Many people use essential oils to improve their health. Some of the different reasons people use essential oils include to help reduce anxiety, to improve sleep, to combat infections, relieve aches and pains, to reduce inflammation, they’re used as natural pesticides, as cleaning agents, and there are many, many other uses. Not surprisingly, people with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions can also benefit from using essential oils, which I’ll discuss in this blog post.
Over the years I’ve learned a lot about essential oils, and in 2018 a book was written by Dr. Eric Zielinski called “the Healing Power of Essential Oils”. It’s an excellent book, and one that I highly recommend. In this book he not only discusses many of the health benefits of essential oils, but also how to apply them, how to choose a reputable oil brand, etc. While those who are new to essential oils will definitely find value from reading this book, even if you have been using essential oils for many years I think you’ll greatly benefit from some of the information.
Although I’m going to mention a few pearls from Dr. Zielinski’s book in this blog post, for those who have absolutely no knowledge of essential oils I’m going to dedicate a few sentences to describe what they are. Essential oils, also known as volatile oils, are secondary metabolites of plants whose constituents are basically a complex mixture of terpenic hydrocarbons, especially monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes, and oxygenated derivatives such as aldehydes, ketones, epoxides, alcohols, and esters (1). Essential oils greatly differ in their compositions. Even the composition of essential oils extracted from the plants of the same species differ in different geographic locations (2). As for the mechanism of action of essential oils, this depends on their chemical composition (3).
Despite their name, essential oils aren’t truly essential. They are termed “essential” because they represent the very essence and the most important part of the plant. Generally, essential oils are produced through steam distillation or mechanical expression while simple plant extracts often involve the use of solvent such as acetone, ethanol or hexane for extraction (4). During distillation, water condensate is separated by gravity leaving a very small amount of volatile liquid that is the essential oil (4). As a result, they are extremely concentrated due to the nature of the extraction process.
The Application of Essential Oils
Let’s go ahead and take a look at some of the different ways that you can apply essential oils.
- Topical therapy. When applying essential oils topically they will be absorbed through the skin. Using a carrier oil such as fractionated coconut oil, olive oil, or avocado oil is recommended to dilute the essential oil, which is important since they are so concentrated. Doing this won’t reduce its effectiveness, but it will prevent skin irritation from occurring when applying the essential oil topically. Where on your body should you apply essential oils? Although many people apply essential oils to the bottom of their feet, according to Dr. Zielinski, applying essential oils to the bottom of your feet isn’t the most effective way to get the healing compounds into your bloodstream. This is based on a study that discusses transdermal drug delivery, and mentions that the genitals is said to have the highest permeability followed by skin from the head and neck region, the skin at the trunk (chest, stomach, back), the skin at the arm, and finally the skin of the legs. The authors from the same study recommend that transdermal formulations should be applied to the trunk or arm since there is usually less potential for sensitization and the lower density of hair follicles leads to better tack and ease of removal. That being said, I’m sure there are people reading this who have been applying essential oils to the bottom of their feet and still received wonderful results.
- Inhalation. Putting essential oils in a diffuser or inhaler can also be beneficial. A diffuser will break the essential oils down into very small compounds, and the air will carry these small doses into your respiratory system. As for what diffuser you should use, Dr. Zielinski recommends the ultrasonic variety.
- Oral consumption. Some essential oils are safe for ingestion, and people unknowingly ingest essential oils every day when consuming certain foods and beverages. That being said, you want to exercise caution, and it probably is a good idea to consult with an expert first. Dr. Zielinski does mention how you shouldn’t add undiluted essential oils to a beverage or capsule. As is the case when applying essential oils topically, when adding essential oils to a beverage or capsule he recommends diluting the oil with an edible carrier oil, such as coconut oil. He also recommends to limit the use to two or three drops at a time.
Choosing Quality Essential Oils
My goal isn’t to promote or criticize any specific companies, but you need to remember that not all essential oils are created equal. The chemical composition of essential oils varies widely depending upon the geographical location, botanical origin, genetics, bacterial endophytes, and extraction techniques (5).
Here are some tips to help you choose good quality essential oils:
- Try choosing an oil that is certified organic
- Find out about the sourcing
- Choose companies that use a third party to test their oils
- Request a batch report
- Test a couple of them out and see how you feel
Don’t overlook the last bullet point I listed. While it’s ideal to use essential oils that are certified organic and third-party tested, this doesn’t mean that essential oils that don’t fit under this category aren’t effective. If you’re currently using essential oils that aren’t organic and/or third party tested and are pretty certain that they are benefiting your health, then feel free to continue using them. On the other hand, if you have used such essential oils and didn’t notice any therapeutic benefits then the quality could very well have been a factor. This isn’t only true with regards to essential oils, but nutritional supplements and herbs as well.
According to Dr. Zielinski, if you try an essential oil and do not get the desired result, this doesn’t mean that the oil isn’t pure. In his book he mentioned how this may be due to the chemical constituents that are within each batch, and that you may need to try a few different brands to find the one that works best for you. This all relates to the last bullet point listed above, which is to test a few brands and see which one provides the greatest therapeutic benefits.
