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Pharmacology of Essential Oils

Contributed by Dr. Damian Rodiguez, DHSc, MS

Despite thousands of years of historical use, decades of modern research, and thousands of peer-reviewed scientific studies detailing essential oil benefits, the understanding of the most effective methods of application (especially internal use) and the quantity necessary to experience these benefits is still in its early stages. The FDA does not classify essential oils as “drugs”, but because of their effects on the body, to develop effective usage models, we must use the same framework used to explore pharmaceuticals: pharmacological investigation. For those who did not have the opportunity to attend the 2019 Together Convention, Dr. Cody Beaumont PhD., Sr. Director, Research and Quality Control, discussed some of the early findings of doTERRA’s groundbreaking pharmacology research.

The Two Branches of Pharmacological Study

You are likely already familiar with the term pharmacokinetics, but there are actually two main branches of pharmacological study. Simply put, pharmacokinetics is the study of how an organism (in the case of doTERRA’s studies, a human) affects a substance. Pharmacodynamics is the investigation of how a substance affects an organism. As Dr. Beaumont says, “pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics (PK/PD) are like anatomy and physiology or quality assurance and quality control; you can’t really know one without the other.” When conducting pharmacological research, we are primarily looking at how a substance (essential oils) imitates or influences normal physiological (normal function of humans) or pathological (relating to a disease state) processes. This generally involves seven specific actions: stimulating action, depressing action, blocking or antagonizing action, stabilizing an action, exchanging/replacing or hoarding substances as a reserve, directing beneficial chemical reactions, or directing harmful chemical reactions.

Pharmacological Research at doTERRA

The study design of the pharmacological work being conducted at doTERRA is straightforward and standardized, but nonetheless pioneering, as it has never been conducted with essential oils. Study participants are given a specified dose (for internal use), then blood samples are collected at specified times and analyzed for three measurements:

Cmax: the highest concentration of the substance in the blood within a specified area of the body after administration and prior to a second dose.

Cmin: the lowest concentration of the substance in the blood within a specified area of the body after administration and prior to a second dose.

Half-life: how much time is necessary for the concentration of the substance in the blood to be reduced by half.

The Results

During the pre-convention preparation, data collection was completed for three essential oil containing substances: Turmeric Dual Chamber Capsules, Copaiba Softgels, and a 300 mg Lavender capsule. As believed based upon previous research, the combination of turmeric essential oil and turmeric extract proved a valid answer to the biggest problem with most turmeric extract supplements: high bioavailability without the toxicity risk. We also determined that complete absorption of Copaiba Softgels occurs within two hours. With the Lavender capsule, its dominant constituent, linalool, exhibited shockingly rapid elimination, with half-life occurring in a single hour.

What Does This Mean for Me?

With a further understanding of the concentration (max and min) and the half-life of active compounds or compounds of interest, doTERRA is able to more precisely evaluate dosing. With half-life data, we can define the dosing interval to achieve blood levels to sustain the wanted effects in the most effective manner. Once we know the pharmacokinetic parameters of a compound, we can tailor benefits specifically to the needs of anyone using that essential oil. And this information is not just valuable for those using essential oils at home; it provides an evidence base for use in clinical settings. With this information available to physicians, they can feel comfortable using essential oils as complements or even alternatives to current treatments knowing that they have undergone the same scientific evaluation to determine efficacy and safety.

The Future of Essential Oil Science

The next step is continued data collection, gathering this pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamics data for more essential oils and for the individual compounds that make up essential oils. Then a series of publications that will allow the scientific and medical communities to evaluate and share the findings. This powerful research will change how essential oils are experienced, used, and viewed and allow doTERRA to develop evidence-based usage models and continue providing the most efficacious essential oils on the market.

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