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Friday, August 28, 2009

Pain Relief from Essential Oils: Using Helichrysum

One of the most challenging aspects of finding a good pain reliever is that they so often have significant drawbacks: they can be bad for the liver, they're addictive, they only mask the pain temporarily, or they just don't make you feel good. Well here's a suggestion: for decades, the essential oil from a little yellow flower called Helichrysum italicum has been successfully used in Europe for profound pain relief. It's easy to use, safe, and readily available. Aromatherapy isn't just about aromas! It's really about the branch of natural medicine dealing with the volatile extracts of plants, many of which are complex healing chemicals. And Helichrysum is fast becoming one of the most popular of these oils -- and not because of its aroma, but because of its fast pain relieving action.

Pain Relief for Everyone

The pure essential oil steam distilled from the flowers of the Helicrhysum italicum plant is really an absolutely remarkable healing agent. Not just compared to natural medicines, but compared to ALL pain relieving medicines available today. It is safe, effective, has no addiction potential and very easy-to-use. Pain relief reported by most users happens nearly instantly -- certainly within minutes of application. The oil is listed in 'Essential Oil Safety' as non-toxic, non-irritating and non-sensitizing. It is regularly prescribed for undiluted application to the skin (where very few other essential oils are). Most conservatively, the oil is sometimes said to be avoided during pregnancy, and by young children -- but this warning is not found in today's most advanced aromatherapy texts. The only other concern is of the oils helpful anticoagulant properties, and is sometimes contraindicated if one is taking blood thinning medication. The amounts absorbed for pain relief are exceptionally small. However, if your situation is questionable, check with a health professional before use, but know that the essential oil is considered to be exceptionally safe for the vast majority of the population.

A Look at the Chemistry: Why Helichrysum Works

Essential oils are evaluated using a process called Gas Chromatography. This test tells the us what the oil is made of -- and essential oils are really interesting: they're made of all KINDS of different natural chemicals. Within Helichrysum essential oil, one finds chemicals naturally made by the plant's flowers that 1) reduce inflammation and act as chelators (they can remove unwatned toxins), 2) prevent bruising and blood clots, 3) relax tight muscles and connective tissue, and 4) stimulate cellular regeneration. All in one oil! And it's these components that work together to offer pain relief -- in a big way. Aspirin, for example, is a blood thinner and anti-inflammate. Together, these actions produce its pain relief. Helichrysum is a far more complex natural substance, that not just masks pain, but actually addresses the cellular physiology that is causing it.

What Kind of Pain Can it Help?

What sorts of pain can be addressed using this essential oil? Helichrysum is topically applied , and as such works for virtually all pain in the muscular-skeletal system: Muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments. All kinds of back pain and neck pain can be helped, as are traumatic injuries such as bruises, sprains and strains. Helichrysum is excellent to have around the house of sports enthusiasts -- one 42 year old hockey player in Boulder, Colorado refers to it as 'the magic oil' for all the beating-up he takes in the rink. Arthritis can be helped too (warming oils like Ginger and Black Pepper can be blended with it, if warming helps the condition). It's safety and efficacy is really remarkable: nearly every form of pain seems to respond positively to Helichrysum essential oil application, whereas the oil has only one commonly-noted warning. As it acts as a blood thinner, those taking blood thinning medication should consult their physician before using, and the oil should never be applied to open wounds as to not interfere with coagulation.

How to Properly Use the Oil For Best Results

There are essentially two unique conditions which determine the way the essential oil is used: whether the injury or pain is Acute (just occurred) or Chronic (has been present for some time, and is not obviously healing). For acute cases, like one has JUST twisted an ankle, banged a knee, or burned themselves, Helichrysum is applied 'neat', or directly from the bottle at 100% strength. This gets the most amount of oil delivered to the area as quickly as possible. Once an injury is not getting worse, or the condition or pain has been present for some time, Helichrysum is often diluted to about 20% in an oil that acts as a 'massage' base. Helichrysum and this 'carrier' oil (Jojoba is commonly used) are then frequently massaged-in.

In most cases of chronic pain, diluting in another 'carrier' oil -- like Sweet Almond, Jojoba, or even Olive oil -- will 'extend' the Helichrysum, and can help improve its effects over a larger area. If using for the entire mid-back area for example, one can dilute one part Helichrysum into 5 or even 10 parts Jojoba oil and massage-in as frequently as necessary. Making our own formulation is very easy to do. It is recommended to start of with lower dilutions and work your way up only if necessary; this helps you conserve the precious oil by only using as much as required for the desired results. Forty drops of Helicrysum in each ounce of carrier oil will create an approximate 5 percent dilution; eighty drops for a 10 percent dilution; etc.

