Can Essential Oils Prevent Swine Flu? A Review Of The Science And The Practice

Posted on Monday 9 November 2009

With more people investigating ways to support their immune system, and perhaps go so far as to actually prevent infection from influenza viruses (Swine flu, for example), a primer on essential oils and infectious illness is in order. There are several natural medicines available which have solid backing in flu prevention: zinc lozenges and elderberry extract are two very popular items. Though little attention has been given to the use of essential oils for this purpose. It is the position of many leading aroma-medicine practitioners that the use of oils for the treatment and prevention of infectious illness is the area of medicine where these products will be of greatest help to mankind. AND, there is a growing body of scientific evidence revealing true antiviral and immunostimulating effects of essential oils. Here’s a look at the research, and some easy-to-use recipes and techniques one can use to protect the immunity of themselves and their families.

Essential Oils’ Antiviral Activity: The Research

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 pubmed.gov, 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.

Bay Laurel and the SARS-CoV Virus

Many of the studies utilize the Herpes Simplex Virus as a “test subject”, because of the widespread prevalence of infection, along with the relative ease of testing. However, if one digs into the data, many papers present information relevant in in influenza pandemic. SARS ‘Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome’ is caused by the highly infectious SARS-CoV virus that made world-wide news in 2003. A study in the March 2008 Journal of Chemical Biodiversity noted Bay Laurel essential oil to have significant antiviral action against this virus. They’d also noted the natural constituents of this oil, which are also found in a great many other essential oils. This is why you’ll see MANY essential oils noted as antivirals — because many oils share similar natural chemical constituents. So while this next oil is not readily available, the data is very interesting. In 2005, Chinese researchers evaluated the anti-influenza potential of the essential oil from a root used in Chinese medicine, concluding: “In vivo…it prevented influenza virus-induced deaths in a dose-dependent manner”. And the list of oil/virus combinations goes on and on. But this begs the question: how do we derive a formula for Swine Flu prevention?

Paring Down The List: Highly Regarded Anti-Viral Oils

It is this sharing of natural compounds that supports the literature’s assertion that there are a great many oils in use today that are antiviral — one reason you’ll typically see several oils, not just one, in an antiviral formula. But which oils to use for your needs? This is where the long-time historical practice of aroma-medicine therapists helps us choose. The antiviral and immune-supportive essential oils have been categorized by the symptoms the infection produces. The Cineol-containing oils, like Eucalyptus and Ravensara are chosen where the bronchial system is affected. Melissa and Tea Tree are most commonly used for viruses infecting the skin — though their antiviral action for other parts of the body should not be ignored, because their synergistic effects with other oils creates a formula with a complex mixture of natural chemicals — similar in respect to the balance found in the single oil Bay Laurel. Other oils are highly regarded for their positive effect on the immune system overall: Frankincense is considered by some to be the most potent immunostimulant, and Melissa has this property as well.

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).

An Influenza Prevention Recipe

A blend can be made using the following oils (and this complete formula can then be adapted to different applications as we’ll see): 1 milliliter (ml) Melissa, 1/2ml Thyme, 2ml Lavender (use Lavendula angustifolia), 1 and 1/2 ml Ravensara aromatica, 2ml Eucalyptus Radiata, 1 and 1/2 ml Hyssop decumbens, 3 ml Maleleuca ericifolia and 3ml Laurus Nobilis (Bay Laurel). A simpler, yet still effective formula with a more gentle nature — and more appropriate for children: 4ml Lavender, 3ml Melaleuca ericifolia, 1ml Ravensara, 1ml Eucalyptus, and 3ml Bay Laurel. While having a medicinal purpose, these blends do really smell wonderful as well.

Diffusion: Getting The Oils Into The Air

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.

Topical Application and Baths

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.

Conclusion: Essential Oils, Infectious Illness and the Future

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.

More information on essential oils and organic base oils is available at the Ananda Apothecary.

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