Essen­tial oils con­sid­ered medicine when used for treat­ment

The Western Star - - Life - Keith Roach Dr. Roach re­grets that he is un­able to an­swer in­di­vid­ual let­ters, but will in­cor­po­rate them in the col­umn when­ever pos­si­ble. Read­ers may email ques­tions to ToYourGood­[email protected]­nell.edu or re­quest an or­der form of avail­able health newslette

DEAR DR. ROACH: In a re­cent col­umn, you dis­cussed an an­ti­his­tamine and mon­telukast for al­ler­gies. We use pure essen­tial oil. Laven­der is bet­ter than drugs. — J.O.S.

AN­SWER: I con­sider any sub­stance that is taken to re­lieve a med­i­cal symp­tom or to cure or pre­vent a dis­ease to be med­i­ca­tion, or a drug.

For cen­turies, if not mil­len­nia, the drugs in the phar­ma­copeia mostly were de­rived from plants. This might mean the whole plant leaf (such as fox­glove) or pow­dered bark (from the wil­low tree), both of which still are val­ued and com­monly used med­i­ca­tions, only they have been pu­ri­fied and stan­dard­ized as digoxin and aspirin, re­spec­tively.

Laven­der essen­tial oils can be made sev­eral ways, in­clud­ing steam dis­til­la­tion and en­fleurage (us­ing a sol­vent fat to cap­ture the essen­tial oil, then ex­tract­ing the plant oil with al­co­hol). All of the meth­ods cap­ture chem­i­cals of in­ter­est from within the plant: With laven­der, there are over 100 known com­pounds; among the most sought-af­ter are linalool, per­il­lyl al­co­hol and lina­lyl ac­etate.

If used on the skin, they are quickly ab­sorbed into the blood. So, when you are us­ing laven­der essen­tial oil as a med­i­ca­tion, you are us­ing an un­reg­u­lated and largely un­stud­ied mix­ture of com­pounds. That isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing: Hu­mans have been us­ing essen­tial oils medic­i­nally for cen­turies, and laven­der is con­sid­ered gen­er­ally safe. Laven­der as aro­mather­apy has been tested and found to be ef­fec­tive in re­duc­ing anx­i­ety, for ex­am­ple.

How­ever, don’t think that nat­u­ral prod­ucts like laven­der oil are free of side ef­fects. Any sub­stance has the po­ten­tial for harm, in the right per­son and at the right con­cen­tra­tion. Laven­der oil con­tains com­pounds that have fe­male hor­mone (es­tro­gen) ac­tiv­ity and in­hibit male hor­mones (an­dro­gens), so use of laven­der oil on the skin has been re­ported to cause gy­neco­mas­tia (breast de­vel­op­ment) in boys near pu­berty. Laven­der also has coumarins (nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring chem­i­cals that are also found in clover, from which war­farin, or Coumadin, orig­i­nally was de­rived), which in the­ory might lead to bleed­ing com­pli­ca­tions in peo­ple so pre­dis­posed.

DEAR DR. ROACH: A re­cent col­umn in­cluded de­tails about Type 2 di­a­betes. As a pre­cau­tion for older guys like me (over 80), please ex­plain the de­tails of test­ing to as­cer­tain whether that dis­ease is present or not. I know that tests — A1C, for in­stance — can give some guid­ance.

What are the test lev­els (nor­mal, bor­der­line, high)? I am al­ways care­ful about things that may even­tu­ally lead to Type 2, which I want to avoid. — G.M.

AN­SWER: There are now sev­eral ways to make the di­ag­no­sis of di­a­betes, but the A1C test, a mea­sure­ment of the amount of sugar on he­mo­glo­bin, is prob­a­bly the most com­mon. It is also how we mon­i­tor its con­trol. There is no uni­ver­sally ac­cepted cut­off point for the A1C level, but the Amer­i­can Di­a­betes As­so­ci­a­tion has guide­lines that are widely used. Nor­mal is 5.6 per­cent or less. In­creased risk, also called pre­di­a­betes or impaired glu­cose tol­er­ance, is 5.7 per­cent to 6.4 per­cent. Di­a­betes is 6.5 per­cent and above.

Reg­u­lar ex­er­cise, mean­ing weight-train­ing or aer­o­bic ex­er­cise for at least 150 min­utes per week, re­duces the risk of di­a­betes. There are sev­eral types of di­ets that also re­duce di­a­betes risk: All of th­ese avoid ex­ces­sive sweets and pro­cessed starches. A few pounds of weight loss can make a dra­matic dif­fer­ence in risk as well.

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