Posted by: Christopher Maloney, Naturopathic Doctor | August 29, 2015

Eating Less? You May Not Lose Weight. Here’s Why.

The bottom line is that our bottoms are getting larger. The solution, according to nearly everyone, is to eat less and move more. I’m all for moving more, but I don’t think eating less does what we think it does. Here’s a study from 2007: “obese subjects participating in LCD (Low Calorie Diet) programs have a weight loss less than half of that predicted.” (study here)

We would all assume that those obese subjects were simply cheating on their diets. Our logic about diet is circular. Since obesity is caused by eating too much, eating less is the solution. But if eating less doesn’t work, then rather than look at this assumption we assume the person must be at fault. In other words, you’re either fat because you lack willpower or because you lie. No wonder obesity continues to be an area where mockery and discrimination continue to be tolerated.

The only people who can change this image are the doctors making the diagnoses. They need to be recognizing that the treatment doesn’t work. Instead we perpetuate the stereotype: “(a)ny clinician who works with patients struggling to lose weight or to maintain weight loss has observed a common paradox: that, on the basis of how much our overweight or obese patients may tell us they are eating and exercising, we believe they should be losing weight, but they aren’t. In fact, in this process of expending more energy than they consume, sometimes our patients actually gain weight. Unfortunately, clinicians may conclude—mainly out of frustration—that these patients are not being completely truthful (either with us or themselves) or that all they need is more willpower.” (article here)

As the population ages, few doctors or patients realize that the studies done on weight loss are overwhelmingly done on younger patients. We have very few long term studies on caloric restriction long term on older patients. (review here) If a person happens to be African American, we have almost no information: “African American men were an exclusive sample in only four studies” (out of 1,403). (review here)

The short term studies on weight loss are positive. Almost any diet can work short term: “At 12 months, Weight Watchers participants achieved at least 2.6% greater weight loss than those assigned to control/education. Jenny Craig resulted in at least 4.9% greaterweight loss at 12 months than control/education and counseling. Nutrisystem resulted in at least 3.8% greater weight loss at 3 months than control/education and counseling. Very-low-calorie programs (Health Management Resources, Medifast, and OPTIFAST) resulted in at least 4.0% greater short-term weight loss than counseling, but some attenuation of effect occurred beyond 6 months when reported. Atkins resulted in 0.1% to 2.9% greater weight loss at 12 months than counseling. Results for SlimFast were mixed. We found limited evidence to evaluate adherence or harms for all programs and weight outcomes for other commercial programs.” (review here) This review gives more information than an older review that mentions other commercial programs: “We found studies of, Health Management Resources, Take Off Pounds Sensibly, OPTIFAST, and Weight Watchers. Of 3 randomized, controlled trials of Weight Watchers, the largest reported a loss of 3.2% of initialweight at 2 years. One randomized trial and several case series of medically supervised very-low-calorie diet programs found that patients who completed treatment lost approximately 15% to 25% of initial weight. These programs were associated with high costs, high attrition rates, and a high probability of regaining 50% or more of lost weight in 1 to 2 years. Commercial interventions available over the Internet and organized self-help programs produced minimal weight loss.” (older review here)

Anyone doing the math will realize that after a year of trying a diet, the average person did not lose a dramatic amount of weight. But does the weight loss continue? Unfortunately not. “At 12 months, the 10 RCTs comparing popular diets to usual care revealed that only WW was consistently more efficacious at reducing weight (range of mean changes: -3.5 to -6.0 kg versus -0.8 to -5.4 kg; P<0.05 for 3/4 RCTs). However, the 2 head-to-head RCTs suggest that Atkins (range: -2.1 to -4.7 kg), WW (-3.0 kg), Zone (-1.6 to -3.2 kg), and control (-2.2 kg) all achieved modest longterm weight loss. Twenty-four-month data suggest that weight lost with Atkins or WW is partially regained over time.” (review here)

Adding drugs to the weight loss mix seems to support a small amount of short term weight loss. But that came with “higher frequencies of adverse gastrointestinal events.” (review here)

The reality is that: “Behavioural weight management interventions consistently produce 8-10% reductions in body weight, yet most participants regain weight after treatment ends…” This particular study found that extending the treatment program kept the weight off longer. (Study here)

