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Friday, December 26, 2008

Essential Oils for Cold Care

The true medical aromatherapists around the globe tell us time and time again: the most effective use of essential oils for health is the combating of infectious illness. Aromatherapy in the US is still mostly relegated to support of the psyche - which it does quite well - but study after study continues to confirm the antibacterial and antiviral effects of essential oils, along with their great compatibility with human physiology. Many protocols (detailed instructions) have been translated and published from the European medical aromatherapy literature - information which you can personally incorporate into your own natural health and wellness program.

For the uninitiated, essential oils are the volatile aromatic compounds distilled from plants. They are the chemicals that give plants their smell; the luscious aroma of a rose or the sharp scent of peppermint. Plants use these chemicals for, among other things, defense from invaders such as bacteria, fungus and viruses. Each plant's oils have a unique makeup as a result of the plant's own physiology, natural environment, and its potential microbial invaders. Because of their chemical structure, essential oils are easily absorbed into the human body, passing through cell membranes, then further on into the bloodstream due to their 'lipophillic' nature (a structure in alignment with the lipid components of our cell walls). Essential oils can protect us from microbes in many different ways, from keeping the space around us naturally microbe-free, to readying our immune system for defense, to actually destroying the microbes once they've entered our bodies.

For starters, lets look at keeping the air and our environment pure and healthy. A cold-air nebulizing diffuser works best for this, as it creats a fine mist of essential oils which disperse throughout your living or work space. Diffusing essential oils into your environment provides three primary benefits: First, the oils are directly eliminating microbes in the air, thus reducing the concentration of live pathogens you may be inhaling or touching at any time and reducing the load on your immune system. Second, most essential oils, and particularly the strong anti-microbial ones, have an uplifting effect on the psyche and a sharpening effect on the mind. Your space will smell nicer, and generally will be more pleasant to be in. This can be very pronounced in certain workspaces where the air can be heavy.

Lastly, in many cases, essential oils will actually fortify your own immune system to prevent you from catching an illness in the first place - some studies have shown mammalian cells having increased resistance to microbial invaders after exposure to essential oils. Many single oils can be used for this - Eucalyptus Radiata or Eucalyptus Globulus are excellent all-around choices, as is Ravensara, and the oil of Rosemary of the Cineol chemotype. A popular oil blend can be made using 3 parts clove bud oil, 5 parts lemon oil, 1 and a half parts Eucalyptus Radiata, 1 and a half parts Rosemary Cineol and 2 parts Cinnamon Bark oil. Diffuse these oils to your heart's content - it's a wonderful combination!

Next, it's important to fortify your own immune system. Medical aromatherapists don't claim essential oils as wonder drugs in this regard - it is important to keep yourself healthy for your immune system to work effectively. Many natural medicine physicians believe it important to keep your own internal 'friendly bacteria' in balance for best protection. This can be done by eating a 'clean' diet with an abundance of natural and organic foods, and consuming intestinal bacterial support in capsule form (available at almost all health food stores). On the aromatherapy front, the essential oil of Niaouli has been considered by some to be the single most powerful supporter of the human immune system. Niaouli essential oil is distilled from the leaves of the Niaouli tree, native to Madagascar, but now being cultivated in Spain for aromatherpy use. According to Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt, one of America's leading medical aromatherapists, "Niaouli oil is as complex in its composition as it is in it's uses...One of the fastest-acting and most effective applications of Niaouli is to apply anywhere between 5 and 20 drops to the whole body during the morning shower. This procedure will become entirely holistic if a loofah glove is used and the oil is worked into the skin along the energy meridians. This application...is especially recommended in the flu season, as it stimulates the defense mechanisms of the body." Niaouli would also be appropriate for diffuser use similar to the Eucalyptus varieties.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Supplementation with Essential Fats Improves Skin Health

Essential oils in blends with carrier oils have long been used to improve skin health, heal wounds and reduce the signs of aging. When seeking to improve skin health, in addition to topical formulas, it is VERY important to consider nutrition and internal supplementation with certain nutrients. One of the nutrients that most consistently improves skin health markers is essential fatty acids (or simply 'essential fats').