Making A Custom Recipe

There are many other essential oils that will add to the therapeutic action of your mixture, should you choose to make one. Ginger and Pepper are excellent choices if you'd like a warming action, helpful in many cases of arthritis -- these oils can bring more blood to the area, improving circulation and flexibility. Peppermint is also used for the same reason, but actually adds a bit of a cooling sensation. German Chamomile or Blue Tansy at one or two percent concentrations can enhance the anti-inflammatory action. Some folks choose Wintergreen or Birch essential oils, as they are made up of methyl salicylate, or 'liquid aspirin'. Care should be used with these oils, however, as they are in a class of oils that are considered toxic if over-used; they should absolutely be kept out of reach of children, and employed only as much as necessary to give the desired effect.

Getting The Right Kind of Oil

The essential oil and its actions discussed here come from only one of the 500 or so Helichrysum species. When seeking the essential oil, look specifically for one that says 'italicum' -- this is crucial! It is only this type that has the important natural blend of chemicals that impart the pain relieving and healing actions. Further, the oil can be a bit expensive. It may be helpful to consider it in relation to other pain relieving medications -- and consider that only drops are needed at a time. If working on one's neck, for example, you can imagine that only a little liquid is needed to cover and support the painful spots. No need to use more than necessary; and dilute when appropriate, as this will also conserve the oil. Once you've experienced the effects, and get a hand of its use, you probably find the oil is one of nature's great gifts. Finally, do be sure to check with your doctor if you are under care for any condition before using Helichrysum essential oil -- let them know how you'll be using it, the amounts applied and how often. The safe use of this excellent essential oil will certainly produce the best results!

Friday, August 07, 2009

Study Confirms Antiviral Effect of Whole Essential Oils

A study just released in the Journal of Phytotherapy research affirms the antiviral action of essential oils of Eucalyptus, Tea Tree and Thyme. The study brings up two important points:
  • Essential oils are effective in destroying the Herpes Simplex Virus. The effects of essential oils such Melissa, Tea Tree, Geranium and Hyssop have a significant body of research describing the effect against this particular virus.

    The Herpes Virus is far and away the most studied, likely as so many folks are in need of treatment. At the same time, it would be very interesting to see more studies on essential oils for treatment of Influenza types. There's no reason the same effects wouldn't be found -- it would be helpful to have scientific backing as to which oils work best for which viruses. (Though Aroma-Medicine doctors have a pretty good idea -- you will find descriptions of antiviral activity for many essential oils on the web).

  • The final line of the abstract indicates the power of the natural synergy of essential oils. It is noted that the whole Tea Tree oil is ten times more effective than any of the single isolated compounds, with lower toxicity. Proponents of natural medicine have always held this to be the case of pure essential oils, and other plant-based medicines.
Study: Comparative study on the antiviral activity of selected monoterpenes derived from essential oils.

Astani A, Reichling J, Schnitzler P. Department of Virology, Hygiene Institute, University of Heidelberg, Im Neuenheimer Feld 324, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany.

Essential oils are complex natural mixtures, their main constituents, e.g. terpenes and phenylpropanoids, being responsible for their biological properties. Essential oils from eucalyptus, tea tree and thyme and their major monoterpene compounds alpha-terpinene, gamma-terpinene, alpha-pinene, p-cymene, terpinen-4-ol, alpha-terpineol, thymol, citral and 1,8-cineole were examined for their antiviral activity against herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) in vitro.

These essential oils were able to reduce viral infectivity by >96%, the monoterpenes inhibited HSV by about >80%. The mode of antiviral action has been determined, only moderate antiviral effects were revealed by essential oils and monoterpenes when these drugs were added to host cells prior to infection or after entry of HSV into cells. However, both essential oils and monoterpenes exhibited high anti-HSV-1 activity by direct inactivation of free virus particles.

All tested drugs interacted in a dose-dependent manner with herpesvirus particles thereby inactivating viral infection. Among the analysed compounds, monoterpene hydrocarbons were slightly superior to monoterpene alcohols in their antiviral activity, alpha-pinene and alpha-terpineol revealed the highest selectivity index. However, mixtures of different monoterpenes present in natural tea tree essential oil revealed a ten-fold higher selectivity index and a lower toxicity than its isolated single monoterpenes.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Essential Oils and Cancer: A Review of Published Scientific Studies

Aroma Medicine Is Gaining Acceptance

The practice of 'aroma medicine', rather than the somewhat more vague 'aromatherapy', is making very strong gains in the United States. The primary reasons are twofold: Many individuals have become completely disenchanted with our current conventional medical system. We're paying HUGE amounts of money for very questionable therapies -- with many medicines having threatening health warnings (are these making us sicker while making us 'better'?) accompanying their high price tags. At the same time, people are realizing the value of 'traditional' medicines may be far greater than they've been lead to believe. That the healing power available in properly prescribed and employed natural medicines have the potential to not only alleviate the symptoms of an illness, but move the body to an equilibrium of long term health.