As a result of frustration, many people are getting gastric surgery, which is seen as a solution for obesity. Few seem to realize that overall surgery will not solve, but only improve (drop the BMI by about 5) obesity. It is also not a solution. A significant proportion of those receiving surgery had to have reoperations or suffered complications. (review here) A recent review of the surgery found that less than 1% of surgical studies followed up on the long term benefits or effects of the surgery. (review here)

Liposuction, the celebrity weight solution, has amazingly little data to support it. The long term effects are that it tends to grow back: “evidence from experimental and clinical studies, which support fat redistribution and compensatory fat growth, as a result of feedback mechanisms, triggered by fat removal” (study here). The reason is that: “Adipose tissue (fat) is considered as an endocrine organ, which is developed in specific depots…” Cutting out part of an organ doesn’t make that organ go away. It causes it to regenerate.

But there may be light at the end of the tunnel. More researchers are beginning to recognize the complexity involved with weight loss. One aspect is that we, like other mammals, may experience seasonal weight fluctuations. Perhaps, just perhaps, Mainers should NOT attempt a diet frenzy with six feet of snow on the ground. Forget New Year! Think about dieting when mud season shows up. (study here, and here)

The true treatment of obesity involves dealing with the complexity, and it cannot be done within the context of a fifteen minute office visit.

“other factors contribute to a patient’s overall health and, therefore, to his or her actual ability to lose weight in a sustainable and healthy way. These factors include:

  • Psychological stress levels
  • Exercise history
  • Dietary history
  • Hormone balance
  • Quality and amount of sleep
  • Toxic chemical exposure (for example, alcohol, tobacco, processed foods, caffeine, and pharmaceutical drugs)” (complete abstract here)

So the first step to achieving lifelong weight loss is getting a health care partner who will take the time to go through your history, fears, past failures, and concerns in depth. It’s time to put the care back into healthcare.

Posted by: Christopher Maloney, Naturopathic Doctor | August 26, 2015

Need More Creativity? Move More.

Stanford researchers have discovered the seat of creativity, and frontal lobe -you’re not it. Turns out that the cerebellum, an area we associate with cave person shambling movement more than Michaelango’s paintings, is the seat of creativity. Too much executive frontal lobe involvement, just like too much middle management, is the death of creativity.

The study, based on doing Pictionary style words while in an MRI (now there’s a party game that has yet to catch on), showed that the cerebellum, not the frontal lobe, was where creativity took place. Frontal lobe efforts were graded far less creative. (Here’s the study).

So the next time you want to be creative, maybe its time to stop staring at the screen and time to start moving. Engage your inner cave creative.

Posted by: Christopher Maloney, Naturopathic Doctor | August 25, 2015

Influenza Vaccination: Why Grampa Should Hold Off Until October To Get One.

So this year’s influenza recommendations are out, with a couple of surprises. First, everyone should get one, BUT kids under two should NOT get the live version. Nor should anyone over 49. I’m not sure why a fifty-year-old is suddenly less immune, but that’s the guideline. “The recommendations note that a statistically significant decrease in antibody titers occurs by 6 months after vaccination for people ≥65 years of age.” So if you are aware that the maximum peak of influenza season occurs in February, often continuing through April here in Maine, then holding off on the vaccine until at least October seems like the safest choice.

Now, there’s always a question about whether this year’s vaccine will be effective. The answer is that we (anyone currently living) don’t know. “The incidence of medically attended influenza varies greatly by year and even by geographic region within the same year. The number of cases averted by vaccination varies greatly based on overall incidence and on vaccine coverage.” (study here)

If we look at last year’s numbers: “during November 10, 2014-January 2, 2015. During this period, overall vaccine effectiveness (VE) (adjusted for study site, age, sex, race/ethnicity, self-rated health, and days from illness onset to enrollment) against laboratory-confirmed influenza associated with medically attended ARI was 23% (95% confidence interval [CI] = 8%-36%)” (study here). So whether or not you get the vaccine in September, you want to do everything else you can do to avoid getting influenza. I’ve compiled a list of some other options:

Posted by: Christopher Maloney, Naturopathic Doctor | August 24, 2015

Laser Scan Instead of Biopsy for Skin Cancer: Results In Half An Hour.

