Can you ingest essential oils

20-10-2020

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When it comes to frequently asked questions, “Can you ingest essential oils?” is at the top of the list. This is no surprise, as this topic has been discussed and contended in many circles of essential oil users since aromatherapy’s inception. 

With so many varying opinions circulating, we want you to be able to make an educated decision based on facts.

Are you ready to find out more? Let’s dive right in. 

What is Internal Use?

Internal use is ingesting a substance, be it food, drink or essential oils. 

Common ways that people ingest EOs are by:

  • Taking them in capsules

  • Adding them to food

  • Adding them to drinks 

  • Taking drops

Upon ingestion, the oil comes into contact with the mucous membrane which covers the mouth, esophagus and stomach.

What Happens When Ingesting Essential Oils?

Upon ingestion, essential oils come into direct contact with vital organs such as the tongue, mouth, esophagus, stomach, etc. Because essential oils are miscible with fats, they attach to the mucous membrane which lines these organs. [1]

This can lead to irritation and damage because pure, undiluted essential oils are highly concentrated substances. For example, 250 pounds of steam distilled Lavender may yield 1 pound of Lavender essential oil. If you convert this number down to a drop, you will find that there is about ⅓ oz of lavender plant per drop of Lavender essential oil. Thus, adding 3 drops of Lavender EO to a cup of water equates to adding one ounce of lavender plant. 

Further Safety Concerns When Ingesting Essential Oils

Gentle oils such as Lavender have caused unwanted side effects when ingested, so imagine the damage that an oil with heightened safety precautions, such as Oregano, can and have done when taken internally. Here are a few such injuries caused by internal use that have been recorded.

  • In 2014, a 57 year old woman reported taking 5-10 drops of undiluted Oregano oil in water, a few times per day for four weeks. She then developed a rash on her palms and arms that lasted for 2-3 months. Her doctor diagnosed her rash as a reaction to the Oregano. [2] 

  • In 2017, a 36 year old woman ingested various essential oils and essential oil blends by taking 3 drops at a time in water, 2-3 times per day over six weeks. After 2 weeks she developed acid reflux, an aching stomach, diarrhea and a sore throat. Distributors from the essential oil company said she was detoxing and recommended she keep taking oils internally. However, a  colonoscopy and endoscopy revealed that the lining in her stomach and esophagus had partially been eaten away. [3]

  • In 2018, a 47 year old woman reported applying one undiluted drop of Peppermint to the roof of her mouth daily. This caused her throat to swell. Her doctor diagnosed that her esophagus was damaged and no longer contracted or released when swallowing. [4]

Unfortunately, this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of damage caused by internal use, and organizations like Aromatherapy United have been giving a voice to those who’ve been injured by essential oils. [5]

Analyzing injury reports have also revealed a common misuse of essential oils: adding them to water and drinking them. Oil and water do not mix. Therefore, when you add essential oils to water and drink them, the undiluted oil drops will come into direct contact with the mucous membrane lining your tongue, throat, esophagus, stomach, etc, causing injuries like those above.     


GRAS Doesn’t Mean You Can Safely Ingest 

The FDA classifies food additives according to their safety and essential oils are included in this system. Some fall into a category that is known as GRAS [6] (Generally Regarded as Safe), which is:

Any substance that is intentionally added to food is a food additive, that is subject to premarket review and approval by FDA, unless the substance is generally recognized, among qualified experts, as having been adequately shown to be safe under the conditions of its intended use, or unless the use of the substance is otherwise excepted from the definition of a food additive.

Common essential oils on the GRAS food grade list include: 

  • Basil

  • Camomile

  • Cardamom

  • Cinamon

  • Lavender

  • Lemon

  • Nutmeg

  • Peppermint

  • Vanilla

Many times, people justify that essential oils can be casually ingested because this list exists. However, the food and drink industry has set specific percentages at which these oils can be used as a flavoring agent either for safety, flavor intensity, or a combination of the two. These percentages are generally measured in parts per million (ppm). To give you an idea of what a ppm looks like, add 7-8 drops to a 60-gallon tub.

Most people do not have the equipment necessary to measure essential oils in parts per million in their home kitchens, and therefore are incapable of using essential oils “under the conditions of its intended use” as described by the FDA. 

In other words, the GRAS list is not a license to casually ingest essential oils. 

What About Using Essential Oils in a Capsule Or in Cooking?

When intaking essential oils in a capsule, the oil will most likely not come into direct contact with your organs until the capsule is broken down in your stomach. Once the capsule breaks down, the EO may then attach to your stomach lining, wherein lies the potential to do damage.

In cooking, essential oils are oftentimes more diluted than in other ways one might ingest oils. For those wanting to use EOs internally, this may seem like a good reason to cook with essential oils. But when you compare the cost of Lemon essential oil to a lemon found in the produce aisle, you will find that it is not as cost-effective to use essential oils in cooking. Not to mention, it’s not as delicious either. 


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