The “oxygenation” myth

It is commonly believed in some aromatherapy circles that a major therapeutic benefit of essential oils derives from the fact that they are rich in oxygen; that they efficiently carry this oxygen to the body’s cells and tissues, and thus dramatically enhance our health. Jim Lynn, for example, writes the following paragraphs under the title “Essential Oils…Nature’s Answer To Oxygen Deficiency“:

If there is any one BIG reason for you to use essential oils everyday, it can be summed up in one word…OXYGEN! Essential oils are loaded (concentrated) with it, at least 50 times more oxygen than what the plants give off from which they are derived.

While essential oils may contain hundreds of different elements, three primary elements common to all oils are hydrogen, carbon and OXYGEN. So each time you inhale essential oils or apply them to your body, you are enriching your body with needed oxygen to purge toxins and fight off disease causing pathogens. This is why the use of essential oils on a daily basis can help you develop a superior immune system, and why people who use the oils (several times daily) seldom experience illness and disease.

One of the incredible aspects of essential oils is their ability to penetrate and carry nutrients through the cell wall to the cell nucleous. Dr. Radwan Farag, Ph.D., head of the bio- chemistry department at Cairo University, is the man accredited for documenting the oxygenating and antioxidant activity essential oils afford.

When the viscosity of blood is reduced, it’s velosity increases. By increasing its velosity, our blood is able to deliver greater amounts of oxygen to tissues. When essential oils are introduced to the blood stream, they increase circulation, thereby increasing oxygenation.

oxygen1Now here’s that same text, with added comment:

If there is any one BIG reason for you to use essential oils everyday, it can be summed up in one word…OXYGEN! Essential oils are loaded (concentrated) with it, at least 50 times more oxygen than what the plants give off from which they are derived. (How this “50 times” is calculated is left to the readers imagination, but we could compare oxygen in essential oils to atmospheric oxygen. Sea-level air contains 21% oxygen, and a 50 times greater concentration would be….well, impossible, as even five times would be more than 100%. Also, the predominant elements found in essential oil constituents are hydrogen and carbon, with oxygen, when it is found, a minor player. At best, a few essential oils might contain about the same concentration of oxygen as that found in the air. But that’s percent, not amount. There’s no way that essential oils could ever deliver as much oxygen as we inhale every time we breathe air.

While essential oils may contain hundreds of different elements (clue to ignorance of writer: there are only 94 naturally-occurring elements on planet Earth. And, only five of these can be found in essential oil constituents. All contain hydrogen and carbon (hence they are known as hydrocarbons) and some also contain oxygen. A few are found with nitrogen or sulfur.) three primary elements common to all oils are hydrogen, carbon and OXYGEN (yes, all essential oils probably do contain constituents with oxygen – but some, such as citrus oils, contain very little oxygen – only about 1%.) So each time you inhale essential oils or apply them to your body, you are enriching your body with needed oxygen to purge toxins and fight off disease causing pathogens. (There is an important difference between “free” or elemental oxygen, such as the oxygen found in the air we breathe, and “bound” or molecular oxygen, such as is found in some (NOT ALL!) essential oil constituents. Oxygen bound into a molecule has to be freed from its molecular chains before it can be used by the body as oxygen, and many oxygen-containing essential oil molecules do not release their oxygen when metabolized by the liver. When oxygen IS released, it often takes the form of potentially dangerous peroxides or free radicals. Of course it’s true that each time you inhale you enrich your body with oxygen, but essential oils have nothing to do with that process.) This is why the use of essential oils on a daily basis can help you develop a superior immune system, and why people who use the oils (several times daily) seldom experience illness and disease. (There’s an assumption here that more oxygen means a “superior” immune system. There’s also an assumption that people who use essential oils on a regular basis experience illness less often than those who don’t.)