It’s so nice to get a really useful piece of technology. Researchers using a laser scan were completely accurate (100%) predicting whether a mole was cancerous. (article here) Anyone who’s been concerned will appreciate getting that kind of feedback, although they’ve just done the preliminary study.

My concern about skin biopsies has always been that by the time you’ve got the results the cancer may have spread. If this works out, the dermatologist could get the results and perform the complete removal in the same visit. Much preferable.

Posted by: Christopher Maloney, Naturopathic Doctor | August 19, 2015

Does Tea Tree Oil And Lavender Oil Cause Breasts In Little Boys? A Mayo Clinic Overreaction.

A patient emailed me concerned about using tea tree shampoo on her child. Here she is trying to do right by her children, and here’s the Mayo Clinic weighing in that tea tree oil can cause breasts in little boys. I was initially shocked, but there it is on the Mayo Clinic site.

“Avoid applying to the skin in boys before puberty, as this could cause reversible gynecomastia (growth of breast tissue) with tea tree oil and lavender oil.” (Mayo site here)

Goodness! How did I miss this dramatic hormonal action by tea tree and lavender oil? Rejoice, ladies, I guess we’ve got a cure for menopause. Forget your estrogen replacement, because clearly these essential oils are so powerful they can reverse the natural course of male puberty. 

But maybe you should hang onto your estrogen replacement for a moment. The Mayo Clinic information is based on a single article published in 2007, combining anecdotal reports from three patients. All three boys had gynecomastia (breast tissue growth) which occurs in 60 percent of boys during puberty. It is far more rare in boys before puberty, and 90% of those cases are unknown. So imagine the authors’ excitement at possibly finding a cause.

Reading through the report, a couple of things stand out. The three boys are four, ten, and seven.

Last time I checked, the ten-year-old is on the line for puberty, and after discontinuing the hair gel and shampoo with tea tree oil and the lavender products his breast bud development did not disappear, only decreased.

Of the other two boys, the four-year-old was getting a healing balm containing lavender to his skin, and his breast buds resolved four to seven months after mom stopped using the balm.

The third boy used: “lavender-scented soap and intermittent use of lavender-scented commercial skin lotions. The gynecomastia resolved completely a few months after use of scented soap and skin lotions was discontinued (personal communication from the patient’s family). His fraternal twin used the same skin lotions, but not the lavender-scented soap, and did not have any gynecomastia.”

OK, to recap, one boy reached puberty at ten, which may or may not have been sped up by any oil use. One boy had a cream applied that may or may not have affected breast buds that resolved seven months later. And one boy stopped using lavender soaps that his twin continued to use. Both twins now no longer have gynecomastia. Of the three, only one boy used tea tree at all, in combination with lavender. So why do we include tea tree at all?

Because our study researchers went on to test both tea tree and lavender on human breast cancer cell lines to look for estrogen-like effects. Never mind that human breast cancer cell lines do not hopefully have any equivalence at all to young boys’ healthy breast tissue. I think the results speak for themselves:

“Other components in these products may also possess endocrine-disrupting activity that contributed to the gynecomastia, but those components were not tested because we chose to evaluate only the component that was found in all the products used by the patients (lavender oil) and a chemically similar component that was found in some of the products (tea tree oil).

Our in vitro studies confirm that lavender oil and tea tree oil possess weak estrogenic and antiandrogenic activities…threshold might depend on several undefined factors, including the concentration of the oil in a product; the duration, frequency, and quantity of use of the product; and the genetic characteristics of persons exposed. Until epidemiologic studies are performed to determine the prevalence of gynecomastia associated with exposure to lavender oil and tea tree oil, we suggest that the medical community should be aware of the possibility of endocrine disruption” (complete study here)

So, is the testing of human cancer cell lines proof that the boys were affected? Not according to a follow-up study on tea tree oil that shows the compounds that are estrogenic are not absorbed. “The estrogenic potency of TTO was confirmed, but none of the bioavailable TTO constituents demonstrated estrogenicity.” (study here)

For lavender oil, the evidence is absolute for huge quantities: “Based on these data, lavender oil, at dosages of 20 or 100 mg/kg, was not active in the rat uterotrophic assay and gave no evidence of estrogenic activity.” (study here)

But shouldn’t we avoid anything that might possibly cause estrogen issues? No. Doing the same cell line testing, researchers found that everything they tested on human breast cancer cells had either an estrogenic or anti-estrogenic effect. We’re talking about things like petroleum jelly and cocoa butter skin cream. (study here) So unless you want to forego all skin products, I’d have to say that simply being aware that it’s a possibility is all you need to do.

