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November 30, 2010

The "oxygenation" myth

by Robert Tisserand

It is commonly believed in some aromatherapy circles that a major therapeutic benefit of essential oils derives from the fact that they are rich in oxygen; that they efficiently carry this oxygen to the body’s cells and tissues, and thus dramatically enhance our health. Jim Lynn, for example, writes the following paragraphs under the title “Essential Oils…Nature’s Answer To Oxygen Deficiency“:

If there is any one BIG reason for you to use essential oils everyday, it can be summed up in one word…OXYGEN! Essential oils are loaded (concentrated) with it, at least 50 times more oxygen than what the plants give off from which they are derived.

While essential oils may contain hundreds of different elements, three primary elements common to all oils are hydrogen, carbon and OXYGEN. So each time you inhale essential oils or apply them to your body, you are enriching your body with needed oxygen to purge toxins and fight off disease causing pathogens. This is why the use of essential oils on a daily basis can help you develop a superior immune system, and why people who use the oils (several times daily) seldom experience illness and disease.

One of the incredible aspects of essential oils is their ability to penetrate and carry nutrients through the cell wall to the cell nucleus. Dr. Radwan Farag, Ph.D., head of the bio- chemistry department at Cairo University, is the man accredited for documenting the oxygenating and antioxidant activity essential oils afford.

When the viscosity of blood is reduced, it’s velocity increases. By increasing its velocity, our blood is able to deliver greater amounts of oxygen to tissues. When essential oils are introduced to the blood stream, they increase circulation, thereby increasing oxygenation.

oxygen1Now here’s that same text, with added comment:

If there is any one BIG reason for you to use essential oils everyday, it can be summed up in one word…OXYGEN! Essential oils are loaded (concentrated) with it, at least 50 times more oxygen than what the plants give off from which they are derived. (How this “50 times” is calculated is left to the readers imagination, but we could compare oxygen in essential oils to atmospheric oxygen. Sea-level air contains 21% oxygen, and a 50 times greater concentration would be….well, impossible, as even five times would be more than 100%. Also, the predominant elements found in essential oil constituents are hydrogen and carbon, with oxygen, when it is found, a minor player. At best, a few essential oils might contain about the same concentration of oxygen as that found in the air. But that’s percent, not amount. There’s no way that essential oils could ever deliver as much oxygen as we inhale every time we breathe air.

While essential oils may contain hundreds of different elements (clue to ignorance of writer: there are only 94 naturally-occurring elements on planet Earth. And, only five of these can be found in essential oil constituents. All contain hydrogen and carbon (hence they are known as hydrocarbons) and some also contain oxygen. A few are found with nitrogen or sulfur.) three primary elements common to all oils are hydrogen, carbon and OXYGEN (yes, all essential oils probably do contain constituents with oxygen – but some, such as citrus oils, contain very little oxygen – only about 1%.) So each time you inhale essential oils or apply them to your body, you are enriching your body with needed oxygen to purge toxins and fight off disease causing pathogens. (There is an important difference between “free” or elemental oxygen, such as the oxygen found in the air we breathe, and “bound” or molecular oxygen, such as is found in some (NOT ALL!) essential oil constituents. Oxygen bound into a molecule has to be freed from its molecular chains before it can be used by the body as oxygen, and many oxygen-containing essential oil molecules do not release their oxygen when metabolized by the liver. When oxygen IS released, it often takes the form of potentially dangerous peroxides or free radicals. Of course it’s true that each time you inhale you enrich your body with oxygen, but essential oils have nothing to do with that process.) This is why the use of essential oils on a daily basis can help you develop a superior immune system, and why people who use the oils (several times daily) seldom experience illness and disease. (There’s an assumption here that more oxygen means a “superior” immune system. There’s also an assumption that people who use essential oils on a regular basis experience illness less often than those who don’t.)

