Can Essential Oils Be Used for Influenza Prevention?

By Ellen Tesston

As the news of influenza is seen everywhere we turn, more and more people are seeking every available means to support their immune system and potentially prevent the infection by any number of serious viral contagions -- most notably these days is "Swine Flu", though there may be more in our future. Historically, essential oils have been used during major plagues as a means to prevent infection. Pictures can be found in natural medicine textbooks of medical practitioners wearing facemasks stuffed with cinnamon, cloves, sage and other botanicals to ward of illness. Today's leading professional aromatherapists also suggest the most important use of essential oils for humanity will be in the treatment and prevention of such infectious illnesses. Are essential oils a viable option as an alternative therapy for home use? Here's a look at the scientific research, as well as formulas and practices to make use of aromatic medicines.

Research on Essential Oils as AntiViral Agents

Over the last decade, laboratory researchers around the world have found many essential oils are capable of directly eradicating viruses. Further, they may even prevent viruses from moving between cells within the body and limiting the spread of infection. This is not an over-optimistic interpretation of the data by an essential oil proponent, but the actual conclusions of controlled research studies. Abstracts of all the research mentioned here can be found through, the database maintained by the National Institute 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 being Bay Laurel essential oil, and SARS a highly-infectious viral respiratory ailment). While there is not yet data where essential oils have been tested against Swine Flu and Avian Flu specifically, as we'll see there is every reason to believe the oils will be effective against these virus strains as well.

Interpreting the Data: Many Oils vs. Many Viruses

An interpretation of the research can be summed up (and this is only one writer/scientist's interpretation) as this: MANY essential oils have antiviral activity, some oils more than others -- which oil eradicates what virus depends on the oil's natural chemical makeup AND the unique structure of the virus being tested. Finally that "whole" essential oils have a stronger effect than any single chemical component synthesized or extracted in a laboratory. A study in the August 2009 Journal of Phytotherapy Research performed by scientists in the Department of Virology at the University of Heidelberg, noted that several chemicals commonly found in natural essential oils exhibited antiviral activity -- being able to "reduce viral infectivity by greater than 96%". The oils studied were Eucalyptus, Tea Tree, and Thyme (chemotypes were not mentioned in the abstract), tested against HSV-1. The researchers also compared the individual chemical constituents of these oils with whole natural Tea Tree, and concluded the "constituents present in natural Tea Tree essential oil revealed a ten-fold higher selectivity index and a lower toxicity" than the isolated single chemicals.

One Pandemic Virus and The Oil of Laurel Leaf

Because research is not yet available on the effects of oils against Swine and Avian influenza specifically, we need to make careful, logical conclusions from the data that IS available. For instance, the oil from Laurus nobilis (or Bay Laurel, the common cooking spice) was found to have antiviral action against the SARS-CoV virus -- a highly contagious illness that made headlines as it spread around the world in 2003. A look at the aromatherapy literature notes that Bay Laurel has a highly complex makeup, containing molecules from nearly every one of the major classes of compounds found in essential oils. Hyssop is another oil also considered potently antiviral, again with a similar complex structure.

Choosing The Best Essential Oils for Influenza Protection

Here's where we'll make the leap from the scientific evidence to relying on many many years of Aroma Medicine practice throughout the world. In the aromatherapy textbooks, the list of antiviral essential oils is long. This corroborates with the scientific findings that a great many essential oils DO in-fact have antiviral activity. Where the help of skilled professional practitioners comes in is that in these texts, oils are prescribed by how effective they are against viruses that produce particular symptoms -- respiratory tract infections are treated with cineol-containing oils such as Eucalyptus Radiata and Ravensara Aromatica. Viral infections of the skin are often treated with Melissa and/or Tea Tree. The doctors who have been using essential oils as medicine for years in Europe have developed a solid system, and can be relied upon in defining the appropriate list of oils for us.