OK, so that brings us back to the Mayo Clinic’s website and recommendation. They’re citing a single, highly questionable, anecdotal study that has been debunked by more recent research. And they aren’t using the language that the researchers used. The researchers suspected that there might be a correlation. The Mayo Clinic added causation.

For comparison, let me argue the following: I want to market Tea tree oil as estrogenic, based on the anecdotal story of one boy who, while reaching puberty, developed breast buds while using a combination product that contained tea tree. For some reason, I think the medical community would have a problem with my “unfounded” claims. Yet the Mayo Clinic is prepared to advise complete avoidance on the same evidence. I think I’m going to have to stop using the Mayo as a reference source.

Posted by: Christopher Maloney, Naturopathic Doctor | August 19, 2015

Does Carrageenan Cause Cancer?

If you haven’t heard about the controversy regarding carrageenan, then you’ve missed out on yet another food panic. Carrageenan is used as a thickening agent in a wide variety of foods, including organic food and baby food. If it causes inflammation, and has been linked cancer, then that’s a problem we should all be concerned about. Especially if it’s an additive to health foods like Stonyfield, Dean Foods, Hain Celestial, etc.

Carrageenan is extracted from red seaweed, which is good. But its manufacturer uses solvents to extract it and those solvents may stay in the finished product, which is bad.

Carrageenan can also be degraded into another compound in the gut, poligeenan. As far as I know, no one is defending poligeenan. According to critics, poligeenan clearly causes inflammation and is used in animal studies to test anti-inflammatory drugs. The question is whether carrageenan becomes poligeenan in the human gut. Carrageenan is made using alkaline solvents, while poligeenan is produced from the same seaweed using acid solvents. It’s an understandable concern that carrageenan is converted to poligeenan in the gut by the stomach acid. Even if it doesn’t convert, the carrageenan may be contaminated before it gets into us: “even the carrageenan manufacturers have no reliable way of determining the levels of contamination with degraded carrageenan (poligeenan) in their food-grade products.” (Cornicopia Institute report)

The basis of the push to ban carrageenan comes from the Cornicopia Institute, a watchdog group for family farms. They published a report on carrageenan in 2013 which states: “Animal studies have repeatedly shown that food-grade carrageenan causes gastrointestinal inflammation and higher rates of intestinal lesions, ulcerations, and even malignant tumors.” (complete report here)

Sounds like we should definitely ban this thickener, particularly as: “carrageenan adds no nutritional value or flavor to foods or beverages.” (Cornicopia institute report). In looking at the scientific studies presented by the Cornicopia Institute dating back to the 1960s, I found several things.

First, if you’re a guinea pig or a rat, carrageenan is bad for you. We’ve shown this since the 1960s, as well as showing that carrageenan did not do the same things to squirrel monkeys, hamsters, or ferrets.The rats also got tumors from eating too much carrageenan. Second, everyone who did a study that says that carrageenan is good has ties to carrageenan manufacturers and should be ignored. Third, Tabacman et al., think that carrageenan is really bad for you, causing inflammation and cancer in human gut cells. They are the only group who’ve done their studies. Although they are funded by the NIH, I’d like to see another independent group repeat their studies.

If you believe the manufacturers, there’s no truth in these claims. A review says: ” Dietary CGN has been shown to lack carcinogenic, tumor promoter, genotoxic, developmental, and reproductive effects in animal studies. CGN in infant formula has been shown to be safe in infant baboons and in an epidemiology study on human infants at current use levels.” (review here)

Then, I always think it is wise to go looking on my own. Here are some studies I found myself. When I did so, I suddenly wondered why these studies weren’t discussed in the Cornicopia report. Sure, maybe these are all by carrageenan manufacturers, but it’s worth mentioning that carrageenan might not be all bad.