The Medical Uses of Essential Oils

Research into the area of medicinal applications of essential oils has been significant in recent years. Many oils have been proven to have significant antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal action. Now, the body of evidence of essential oils being strongly anti-tumorial, with specific anti-cancer action is growing, too. A search of Pub Med, the National Institute of Health's online research database produces 391 results for the search 'essential oils cancer' and 444 results for 'essential oil tumor'. MANY of the studies show a direct correlation in tumor and cancer cell line eradication with the use of essential oils. A great many have conclusions that indicate the studies results warrant further investigation of essential oils for the development of accepted therapies. Here's a review of some very promising results:

Frankincense Essential Oil Targets Cancer Cells

A study in the journal BioMed Central journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, March 2009, titled: "Frankincense oil derived from Boswellia carteri induces tumor cell specific cytotoxicity" concludes with: "Frankincense oil appears to distinguish cancerous from normal bladder cells and suppress cancer cell viability. Microarray and bioinformatics analysis proposed multiple pathways that can be activated by frankincense oil to induce bladder cancer cell death. Frankincense oil might represent an alternative intravesical agent for bladder cancer treatment." ...while a bit technical, this is very, very promising -- essentially saying that this easily obtained, inexpensive, NON-TOXIC natural compound can eradicate cancer cells without harming normal, healthy cells in the same organ. Frankincense has a long, long history of medicinal use, and searching for 'frankincense cancer' produces 30 results just for this material. If choosing an essential oil of Frankincense, the 'carteri' species has been the subject of most research, with cold-process Carbon Dioxide distilled oils considered the most therapeutic (seek CO2 or SCO2 distilled oils or extracts).

Lemongrass Essential Oil Induces Cancer Cell Death

Lemongrass, after Frankincense, may next most commonly researched essential oil for anti-cancer activity. In the May 2009 journal of Chemico-Biological Interactions, researchers tested Lemongrass essential oil against 12 human cancer cell lines. Colon cancer and neuron cancer cell lines were found most susceptible to the essential oil. The study concluded: "Our results indicate that the oil has a promising anticancer activity and causes loss in tumor cell viability by activating the apoptotic process as identified by electron microscopy." This indicates that Lemongrass may induce natural cell death of cancer cells (apoptotic process), a process that is inherently dysfunctional in cancer cells.

Sweet Linalool for Liver Cancer

Linalool is a very common essential oil constituent. Essential oils are naturally made up of many individual chemical constituents, and linalool is a sweet, relaxing aromatic found in many floral and sweeter spice essential oils. Linalool itself, separated from the essential oil of Coriander (Cilantro seeds) was the subject of research published in the June 2009 issue of the journal of Chemico-Biological interactions. Linalool was found to completely eradicate the HepG2 liver cancer cell line in VERY low concentrations. Linalool has a great many other effects, having been shown to lower anxiety and even significantly improve sleep. And now it even has anti-cancer effects! So even if one is notle directly targeting cancer, but using aromatherapy in a more 'casual' application, there may be important protective effects occurring at the same time.
Skin cancer is a major concern for many folks, and a series of studies have shown Sandalwood to be effective at preventing tumor development. Alpha-santalol, a component also shown to have anti-anxiety and sleep enhancing action, may be the constituent to which most of these effects may be attributed. This is fortunate, as Sandalwood from India is becoming more rare and expensive, though Sandalwood from Australia and other South Pacific islands is still readily available. A study published in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention, a formula used for containing just 5% Sandalwood essential oil used before exposure to toxins significantly reduced the formation of skin cancer tumors. A study published in January 2008 in the Journal of Anitcancer Research showed a significant reduction in tumor development in skin exposed to UVB radiation -- Sandalwood would make an excellent addition to a pre-sun body or face care formula.

The Powerful Protection of Spice Oils

Components of Thyme and Oregano essential oils have been shown to actually protect human DNA strands from breaking when exposed to extreme oxidative stress. DNA damage is a leading cause of cancer development, as this can lead to an abnormal cell life cycle, essentially turning off the process of natural cell death. Carvacrol and Thymol were singled out in a study by Slovakian researchers in 2007, though they also note that other components of these oils may have chemoprotective effects as well. Other spice essential oils that have demonstrated cancer preventative effects include Ginger, Tumeric, Basil, Garlic and Sage.

Essential Oils Offer Immune System Support

Beyond the direct effects on tumor cells, essential oils have been shown to positively effect the immune system on a chemical level. They can enhance the activity of white blood cells, making them more efficient and removing foreign material and microbes from the body. This would likely result in more effective cancer outcomes. Futher, there's the psychological component of any disease, and many essential oils have demonstrated anti-stress activity in scientific investigations.

Essential Oils as Anti Cancer Agents for the Future

So, like many plant medicines, essential oils work on a number of levels for many diseases, with cancer being one of them. While its important to recognize that essential oil use is in-fact contra-indicated during chemotherapy (as they may reduce the cytotoxic effects of the treatment), they can certainly be an integral part of any cancer preventative protocol. For any application where an individual has already been diagnosed with the illness, it is important to check with their physician to ensure essential oils and aroma-medicine is an appropriate choice. The overall picture is very bright for the use of essential oils in cancer treatment, and further investigation is certainly warranted by the scientific and medical communities for the development of effective medical protocols for this profoundly life-altering condition.