A short list of essential oils that one can select from to support immunity against influenza infection includes the following: Melissa (having significant anti-HSV activity, it is also thought to be a potent immunostimulant -- boosting the ability of our immune defense), Tea Tree (a very broad spectrum antiviral/antimicrobial), Rosalina (also known as Lavender Tea Tree, with a natural chemical profile containing constituents of both these oils), Lavender (commonly used as an anti-stress agent -- which itself supports immune system function -- and also having antiviral action), Bay Laurel (Laurel Leaf, reported effective against SARS-CoV), Ravensara aromatica, Eucalyptus Radiata (one of many Eucalyptus species, this one is most often noted as "antiviral"), Frankincense (considered by some the most effective immunostimulant oil available), Thyme, and Hyssop decumbens (a highly regarded antiviral, with a highly complex natural chemistry makeup).

Influenza Prevention Recipes

An example blend including these oils: 2 parts Melissa, 1 part Thyme (Thujanol, Geraniol or Linalool), 4 parts Lavender, 3 parts Ravensara, 4 parts Eucalyptus Radiata (Narrow Leaf), 3 parts Hyssop, 6 parts Rosalina (Melaluca ericifolia) and 3 parts Bay Laurel. A "part" can be anything -- a milliliter, a drop, an ounce -- just as long as they're consistently the same volume. For children between 2 and 13, use 4 parts Lavender, 3 parts Rosalina, 1 part Ravensara, 1 part Eucalyptus and 3 parts Bay Laurel. This recipe is excellent as a lower-cost version for adults as well -- and has been made more gentle for the young ones (consult Valerie Worwood's "Aromatherapy for the Healthy Child" for more on using essential oils with kids).

How To Use The Oils for Influenza Prevention: Diffusion

The most knowledgeable and experienced practitioners believe diffusing this oil blend is the best way to give the most comprehensive support for both antiviral and immune system support. A cold-air nebulizing diffuser will make a fine mist of the essential oils, which quickly evaporates into the air in your home, office or other enclosed space. Typically, these diffusers are run for a few minutes every hour, getting oils into the air but not overdoing it. This conserves the oils, but allows continuous low-dose inhalation. One should never feel overwhelmed by the aroma; the oils are very potent, and typically "less is more" when using 100% pure therapeutic-grade essential oils. The use of an appliance timer can make this process very simple: just set the timer to run a few minutes every hour throughout the day -- that's it! Not only is the air being disinfected, but folks in the room are getting small amounts of oil in their bodies all the time. Again, it's important to not feel more is more in this situation! Trust your instincts on the amount of diffusion necessary for your space and needs.

Aromatherapy Baths and The All Important Foot Massage

In cases where diffusion is not practical, topical application of the oil formula is the next best thing. This can be done in a couple of ways: either though an aromatherapy bath, or through the ancient practice of reflexology -- where the oils are absorbed at the reflex points of the feet. For the bath, mix 4-6 drops of the essential oil recipe in a little carrier oil (or any off-the-shelf bath oil). Swirl this blend into an already drawn bath and soak! For children, lessen the amount of essential oil 2 drops (for ages 2-8) or 4 drops (9-13). The feet and the areas of the body where the lymph nodes are close to the surface are also excellent places to massage in this recipe. The oils readily penetrate the skin and are rapidly absorbed. For adults, make a 5% concentration of the essential oil recipe in any carrier oil (Coconut, with its own antiviral activity may be best -- otherwise any one will do). A 5% concentration is simply a 1 to 20 ratio -- 1 part essential oil blend to 19 parts carrier (this same concentration is made by adding 44 drops of the formula to each 1 fluid ounce of carrier oil). Lower this concentration for children in a manner similar to the aromatherapy bath. A daily foot massage, and/or massage into the armpits, neck and sternum is an excellent means of treating yourself and your family to these wonderful herbal medicines.

The Future of Aromatherapy: Aroma Medicine

While we cannot be certain of the direct effects of essential oils for our needs, it appears to the lay practitioner that the evidence supporting their use is just and solid as for any other natural medicine choice. Recall that the world's leading aromatherapists suggest that it is in the prevention and treatment of infectious illness that essential oils will find their place in our medical systems. Given the data that so many essential oils offer antiviral activity against a variety of viruses, it isn't out of the realm of possibility that they will be effective as Swine flu prevention. And with their relative ease of use, and ready availability, there's little reason not to see what they may have to offer for you and your family.

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 to offer the opinions of those involved with natural health, based on historical references and peer-reviewed scientific publications. As always, consult a qualified medical practitioner for any health concerns. - 30540

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