I have to start this off with an abstract quotation: “Red seaweeds are popular and economically important worldwide and also well known for their medicinal effects due to the presence of phycocolloids. Carrageenans, the major phycocolloid group of red algae, have been extensively investigated for their vast array of bioactivities such as anticoagulant, antiviral, cholesterol-lowering effects, immunomodulatory activity, and antioxidant. Carrageenan possesses promising activity both in vitro and in vivo, showing promising potential to be developed as therapeutic agents” (abstract here).

So, what if the initial claim against carrageenan, that it has no value in the human diet, was false? What if it did have some possible value?

OK, now we start down the rabbit hole. It turns out that not all carrageenan is created equal. We’ve got all sorts of carrageenan from all sorts of species. How am I supposed to know if the carrageenan in a particular study is the same sort of carrageenan that is used as a food additive?

Then, looking for clarification, I find that food additive carrageenan also has a variety of species and properties. That enticing literature is here. But, using those additive species as a guide, I can find some information on carrageenan. Here are some things that the Cornicopia Institute didn’t say about carrageenan.

“We also review data obtained using animal models that demonstrate the potency of carrageenan and chitosan as antiendotoxin agents” (here)

“the antiviral actions of the sulfated polysaccharides derived from marine algae including carrageenans, alginates, and fucans” (here)

“carrageenans, fucoidan, sesquiterpene hydroquinones, and other classes of compounds with anti-HIV activity” (here)

carrageenan and ulvan biopolymeric gels, that have been proposed for engineering cartilage” (here)

On the one hand, we have the Cornicopia Institute and an NIH researcher saying that carrageenan is basically poison. On the other hand, we have studies that say carrageenan might be very useful and healthy. Who do we believe?

In the Cornicopia report, a range of anecdotal reports from a survey they produced feature prominently. The individuals in the survey experienced a relief of their symptoms by discontinuing carrageenan-containing products. While these people got better, this doesn’t make me want to ban carrageenan. Avoiding it seemed to do the trick for these people. And I’m left with the sense that those who avoided carrageenan and didn’t have resolution wouldn’t be likely to be writing in.

The researcher, Tabacman, is presented by the Cornicopia Institute as truly independent and without an agenda. But a quick glance at the literature shows Tabacman is not satisfied with carrageenan in the diet causing colon cancer. She goes so far as to hypothesize that carrageenan intake is responsible for the increases in breast cancer. (here) Now, I’m willing to think about carrageenan causing diabetes, colon cancer, and a host of GI problems, but I’m having a little difficulty with directly linking it to what is known as primarily a hormonal cancer. Tabacman bases her hypothesis on the idea that carrageenan “undergoes acid hydrolysis to poligeenan” in the human body and then finds its way to the breast tissue.

So, if we accept that all other researchers are on the take and just out to get the poor consumer based on what the Cornicopia Institute says and Tabacman confirms, how can we look for any other point of view?

Surely the answer lies in our meat crop. While we might assume that consumers can eat whatever they want, anything that threatens our meat crop costs dollars and must be avoided. So we might possibly trust reports on whether baby pigs destined for slaughter into bacon benefit from carrageenan or get sickly on the terrible stuff. First, the researchers tested whether carrageenan degraded in the pig formula. It did not. (here) Next, they tested the plasma of the baby pigs. All the baby pigs did have some level of poligeenan (the degraded, bad form of carrageenan). It ranged from 10 micrograms to 100 micrograms per milliter. As the pigs were not fed any poligeenan, this was the conversion rate for baby pigs. (here) So even if we accept that consumers are being hoodwinked by big agribusiness, the reality is that the likely conversion rate of carrageenan to poligeenan is very low.

I’m not convinced that carrageenan has no value, because there are studies that it might. I think that if there’s a problem, it would be in the degraded form of carrageenan (poligeenan) that causes cancer, not the food grade itself. I haven’t seen the studies that show me that most of those testing have checked the levels of poligeenan in the study subjects’ blood like the farmers did with the baby pigs.Since we don’t know how much poligeenan is being eaten mixed into the carrageenan, carrageenan should likely be more closely monitored for poligeenan content. While Tabacman is convinced the conversion takes place between carrageenan and poligeenan, the only data I have that she didn’t do herself says this happens at a very low rate. She’s right, but it may not be enough to matter.