One of the incredible aspects of essential oils is their ability to penetrate and carry nutrients through the cell wall to the cell nucleous. (There is no evidence that I am aware of showing that essential oil constituents can enhance the absorption of nutrients through cell walls, though it is a feasible concept. However, nutrients are not carried to the nucleus, they are stored in other parts of the cell.) Dr. Radwan Farag, Ph.D., head of the bio- chemistry department at Cairo University, is the man accredited for documenting the oxygenating and antioxidant activity essential oils afford. (Dr. Farag has published nothing about the “oxygenating” activity of essential oils. Nor has anyone else, as such a phenomenon does not exist. Dr Farag has indeed published two papers about the antioxidant capacity of certain essential oils, and there are hundreds of articles published by other researchers on the same general subject. You will find Dr. Farag’s articles here and here). “Antioxidant” describes the capacity of those oils to protect the body from oxidative stress – damage to cells caused by oxygen in the form of reactive oxygen species, or free radicals. Oxygen can be beneficial, but it can also be harmful.

When the viscosity of blood is reduced, it’s velosity increases. By increasing its velosity, our blood is able to deliver greater amounts of oxygen to tissues. When essential oils are introduced to the blood stream, they increase circulation, thereby increasing oxygenation. (So essential oils, all of them apparently, increase the velocity of the circulation by thinning the blood, and thus cellular oxygenation is increased. It’s an interesting thought, though thinning the blood is dangerous in specific situations, such as before surgery, or in those with blood-clotting issues. Aerobic exercise, and its consequent effects on respiration, heart rate and blood circulation, is a less risky, more efficient, and time-tested way to maintain health through this type of mechanism: “Aerobic Exercise – Nature’s Answer to Oxygen Deficiency”.)

Essential oils, if anything, are part of nature’s answer to oxidative stress (at least some of them are), which is a direct or indirect cause of many health problems including stroke, sun damage and cancer. However, essential oils must themselves be protected from oxidation, a degenerative process in which they lose their freshness and their therapeutic potency. This dilemma was the subject of one of my lectures in Tokyo in September 2010: Oxidative Processes and Essential Oils.

To believe that essential oils, because they sometimes contain oxygen, are therefore able to beneficially oxygenate tissues and stimulate the immune system shows an ignorance of basic biology, and the way in which essential oils interact with the body. To cite academic articles about which you clearly understand nothing is extremely unwise. Jim, you’re giving aromatherapy a bad name. And your spelling is pretty awful, which doesn’t help. I’m just saying. Similar nonsense about essential oils and oxygenation can be found here, herehere, and on many other websites.

25 comments to The “oxygenation” myth

  • Great article Robert. It amazes me how myths can be circulated so quickly as truth. To think that because a molecule has oxygen as part of its molecular formula is related to oxygen transport in the blood is absurd. Thanks for the continual effort to educate, its increasingly important in this internet age.

  • Fantastic Robert! Thanks for taking the time to debunk misinformation!!

  • louise

    thankyou robert for taking the time to “debunk” this particular myth. it does give aromatherapy a bad name, good on you for clearing it!!!!!

  • Thank you Robert for this good response to “Jim Lynn?” Who is he and where does he get this information? Appreciate the information which I will pass on to my students.
    Connie Henry, ND, RN, CHF, CADS

  • Thanks for debunking yet another myth about essential oils. I will pass this along to my students!

  • Thanks Robert forthis interesting article and comments
    I will share this with my aromathwrapy stdents tonight.

  • Kelly Holland Azzaro

    Thanks Robert. I will put a link to this info. in the upcoming NAHA enewsletter. I will share w/my students too.

  • Great article — it gave me food for thought; just because something is written, does not make it true. It is wise to read articles with an investigative approach; truth vs reality. Thank you.

  • Guen Innes

    Thanks – I am very keen to use evidence-based practice and it’s good to know I can come here to find help with sorting “real” evidence from “popular” (aka made-up) “evidence”.

  • Bless you Robert! I just came across this today again and had meant to comment when I first saw it. This nonsense was the final straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back teaching that assured me I needed to get out of the multi-level-marketing program where I was first introduced to essential oils. That was many years ago, but this was one of the main things they were teaching that I knew not to be true. The other things they taught I had no other frame of reference at that time. That’s when I started searching for answers and I wish I’d had your blog back then! So glad you’re voice is loud and clear now. Thanks for bringing it to the forefront because apparently people are still believing it.

