Further they 
are not a cure all and should never be promoted as such.” – that right there is telling people not to go around guzzling oregano oil.

  • Victoria P

    We need to distinguish between standard oil of oregano and the essential oil. As a rule, essential oils should not be ingested. Oil of Oregano has been proven time and again to be the most powerful natural antibiotic available.

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  • Diana Buchanan

    Essential oils can be ingested safely, as long as you ingest them in small amounts AND use pure, therapeutic grade oils like the ones bottled by Young Living. Anyone who has ever eaten a Girl Scout Thin Mint has ingested peppermint oil; read the box. Yes, the amount of oil in a Thin Mint is tiny, but the point remains: The safety of essential oils depends on how they are used and whether they really are pure. (Some companies claim their oils are pure, but they’re not. Do your homework before you buy.)
    Young Living oils are absolutely 100% pure and natural (no fillers, no synthetics, etc.), and there is no oil company I trust more. The oils are all tested to make sure they have the right combination of chemicals (one oil can contain hundreds of different chemicals) needed to make the oil therapeutic, and if the right compounds are not present in the right amounts, they will not sell the oil. That is how much they care about quality. Also, many of their oils are labeled with directions for how to use the oil as a dietary supplement. I have ingested many different oils (e.g., peppermint, Thieves, and lemon) with great success.
    Diana Buchanan, Young Living Distributor 1759693.

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  • Joe

    I have been using essential oils since last fall. I am an Ameo Distributor. http://www.joebwhite.myameo.com I diffuse them in my office and home. My favorite are Eucalyptus Radiata and Proshield. I do income taxes and during tax season I will see between 800-900 people through my office. This combo helps keep the air fresh and pure. I haven’t had a cold or sniffle in over 3 years (I also take Zija Supermix every day). Always remember that we don’t treat, cure, diagnose or mitigate any disease.

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  • http://healingsolutions.com/ Healing Solutions

    I have some relatives who swear by these essential oils, so I decided to give it a try asI am prone to having asthma attacks. Found some nice deals on some recommended essential oils for Sinus Relief, Cough, and Colds Set from Healing Solutions (healingsolutions.com). Started using them and haven’t really had any asthma issues in a month. Can’t believe this is working. Have to say I’m a now a true believer in essential oils.

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