How To Use Essential Oils To Improve Thyroid Health
I think it’s safe to say that essential oils alone won’t provide a cure for thyroid autoimmunity. If you have Graves’ disease or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, then there are a few different ways to use essential oils to benefit your thyroid health:
1. Apply essential oils directly to your thyroid gland. Although there is no research demonstrating that rubbing essential oils on the thyroid gland will offer any benefit, some people have reported positive changes by doing this. As I mentioned earlier, always use a carrier oil when using any essential oils topically, including on the thyroid gland. As for which essential oils can be applied topically to the thyroid gland, myrrh and frankincense are commonly recommended by many natural healthcare practitioners, but other essential oils can be beneficial as well.
2. Use essential oils to improve your immune system health. While myrrh and frankincense can be rubbed directly into the thyroid gland (when combined with a carrier oil), they don’t need to be utilized this way to benefit people with Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s. Both of these essential oils can greatly help with the inflammatory component of autoimmune conditions, and I discussed this in an article entitled “Can Myrrh and Frankincense Benefit Thyroid Health?”
3. Use essential oils to address autoimmune triggers and underlying imbalances. In addition to taking anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating essential oils such as myrrh and frankincense, other essential oils can potentially address the triggers of Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s, along with some other underlying imbalances. For example, H. pylori can be an autoimmune trigger, and while I can’t say that I commonly use essential oils in patients who test positive for this, there is evidence that certain essential oils, including lemongrass, can eradicate H. pylori (6). And while essential oils won’t help to eliminate stress, certain essential oils such as lavender can help people to better cope with stress and anxiety (7) (8), which is a big factor in many health conditions.
What You Need To Know About Essential Oils Research
Although essential oils can benefit people with Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s, the truth is that there is no research showing that essential oils can specifically help people with these conditions. This isn’t to suggest that essential oils can’t help with thyroid autoimmunity (or else I wouldn’t have written this blog post), but only that there haven’t been studies which show that taking specific essential oils can benefit people with Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s. Similarly, I also mentioned earlier how numerous practitioners recommend for their thyroid and autoimmune thyroid patients to rub essential oils directly on their thyroid gland (combined with a carrier oil). While some people do find this to be helpful, this isn’t based on any research study which has demonstrated that doing so can be beneficial for thyroid health. Of course just because something isn’t in the research doesn’t mean it can’t be beneficial, and to be fair, there is also no research showing that using essential oils topically on the thyroid gland isn’t beneficial!
In Dr. Zielinski’s book he has a section entitled “Deciphering The Research”, and in this section he discusses how the majority of the research is based on “constituent studies”. In other words, these studies focus on isolated chemicals that make up essential oils, and not the oils themselves. And just because a study demonstrates a specific effect of an isolated chemical doesn’t mean the same effect will apply to the whole essential oil. In his book Dr. Zielinski gives an example of menthol, which is a constituent found in peppermint. He discusses how menthol has a different therapeutic effect than peppermint, as while peppermint does include menthol, it also includes other constituents as well.
Another thing to consider is that many studies involving essential oils are animal studies. Now to be fair, a lot of studies involve animals, and many of them are useful and in some cases can apply to humans. That being said, you can’t always apply the results of animal studies to humans.
Can Essential Oils Be Beneficial If You Had a Thyroidectomy?
While most of my patients have a thyroid gland, when doing some research for my blog post I came across another blog post written by someone who has a thyroid gland, and the author claimed that she was taking essential oils as a substitute for thyroid hormone replacement. In the comments section of her post I noticed that a few people who had thyroidectomies asked if they can benefit from taking essential oils, and a few of these people wondered if they can use essential oils instead of thyroid hormone replacement.
If someone has Hashimoto’s and an intact thyroid gland, then conceivably essential oils might help with the autoimmune component, thus reducing the damage taking place to the thyroid gland, which in turn may allow them to take this in place of levothyroxine or desiccated thyroid. This probably is an exception to the rule, although if anyone reading this has successfully used essential oils as a substitute for thyroid hormone replacement I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below. On the other hand, if someone has had a complete thyroidectomy then there is no gland to produce thyroid hormone. And while essential oils might help to support other areas of the body in someone who has had their thyroid gland removed, they won’t take the place of thyroid hormone.
Are There Risks With Taking Essential Oils?
Although the risks of using essential oils are minimal, this doesn’t mean they are risk-free. There are risks with any natural agent, including nutritional supplements, Chinese herbs, and it’s no exception with essential oils. First of all, just as anyone can have a negative reaction to an herb, it’s also possible to have a negative reaction to an essential oil. And remember that they are very concentrated, which is another reason to be cautious, and why only a few drops diluted in a carrier oil is usually required to have a therapeutic effect. In most cases people will do fine using essential oils in very small amounts topically with a carrier oil, or inhaling them through a diffuser or inhaler. As I mentioned earlier, oral consumption comes with greater risks.
What’s Your Experience With Essential Oils?
I’d love to hear about your experience with essential oils in the comments section below. If essential oils have benefited your thyroid health, immune health, or other aspects of your health please let me know! If you used essential oils and didn’t notice any improvement in your health please let me know! And if you have anything else to share that will benefit those interested in learning more about essential oils please feel to share this as well.