One of the incredible aspects of essential oils is their ability to penetrate and carry nutrients through the cell wall to the cell nucleus. (There is no evidence that I am aware of showing that essential oil constituents can enhance the absorption of nutrients through cell walls, though it is a feasible concept. However, nutrients are not carried to the nucleus, they are stored in other parts of the cell.) Dr. Radwan Farag, Ph.D., head of the bio- chemistry department at Cairo University, is the man accredited for documenting the oxygenating and antioxidant activity essential oils afford. (Dr. Farag has published nothing about the “oxygenating” activity of essential oils. Nor has anyone else, as such a phenomenon does not exist. Dr. Farag has indeed published two papers about the antioxidant capacity of certain essential oils, and there are hundreds of articles published by other researchers on the same general subject. You will find Dr. Farag’s articles here and here). “Antioxidant” describes the capacity of those oils to protect the body from oxidative stress – damage to cells caused by oxygen in the form of reactive oxygen species, or free radicals. Oxygen can be beneficial, but it can also be harmful.

When the viscosity of blood is reduced, it’s velocity increases. By increasing its velocity, our blood is able to deliver greater amounts of oxygen to tissues. When essential oils are introduced to the blood stream, they increase circulation, thereby increasing oxygenation. (So essential oils, all of them apparently, increase the velocity of the circulation by thinning the blood, and thus cellular oxygenation is increased. It’s an interesting thought, though thinning the blood is dangerous in specific situations, such as before surgery, or in those with blood-clotting issues. Aerobic exercise, and its consequent effects on respiration, heart rate and blood circulation, is a less risky, more efficient, and time-tested way to maintain health through this type of mechanism: “Aerobic Exercise – Nature’s Answer to Oxygen Deficiency”.)

Essential oils, if anything, are part of nature’s answer to oxidative stress (at least some of them are), which is a direct or indirect cause of many health problems including stroke, sun damage and cancer. However, essential oils must themselves be protected from oxidation, a degenerative process in which they lose their freshness and their therapeutic potency. This dilemma was the subject of one of my lectures in Tokyo in September 2010: Oxidative Processes and Essential Oils.

To believe that essential oils, because they sometimes contain oxygen, are therefore able to beneficially oxygenate tissues and stimulate the immune system shows an ignorance of basic biology, and the way in which essential oils interact with the body. To cite academic articles about which you clearly understand nothing is extremely unwise. Jim, you’re giving aromatherapy a bad name. And your spelling is pretty awful, which doesn’t help. I’m just saying. Similar nonsense about essential oils and oxygenation can be found here, here, here, and on many other websites.

Robert Tisserand is internationally recognized for his pioneering work in many aspects of aromatherapy since 1969 and frequent contributor to the aromaconnection blog.

Posted by Blogmistress on November 30, 2010 in Aromatherapy, Education | Permalink

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Comments

Thank you once again Robert for making sense out of a lot of nonsense. Yes, there are groups of people who are diluting and damaging the truth about aromatherapy. Yes, essential oils when used properly, purchased and sourced carefully, can do amazing things - but NOT all the things that are being attributed to them by multilevel marketing companies. As their websites proliferate and misinformation abounds, it is very good to see you taking a stand against groups that are, in fact, giving aromatherapy a bad name. In fact, we should all be doing that as individuals and within aromatherapy organizations.

Posted by: Ann Wooledge @ Wingsets | Nov 30, 2010 3:06:12 PM

Across all sectors of the natural medicine world, we encounter poorly understood, erroneous, or just plain unethical content. Most of it is usally little more than poorly written advertorial.
Thank-you for publishing this Robert.

Posted by: Margi Macdonald | Nov 30, 2010 9:36:08 PM

I think that there is a problem in comparing the amount of oxygen in the air to that which is given off from the plants, and that which may be in any given oil. The numbers 21% and '50 times' don't have much to do with each other unless one specifies a certain volume of air, a certain time period that the oxygen is being given off from the plant, and a particular volume of a partiular essential oil. This would amount to quite a time-consuming study and chemical analysis. The above argument lends little to ending this controversy. Some of the above entry was pertinent, other parts were not. The answer is not as simple as Robert's explanation.

Posted by: Charles Griffith | Dec 1, 2010 8:41:56 PM

Charles, I'm not sure whether your argument is with me, with Jim Lynn, but seems to actually be both. The fact is, plants exhale unbound oxygen, and the oxygen in essential oils is all molecularly bound. Alcohol contains oxygen, as do thousands of other molecules, but it's a huge and erroneous leap to assume that these substances are therefore useful sources of oxygen for cells.

Posted by: Robert Tisserand | Dec 2, 2010 10:02:41 PM

I think viscosity of blood in normal, so the process dont take a long time!

Posted by: starting a web design business | Jan 22, 2012 3:41:52 PM

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