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My wife was encouraged to try several doTERRA "essential oils". She's convinced (through anecdotal evidence and perhaps the placebo effect) that different oils have been effective in treating "constipation, tummy aches, fevers and immunity" in my family.

She dismisses my argument that if these oils were actually effective in treating the conditions doTERRA claims, the evidence would be abundant and well-documented.

If these oils are physically harmful I certainly want to know. But even if they're not, they're expensive, and (more importantly) I'm concerned that my wife is not modeling the kind of skeptical attitude I'd like to encourage in my children.

I did a web search (for "doterra skeptic" and "doterra evidence") and mostly found what I think is a result of doTERRA's SEO.

Can anyone recommend sources for reliable information on doTERRA's products?

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I wish whoever down-voted my question had taken the time to add a comment explaining why. –  Daryl Spitzer Mar 15 '12 at 5:30
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I didn't downvote you, but your question is not really challenging a notable claim. Maybe include some references quoting the claims made about the oils? –  Sonny Ordell Mar 16 '12 at 11:51
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I would also like an answer. I've been doing the same search and any sort of criticism is blanketed by the doterra reps. That in itself is fishy. –  Ann Jun 29 '12 at 19:54
    
Mineral oil definitely helps move bowels. Does that count? mayoclinic.com/health/drug-information/DR602359 –  Abe Aug 29 '12 at 5:40
    
@Abe - Mineral oil isn't an essential oil. –  rob Jan 14 '13 at 14:51
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2 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Introduction

This is actually a tougher question to answer than you might think as we need to look at each of the claims (i.e. treatment of constipation, tummy aches, fevers and immunity) individually. I've tried to check to see what the most common treatment recommendations are by alternative medicine practitioners so that we aren't just randomly coming up with treatments.

First, we must remind ourselves exactly what an essential oil is:

An essential oil is a concentrated hydrophobic liquid containing volatile aroma compounds from plants.

So with that in mind, I'm going to write this from the standpoint that a naturally produced essential oil may contain some difference that a synthetic fragrance oil may or may not have due to the chemistry of the oil.

Constipation

Interestingly, searching seems to imply that there are several different oils that are recommended for use (1, 2, 3) and a common means of application for all of them, namely:

Application should be twice a day, once in the evening and then first thing in the morning. Each session should last 5 to 7 minutes. Massage should follow the direction of peristalsis following the movement of food - clockwise start and the lower right part of the lower abdomen where the appendix might me and up the ascending colon, across the transverse colon and down the descending colon ending at the top of the pubis.

This is very interesting as massage is actually mentioned as an alternative treatment by the Mayo Clinic and following up on this I find that it appears that massage in and of itself may be effective at reliving the symptoms of constipation. If this is the case than it is highly possible that the essential oils themselves have no effect but the means of applying them might be the actual cause of the relief of symptoms.

"Tummy Aches"

"Tummy aches", or stomach aches, or the much more generic abdominal pain is quite broad and turning to the Mayo Clinic again we get this list of potential causes:

  • Indigestion
  • Constipation
  • Stomach "flu"
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Food poisoning
  • Food allergies
  • Gas
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Ulcers
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Hernia
  • Gallstones
  • Kidney stones
  • Endometriosis
  • Crohn's disease
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Appendicitis

One of the interesting things about this list is that there are a number of cases where an stomach ache might be a temporary or transitive symptom. In which case the use of essential oils might just be coincidence as the symptom is going to go away regardless meaning that confirmation bias can play role.

Fevers

Fevers are another tough one to follow-up on as they can fluctuate throughout the day which means that confirmation bias can play a role again if someone sees a fever break following the application of an essential oil. Also, if other forms of fever management are being used in additional to essential oils then the other treatments may play a larger role as well. Lavender commonly gets mentioned as a treatment for fever, but it has the problem of being combined with other common treatments for fever and it's effects, if any, are not easy to isolate.

Immunity

This is a very interesting as Tea Tree Oil is known to be an effective treatment as an antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal. It has even been shown to be effective against MRSA. So this is an area were we can give a firm yes to the effectiveness of an essential oil; however, this applies to a specific oil in much the same way that willow bark can be effective for aches and pains: individual oils may be effective, but as a whole you cannot just randomly select one and expect it to be effective.

Summary

It is already well know that various scents can have an effect upon a person by siring up memories or having an affect upon your mood. This means that some essential oils may help in some situations just by virtue of changing your mood giving you a more positive outlook. As shown though, some essential oils can have effects; however, in most cases they are unlikely to have an effect or their application might have a greater effect than the oils themselves.

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doTERRA is a brand of essential oils.

The US National Cancer Institute published a summary of published, peer-reviewed, clinical scientific studies into aromatherapy and essential oils.

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Sorry, but I'm going to have to down vote this answer for now. I looked through all of the articles that were listed in the summary and my biggest issues is that all of the results generally relate to applications in cancer and palliative care which is generally going to have different concerns versus general treatment. –  rob Jul 13 '12 at 12:12
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protected by Community Jul 9 '13 at 8:20

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