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Can You Prevent Swine Flu With Essential Oils? One Therapist’s Opinion, The Science and The Practice
As news of the flu appears everywhere we turn, more and more people are looking for every means available to support their immune systems and potentially prevent infection with any number of serious viral infections – the most prominent today being the “swine flu.” There may be more in our future. Historically, essential oils were used during major plagues as a way to ward off infection. Images can be found in natural medicine textbooks where medical practitioners wear masks filled with cinnamon, cloves, sage, and other botanicals to ward off illness. Today’s leading professional aromatherapists also suggest that the most important use of essential oils for mankind will be in the treatment and prevention of such infectious diseases. Are essential oils a viable option as an alternative therapy for home use? Here are scientific studies, as well as formulas and practices for using aromatic medicines.
Supporting Information: Antiviral Actions of Essential Oils
Over the past decade, laboratory researchers around the world have discovered that many essential oils can directly eradicate viruses. In addition, they can prevent viruses from moving between cells in the body and limit the spread of infection. This is not an overly optimistic interpretation of the data by essential oil proponents, but actual findings from controlled research studies. Abstracts of all studies mentioned here can be found through pubmed.gov, a database maintained by the National Institutes of Health and the US National Library of Medicine. If you wish, you can browse these results by entering search terms such as “essential oil virus”, “antiviral essential oil” and more specifically “laurus nobilis SARS” (Laurus nobilis is the essential oil of laurel and SARS is a highly infectious viral respiratory disease). Although there is no data yet where essential oils have been tested specifically against swine flu and avian flu, as we will see, there is every reason to believe that the oils will be effective against these strains of the virus as well.
What does the data mean?
With over a hundred published research papers on the subject, a summary is in order. What scientists are discovering is that many essential oils that are commonly used today have antiviral properties. Whether an oil is effective against a particular virus depends on the natural chemical composition of the oil and the structure of the virus being studied. The data is undoubtedly very encouraging. This year, one study in Germany concluded that tea tree could “reduce viral infections by more than 96 percent.” The same study went on to find that the whole, natural oil, rather than any synthetically derived chemical, was ten times more effective as an antiviral agent. The exact reason for this isn’t known — it’s clear that some chemically complex oils have the greatest antiviral effects, and perhaps this blend of nature’s chemicals attacks the virus and supports immune function in multiple ways at once.
One pandemic virus and bay leaf oil
Many studies use the herpes simplex virus as a “test subject” because of the widespread prevalence of the infection, along with the relative ease of testing. However, if we dig deeper into the data, many of the papers contain information during a flu pandemic. SARS “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome” is caused by the highly infectious SARS-CoV virus, which made world news in 2003. A study in the March 2008 Journal of Chemical Biodiversity reported that laurel essential oil has significant antiviral activity against this virus. They also noted the natural components of this oil that are also found in many other essential oils. This is why you will see many essential oils labeled as antiviral – because many oils have similar natural chemical components. So, although the following oil is not available, the data is very interesting. In 2005, Chinese researchers evaluated the anti-influenza potential of an essential oil of the root used in Chinese medicine and concluded, “In vivo … it prevented influenza virus-induced death in a dose-dependent manner.” And the list of oil/virus combinations goes on and on. But here comes the question: How to come up with a formula to prevent swine flu?
Check out the list: Antiviral oils are highly regarded
It is this sharing of natural compounds that supports the literature’s claim that there are many oils in use today that are antiviral—one reason why you usually find several oils in an antiviral formula, rather than just one. But which oils to use for your needs? This is where the long historical practice of aroma-medicine therapists helps us make a choice. Antiviral and immune supporting essential oils are classified according to the symptoms of the infection. Oils containing cineole, such as eucalyptus and ravensara, are chosen where the bronchial system is affected. Peppermint and tea tree are most often used for viruses that affect the skin – although their antiviral effects on other parts of the body should not be ignored, as their synergistic effect with other oils creates a formula with a complex blend of natural chemicals – similar to the single oil for balance found in Bay Laurel. Other oils are highly valued for their positive effects on the immune system as a whole: Frankincense is considered the most powerful immunostimulator, and Melissa also has this property.
