Nowdays essential oils become quite popular due to benefits from alleviating anxiety to curing that ubiquitous wellness villain “inflammation”. As we know, diffusing aromatherapy oils — or adding them to your bath — is generally a common and safe way to relieve stress and practice self-care. Recently I heard some friends boasting certain brand esential oils are even edible which makes me a bit alert and thinks it's time to write a short blog to clear such things up.
Comparing to diffusing or massging essential oils, you may enter a dangerous territory when directly ingesting even small amounts of some highly concentrated essential oils.
Essential oils naturally occur in many food items such as nuts, fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices. So we all consume tiny amounts of essential oil in our food. Some are also added as flavorings in candy, ice cream, pickles, etc., but the essential oil in food constitutes much less than 1% and is equivalent to about one drop of essential oil per day. The essential oil is completely mixed and blended into the food. Taking essential oils in or as a dietary supplement (or a medicine) involves very much larger quantities, and therefore brings in safety issues that do not apply to normal food use.
Essential oil is made up of many different constituents. Robert Tisserand’s Essential Oil Safety book states” Contact with potentially harmful substances is unavoidable. The quantities of such toxic substances to which we are exposed, do not normally represent a hazard because they are efficiently handled by the body’s detoxification and other defense mechanisms.” However, if you were to get these ‘poisons’ at a larger dose, they could become very toxic. The same is true with essential oils. There are some constituents in essential oils that can be toxic, irritating and sensitizing if the essential oil is ingested in large enough doses.
Some people believe that too much essential oil taken internally can have side effects on the liver. The liver has to process everything we put in our bodies, including essential oil constituents, so giving it extra work to do may cause problems. There is some debate about this, as we don’t know enough about how much of which essential oils may be safe or unsafe to ingest in terms of the liver but it is very important to keep in mind that essential oils do have an effect on the liver.
Just because an essential oil is 100% pure and natural, does not mean that it cannot harm you. Harm from an essential oil is not always due to impurities or adulterations; more often it’s simply about the constituents it contains. This is not about purity; it’s about safety. For example, a teaspoon of Eucalyptus oil or Wintergreen oil, even if 100% pure, can be fatal to a child. An essential oil being harmful is not always due to impurities and adulterations but the constituents themselves. I realize that most people do not take essential oils in these large doses, but it is important to know what you are dealing with if you do decide to take essential oils internally.
There are a lot of things to consider when thinking about whether or not you should ingest essential oils. Remember, that adverse effects are not always immediate or obvious. Unlike an allergic or irritant reaction, liver toxicity, fetal damage or cancer formation will not be noticed at the time they are happening. Please don’t assume that just because you have not seen any side effects that it doesn’t mean someone else might not. In setting general safety guidelines, the risk to the general population has to be minimized.
Essential oils are wonderful natural tools if used correctly. But just like anything else, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. This is why I recommend not ingest essential oils unless under the supervision of a medical doctor or an aromatherapy practitioner as there is so much information that needs to be taken into consideration before ingesting essential oils.