  • Interesting article Robert and to be honest, I have not heard of this before. If it comes up I am grateful to be aware of it. I find this to be a big problem with online articles. I always stick to the professionals in our field that I know of and who have a very good reputation.
    x

  • Rolf Pechukas

    Jim Lynn’s thesis may be riddled with bunk (it is), but you may be missing two significant points – one, that essential oils can encourage a deeper breath by being interesting-smelling, which does indeed increase air volume in the lungs and, hence, amount of oxygen. You could of course accomplish the same thing by simply breathing deeper, or running, or doing yoga, etc, but more air is more air. And two, that essential oils may open bronchial passages and capillaries, which in turn can increase the amount of oxygen processed by the lungs and getting into the blood – neither of these effects should be dismissed, even though much of the rest of what he says can be – thanks, Rolf in MA

  • Very good article Robert. It provided me a much better understanding of oxygen or not in essential oils. I may be guilty of saying they add more oxygen to your blood. I’ll check myself on that point. Thanks for the great information.

  • Of the many myths about essential oils and aromatherapy I must admit this one slipped past me. I am happy to have the real facts about oxygen and plant essences and love your comments on oxidative stress. I will file this one away for students and future Q & A’s.

  • Thanks so much Robert. I so enjoyed this article and am very eager to share this with our students. There is SOOOOO much misinformation out there regarding EO’s.

  • I see the name Gary Young on all these articles. I really wish people would investigate his claims on their own instead of believing blindly. I hate the nonsense about essential oils being the blood of the plant. Forget the fact that most plants don’t have essential oils yet they live……..

  • Just sent a link to this article to someone who wanted to know if our Frankincense is distilled at low heat so the oxygen would not be destroyed. sigh…. Just thinking if I send her a GC of the oil that will PROVE it’s not as good as someone else’s because the analysis does NOT list Oxygen as a component. ;)

  • Thanks so much for good sound science. I am a fan of using essential oils, and enjoy educating people on how to use them, but I am constantly amazed at all the CRAP that is out there that goes against everything we know to be true. Some of the large essential oil companies are the worst for trying to pass off false promotional material as “fact” and “science.” and I am constantly trying to undo all the harm I believe they are doing. Thanks for the article!

  • Kate

    Where is the LIKE button? I have a lot of reading to do!!! Thank you for this information. I just received your book yesterday and although it appears largely to be over my head.. I am so glad to have it.
    It’s so important to understand all about these oils. This isn’t just a see how many I can bring to the oils as it is to truly understand how to properly explain so as to let others make their own choice.

  • robert

    Thanks Kate, and it’s not just you – it takes anyone years to get to grips with essential oils. The book is heavy reading, but it’s also an educational tool. I hope it will help open your doors of perception!

  • Your statement: “One of the incredible aspects of essential oils is their ability to penetrate and carry nutrients through the cell wall to the cell nucleus. (There is no evidence that I am aware of showing that essential oil constituents can enhance the absorption of nutrients through cell walls, though it is a feasible concept. However, nutrients are not carried to the nucleus, they are stored in other parts of the cell.)”

    Are you arguing their inability to penetrate the cell and carry nutrients or what exactly the essential oils can provide us as they penetrate the cell?

  • robert

    The statement: “One of the incredible aspects of essential oils is their ability to penetrate and carry nutrients through the cell wall to the cell nucleous.” was not said by me, I was quoting someone else, and I am saying it is incorrect. Essential oil constituents can absolutely penetrate cell walls, but there is no evidence that they carry nutrients into a cell.

  • Gina

    Of course it’s from YL. As annoyed as I get with all the MLM pseudoscience, at least you can tell at one glance where the info is coming from, since there’s always a prominent link to enroll.

    Thank you for this…I’ve learned so much in the past few weeks from your writing!

  • thanks for yet more intelligent myth busting facts. keep them coming! :-)

  • Gabriel Mojay

    It’s one thing for an uneducated layperson to tout this myth, but quite incredible when it is taught by someone, as in the video linked below, who was apparently awarded a PhD in Molecular Cell Biology from Texas A&M University…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuOTNazDV6c

    I note that he is a member of the Young Living Scientific Advisory Council:

    http://www.youngliving.com/en_US/company/scientificadvisorycouncil

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