What are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are highly concentrated plant oils. Unlike with essential amino acids or essential fatty acids where the term “essential” means it is required by the body for nutritional purposes, essential oils are named as such because they contain the “essence” or the aroma of the plant it was extracted from. Essential oils have long been used for aroma therapy and have recently found a resurgence in popularity. Some popular essential oils include lavender, tea tree, clove, lemon myrtle, nutmeg, sage, peppermint, wintergreen and eucalyptus.
Are essential oils good for you?
Although essential oils have been used for therapeutic reasons for thousands of years, their use and any associated benefits have not been extensively researched or proven. That being said, there are some studies that show benefits to using essential oils in aroma therapy to treat conditions such as anxiety, nausea and headaches.
Therapeutic essential oils sold in Australia are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) however there is no regulation around those bought from international sellers and they should not be used in place of conventional treatments. Essential oils may also interact with other medications so be sure to consult with your doctor before commencing use.
Should I be adding essential oils to my food or drink?
As essential oils rise in popularity so has their use in cooking. Oils developed for the purpose of aromatherapy are not meant to be consumed and despite being considered natural and therefore “safe”, consuming them orally comes with risks. Using an essential oil in food is not the same as using the whole plant as the oils are highly concentrated, so adding few drops of oil from a herb or spice is not the same as adding a few shakes of ground cumin or a couple of mint leaves. Amounts as small as 5ml can be toxic to adults depending on the oil and as little as 2ml may cause toxicity symptoms in children.
The Western Australian Poisons Information Centre has reported an increase in accidental poisoning of children through the ingestion of essential oils. The most common essential oils involved in poisoning are:
- Tea tree
Symptoms of essential oil poisoning include:
- Slowed or shallow breathing
- Persistent cough
- Shortness of breath, wheezing
- Nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea
- Skin irritation
- Eye redness, irritation or pain.
If there is no food information or oral dosage labelling on the bottle then it is best not to consume the product.
How can I use essential oils safely?
When used correctly and with caution essential oils can be safe. Diffusion is the safest way to use essential oils, though this method can still be potentially harmful to people suffering from conditions such as asthma or epilepsy. Most essential oils need to be correctly diluted or used with a carrier oil (such as olive oil for topical use) to be safe for use. There are also concerns around sensitisation, which happens when frequent exposure leads to adverse reactions that were not previously experienced. Essential oils should not be ingested during pregnancy but may be safe to use in other ways. Always store essential oils separately from other medications and always keep out of reach of children.
It’s also probably best to keep essential oils out of the kitchen.
Written by Katherine Ramsden, Nutritionist
Nutrition Force is a Western Australian based company of Nutritionists and Accredited Practising Dietitians that offer weight loss programs, private dietetic consultations, children’s nutrition & dietetics, school nutrition and Corporate Wellness programs. If you would like more information on our Perth Dietitians and the other services we offer call us today on (08) 9385 7755.