Tag Archives: pharmaceutical

Essential oils as medicines

This is the editorial comment in Medicinal & Aromatic Plants, Vol. 1 issue 1 2012. The editor is Paul Schnitzler,  Department of Infectious Diseases, University of Heidelberg Medical School, Germany.

“Plants produce primary and secondary metabolites, which have been exploited by humans for many different beneficial purposes. Many secondary plant metabolites, e.g. terpenes, terpenoids, alkaloids and phenolic compounds have been well characterized. Essential oils are considered the chemical weapons of plants, as their compounds may deter insects or protect plants against bacterial and fungal infections. They also act as plant pheromones to attract insects. In traditional medicine, lots of plant products have been widely used for the treatment of neurologic diseases, cancer, inflammation and infectious diseases and plants represent an abundant source of new bioactive secondary metabolites.

According to the Communicable Diseases Centre in the US, about one third of prescribed antibiotics were inappropriate thus stating an overuse and misuse of antibiotics. Essential oils are also highly active against multi-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), one of the so-called hospital super bugs, as well as more common and well-known infections like herpes labialis. In addition to antibacterial and antiviral effects, essential oils have been shown to possess many useful pharmacological properties, often being more effective than conventional drugs and revealing fewer side effects.

Oregano oil gland

Although the number of published papers on anti-infective properties of medicinal plants is increasing during the last years, most of these papers seem to somehow disappear and do not attract physicians and pharmacologists. On the other side, there is often lack of finance to continue research to the clinical trial level. This area is largely dominated by pharmaceutical companies, who can afford costly clinical trials. It also seems that natural and complementary therapies are pushed aside by pharmaceutical companies.

Although there is no shortage of research on the antimicrobial effects of medicinal and aromatic plants, it is somehow ignored in industrialized countries. Prescribed drugs are more convenient for patients and physicians, although natural products might offer an alternative in treatment of many different diseases. In resource-limited countries, conventional medications are often not affordable or not available and consequently natural products are the medication of choice.

Our goal is to provide scientific results that can be reproduced by others, thus standardized plant products are required. If more standardized and only high quality natural products are used in basic research as well as in clinical trials, the critics might be convinced and acceptance of medicinal plant products might be increased. Investigators are also encouraged to explore the potential of phytopreparations in combination with synthetic drugs in order to enhance pharmacological actions. High quality plant products and more clinical trials are urgently needed to establish rational phytotherapy.”

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KNOWLEDGE AND INFORMATION about essential oils

lemon_pepper_oilOne thing I keep coming across is the ignorance about aromatherapy and essential oils.  On top of this, essential oils are very easy to find and actually not too expensive. Everybody has heard of aromatherapy and essential oils, many are using them in a vague fashion to scent their homes or help with minor problems, which is okay if you know what you are doing, but if you don’t know, you might be creating all kinds of problems.

To start at the top:

  • Essential oils are mainly used by the food- cosmetics- and perfume industry. Therefore they are easily found on the market. There are no limitations or regulations on producing and selling essential oils, since they are so widely used, except for some oils that are obviously hazardous to health and prohibited for all use.
  • Essential oils are also used by the pharmaceutical industry since they are pharmaceutically active agents. (Vicks vaporub & other cold-remedies)

Here starts the first problem: Since essential oils are pharmaceutically active, they should be marked as medicine, and regulated as such (as is the case with all other pharmaceutically active substances), making them unavailable for any other use. This would mean that the food- and perfume-industry (and toiletries and…) could not use essential oils in any way. Since this would lead to political and economical upheaval, it is putting the essential oils in a kind of “nowhere-land” where it is best not to create too much discussion.

So anybody can buy essential oils everywhere. The manufacturers and distributors of essential oils can claim anything they want and give advice on how to use essential oils. (Sometimes the advice is on a clinical level and the essential oil should not be used in this way without extensive knowledge.)

Essential oil components

do you understand above list?

Next problem is this: In England, America, Scandinavia and Australia you can train exclusively to become an aromatherapist. This education is a state-approved professional training. In these countries there is much more information pertaining essential oils and how to use them, since there are professional therapists that can advice you. As a professional therapist you study basic medicine, biology, chemistry and botany to understand essential oils and what they can do (or not do.).

In Germany, Belgium, France, Luxembourg and other countries in Europe you need to be a Heilpraktiker or a doctor before you are allowed to work with essential oils in a pharmaceutical way. If you are a Heilpraktiker, that means adding  a year of aromatherapy and essential oil studies to your existing diploma.  Since very few people want to do this, only doctors are really allowed to use essential oils for medical (healing) purposes. There are some doctors who do this in France. For the rest, aromatherapy is used for beauty or Spa-treatments, and the therapist has no right to claim any healing attributes to the oils.

essential-oil

This means that the overall knowledge about essential oils in much lower in most of mainland Europe creating all kinds of problems. Essential oils and aromatherapy is widely talked about and people use more essential oils here than in informed countries. There are hardly any warnings or advice. For example: Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) became all the rave a few years ago because it was said to be good against acne. People started using it indiscriminately, causing all kinds of skin-problems. In Germany and France the oil was banned for a couple of years. All because of ignorance.

tea-tree

Since I started working with aromatherapy I have worked on spreading information and trying to get past all the red tape around what is allowed to be said or not. Sometimes lack of information is the very source of the problem. At the end of the day the essential oils will continue to be accessible to everybody and the information about these substances need to be up-to-date as with any other available substance.

Essential oils can heal and provide well-being. But they can also cause harm when used wrongly.

As I said before; quality is what differentiates essential oils used for aromatherapy as opposed to industrial uses. Quality is also about re-planting, fair trade and cooperation.

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