A short list of essential oils you can choose from to support immunity against a flu infection include: Lemon balm (has significant anti-HSV activity, it is also considered a powerful immunostimulant – boosting our immune defenses). Tea Tree (a very broad spectrum antiviral/antimicrobial agent), Rosalina (also known as Lavender Tea Tree, with a natural chemical profile that contains constituents of both of these oils), Lavender (commonly used as an anti-stress agent – which itself is an immune booster. System Function — and also has antiviral activity), bay leaf (bay leaf, reported to be effective against SARS-CoV), Ravensara aromatica, Eucalyptus Radiata (of the many Eucalyptus species, this is most often labeled as “antiviral”), Frankincense. (considered some of the most effective immunostimulatory oils), Thyme and Hyssop decumbens (highly recognized antiviral, highly complex natural chemical makeup).
A balanced formula at home
A blend can be made using the following oils (and this complete formula can be adapted for different uses, as we’ll see): 1 milliliter (ml) lemon balm, 1/2 ml thyme, 2 ml lavender (use Lavendula angustifolia), 1 and 1/2 ml Ravensara aromatica, 2 ml Eucalyptus Radiata, 1 and 1/2 ml Hyssop decumbens, 3 ml Maleleuca ericifolia and 3 ml Laurus Nobilis (Bay Laurel). A simpler but still effective formula with a gentler nature — and more suitable for children: 4ml Lavender, 3ml Melaleuca ericifolia, 1ml Ravensara, 1ml Eucalyptus and 3ml Bay Laurel. For medicinal purposes, these concoctions really do smell great.
Diffusion: Getting oils into the air
The best way to use these oils is by diffusion, which is essentially “quick evaporation”. An aromatherapy nebulizer diffuser creates a fine mist of essential oil that evaporates cleanly into your environment. This method allows for regular inhalation of low concentrations of oils. The effect is to actually disinfect the air in your home as well as inject small amounts of the oils into the lungs and bloodstream. The peculiarity of the activity of the oils is that they reduce the ability of viruses to penetrate the cell walls, so the lungs and sinuses are protected by breathing only oil-infused air. Be careful not to overdo it – the flavor should never be overpowering or overpowering and your body will tell you if you’ve had enough. Oils perform immune support functions in subtle ways that only require a small amount of oil. Accidental inhalation of oils also delivers them into the bloodstream, penetrating all organ systems and most importantly the lymphatic system – the home of our immune function. A cold air nebulizer diffuser (as opposed to an “ultrasonic” one that mixes oils with water) will work perfectly for this purpose for 5-10 minutes every hour.
Lymphatics, baths and foot creams, oh my!
In cases where diffusion is not practical, topical application of an oil formula is the next best thing. This can be done in several ways: either through an aromatherapy bath, or through the ancient practice of reflexology – where oils are absorbed into the reflex points of the feet. For a bath, mix 4-6 drops of the essential oil recipe in a little oil (or any bath oil). Pour this mixture into the already drained bath and soak! For children, reduce the amount of essential oil to 2 drops (ages 2-8) or 4 drops (9-13). The feet and areas of the body where the lymph nodes are close to the surface are also great places to massage in this recipe. Oils easily penetrate the skin and are quickly absorbed. For adults, make a 5% concentration of the essential oil recipe in any carrier oil (coconut, with its antiviral activity, may be best – otherwise, any will do). A 5% concentration is simply a 1 to 20 ratio — a mixture of 1 part essential oil to 19 parts carrier (this same concentration is obtained by adding 44 drops of the formula for every 1 fluid ounce of carrier oil). Reduce this concentration like an aromatherapy bath for children. A daily foot massage and/or underarm, neck and chest massage is a great way to treat yourself and your family with these wonderful herbal remedies.
The Future of Aromatherapy: Aromatic Medicine
As previously mentioned, the world’s leading practitioners of aromatic medicine believe that the most important therapeutic potential of essential oils is in the prevention and treatment of infectious disease. Of course, all available ways to boost their immune systems and those of their loved ones should be evaluated—there are many ways health professionals recommend doing this. Considering the scientific data, essential oils are certainly a very worthy method for this support. For all communicable infections, swine flu, bird flu, and others yet to be named, natural medicines have the long-term advantage of not easily “adapting” to viruses. Oils are so complex and have evolved over millions of years as a plant defense mechanism that they can present a much greater challenge for viruses to become resistant than synthetic drugs. And they’re great fun to use — your home will smell fantastic while staying healthy; Many avid practitioners will agree that you will find essential oils very valuable.
A final note: The recommendations and statements in this report have not been evaluated by the FDA. They are not intended to treat, cure, or prevent any disease, but rather to offer people’s opinions on natural health based on historical accounts and peer-reviewed scientific publications. As always, consult a qualified physician for health concerns.
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