Essential fats are oils typically pressed from seeds that the body needs, but cannot make from other fats in the diet. These 'essential fats' are just oils with unique molecular arrangements ~ different configurations of carbon and hydrogen atoms than found in 'non-essential' fats, or fats that the body CAN in-fact make on its own from other nutrient sources. Our 'Western' diets are typically low in essential fats, and supplementing can not only improve the health of the skin, but have a significant positive impact on many other systems in the body.

Evening Primrose Oil and Hemp Oil are two oils cold-pressed (in order to best retain their healthful properties) from seeds. These oils are high in omega-3 fatty acids, and each have other unique fatty acids within them that are very beneficial to skin health, brain health, emotional and mental health, and hormonal balance. These oils are often found in capsules for dietary supplementation, though we tend to just 'swig' a tablespoon or so from the bottle every so often, as the cost relative to capsules is significantly lower.

Here are a couple of studies that note the improvement of skin health with the consumption of essential fatty acids as supplements. Note that the supplement size is fairly small (1-2 grams, which is less than a teaspoon per day ~ we generally use a tablespoon, which is 3 teaspoons), and the time for the users to show improvements seems relatively long. Maybe with larger amounts, the time would be less, but that is yet to be part of the experiments.

The first study describes the use of Evening Primrose in improving general skin health ~ the second describes Hemp Oil as beneficial in atopic dermatitis (irritated skin that is not the result of allergens in direct contact of the area). Other studies describe Evening Primrose also useful for this condition, and it is also likely the case that Hemp Oil supplementation will improve skin health overall. Both of these oils can be used topically as well, with or without the addition of low concentrations of essential oils (1-3%) for therapeutic effects.

Study: Systemic evening primrose oil improves the biophysical skin parameters of healthy adults.

Muggli R. AdviServ Consulting, Rotbergstrasse 11, CH-4114 Hofstetten, Switzerland.

Biophysical skin parameters are indicators of age-related structural and functional changes in skin tissues. This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study in healthy adults tested the effect of Efamol evening primrose oil [EPO, a gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) containing vegetable oil] on skin moisture, transepidermal water loss (TEWL), redness, firmness, elasticity, fatigue resistance and roughness. Efamol EPO was administered orally in soft gel capsules, 3 x 500 mg b.i.d. for 12 weeks. Measurements were taken at baseline and at weeks 4 and 12. The two treatment groups did not differ at baseline and at week 4. At week 12, however, all measured variables, with the exception of skin redness, were significantly different in the EPO group compared with placebo. Skin moisture, TEWL, elasticity, firmness, fatigue resistance and roughness had significantly improved by 12.9, 7.7, 4.7, 16.7, 14.2 and 21.7%, respectively. The two-sided levels of significance in favor of the EPO treatment ranged between 0.034 and 0.001. These findings lend further support to the notion that GLA is a conditionally essential fatty acid for the skin, i.e. it is unable to synthesize GLA, and therefore depends on preformed GLA for optimal structure and function.

Study: Efficacy of dietary hempseed oil in patients with atopic dermatitis.

Callaway J, Schwab U, Harvima I, Halonen P, Mykkänen O, Hyvönen P, Järvinen T.
Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, University of Kuopio, Finland.

BACKGROUND: Hempseed oil is a rich and balanced source of omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Anecdotal evidence indicated that dietary hempseed oil might be useful in treating symptoms of atopic dermatitis. PATIENTS AND METHODS: Dietary hempseed oil and olive oil were compared in a 20-week randomized, single-blind crossover study with atopic patients. Fatty acid profiles were measured in plasma triglyceride, cholesteryl and phospholipid fractions. A patient questionnaire provided additional information on skin dryness, itchiness and usage of dermal medications. Skin transepidermal water loss (TEWL) was also measured. RESULTS: Levels of both essential fatty acids (EFAs), linoleic acid (18:2n6) and alpha-linolenic acid (18:3n3), and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA; 18:3n6) increased in all lipid fractions after hempseed oil, with no significant increases of arachidonic acid (20:4n6) in any lipid fractions after either oil. Intra-group TEWL values decreased (p=0.074), qualities of both skin dryness and itchiness improved (p=0.027) and dermal medication usage decreased (p=0.024) after hempseed oil intervention. CONCLUSIONS: Dietary hempseed oil caused significant changes in plasma fatty acid profiles and improved clinical symptoms of atopic dermatitis. It is suggested that these improvements resulted from the balanced and abundant supply of PUFAs in this hempseed oil.