Part 6: Complexity and Synergy—Synergy

The word “synergy” is derived from the Greek word synergi, which means “to work together.” This term is used to describe how collectively the whole is more important than the sum of its isolated pieces. Single essential oil constituents have been widely studied and demonstrated for their profound health benefits. For simplicity’s sake, isolating individual constituents is common practice as scientists try to identify, name, and categorize those constituents. Additionally, single constituents are often used in their isolated form as additives in cosmetic, pharmaceutical and food products to enhance their beneficial properties. However, as the science behind essential oils continues to grow, we have a better understanding of the whole oil’s physiologic functionality. An isolated constituent reacts differently than does the entire profile of constituents. An isolated constituent also acts differently when in the presence of other constituents. Although an isolated constituent may demonstrate a specific chemical or beneficial property, this may not necessarily be reflective of the oil as a whole. In nature, no constituent ever works alone, but instead interacts with all other constituents to create a more beneficial whole essential oil. There is also increased safety in variety. A complex profile of constituents covers a broader range of health applications, while also preventing a concentrated abundance of one constituent to minimize the risk for toxicity.

Several studies have demonstrated the principle of synergy. Let’s look at a few pertinent examples.

Example 1: Effectively disinfecting surfaces, and other commonly used items is a critical part of maintaining health. One study examined the effectiveness of pure eucalyptus oil compared to isolated 1, 8-cineole, a constituent recognized as the active cleansing agent in many essential oils, at eliminating microorganisms. The eucalyptus oil was shown to be significantly more effective than isolated 1, 8-cineol against potential environmental threats. These notable differences in efficacy suggest that the minor constituents in essential oils contribute a synergistic effect that improves the beneficial effects of an oil as a whole. (Hendry ER, Et Al. 2009)

Example 2: Research surrounding the ability of essential oils to support healthy cell function is continuing to expand. One study tested the effectiveness of mandarin essential oil compared to its major constituent limonene. Although both the mandarin oil and isolated limonene showed a powerful inhibitory effect on the damaged cells, the whole essential oil was more effective overall. Researchers attributed this to the mandarin oil’s minor constituents, which contributed a synergistic effect to limonene's ability to support healthy DNA and cell growth. Overall, the essential oil is more effective than just one of its isolated constituents, in turn allowing the whole essential oil to exhibit a more powerful effect than an isolated constituent. (Manassero CA, Et Al. 2013)


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