Which brings me back to the Cornicopia Institute’s report. As a watchdog for family farming, I wonder if they’ve ever looked into how carrageenan is farmed? Here’s the FAO summary quote: “Thanks to attributes such as relatively simple farming techniques, low requirements of capital and material inputs, and short production cycles, carrageenan seaweed farming has become a favourable livelihood source for smallholder farmers or fishers and generated substantial socio-economic benefits to marginalized coastal communities in developing countries.” (here)

So banning carrageenan shuts down small family farms around the world. Not really a great outcome. As for carrageenan research, while Cornicopia tries to make an open and shut case, medline only lists seven entries for poligeenan. I couldn’t find even a toxicology report on the stuff. Before we ban a different substance that has a variety of species and a wide variety of forms, I think it’s valid to do some testing on the levels of degradation into poligeenan found between the different species. It may well be that one or two forms of carrageenan are more likely to degrade into poligeenan while other forms may not.

In the meantime, many manufacturers are shifting to other thickening agents. I’m not sure that’s going to be any better in the long run, as we don’t have the same history and level of research on those products either.

Posted by: Christopher Maloney, Naturopathic Doctor | August 4, 2015

How Bad Is Lyme Disease? A 320% Increase since 1993.

Sometimes something like Lyme disease can sneak up on the medical field. When you work in medicine, it’s hard to know if your personal clinical experience matches the practices of those around you. I have felt that Lyme disease levels are getting ridiculous, but haven’t been able to talk to other practitioners about what they were seeing.

Now we have a picture of how bad it’s gotten. We’re talking a 320% increase in the number of high reporting counties. Those are reports of CDC clinically confirmed Lyme, not tick exposures or the more lenient IGenX confirmed Lyme.

Living in an endemic state known for its forests, I have also wondered if Maine suffers overly because of its increased deer populations. But we’re seeing high reporting counties in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. This is an epidemic, spreading from year to year, and I haven’t heard any discussion of how to disrupt its spread or broaden treatment.

Image result for image lyme disease

Posted by: Christopher Maloney, Naturopathic Doctor | August 3, 2015

Is Obesity In the U.S. Declining?

It has if you read the Times. According to the New York Times, U.S. caloric intake peaked in 2003 and has declined since. Our youngest citizens have experienced a 9% drop in calories. The children’s weight has declined slightly, while obesity rates have stopped rising for U.S. adults. Among the notable changes in the U.S. diet is a drop in full calorie soda of 25% since the late 1990s.

When I looked at the JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) research the NY Times article was based on, the reality is a little more complex. While obesity rates for two to five-year-olds from 13.9% down to 8.4%, obesity rates rose for women older than women over sixty (from 31.5% to 38.1%). The JAMA article concluded: “Overall, there have been no significant changes in obesity prevalence in youth or adults between 2003-2004 and 2011-2012.”

But clearly caloric intake has declined, and soda intake has declined dramatically. So how are we to credit the fact that, as a nation, the U.S. is dieting but not losing weight? Could it be, as I have often wondered, a more complex issue than calories alone? Low-income U.S. citizens consume fewer calories than upper-income U.S. citizens, but far fewer fruits and vegetables. But low-income U.S. citizens are more obese that upper-income U.S. citizens. The issue is far worse for minorities. The study on fruits and vegetables found that a 10% subsidy on fruits and vegetables would impact the intake of fruits and vegetables for lower-income citizens. We’ve known for decades that high fruit and vegetable intake is linked to lower rates of cancer almost across the board. Obesity is also linked to an increase in cancer, and caloric restriction alone has not lowered obesity rates. Now that we’ve dieted as a nation, perhaps it’s time for us to start eating more healthy foods. Image result for cancer images

Posted by: Christopher Maloney, Naturopathic Doctor | July 9, 2015

Looking Back At Lyme.

One of the things about living in an endemic state with Lyme cases all around is losing perspective that once upon a time we didn’t have a lot of Lyme.

Look at the 2001 chart of Lyme cases:

Reported Cases of Lyme Disease 2001

You see a smattering of Lyme along the southern border. Now look at 2012:

Reported Cases of Lyme Disease 2012

If there’s one thing this points to, it’s that we aren’t winning any battles with Lyme. I would love to see a consensus statement (long overdue) about Lyme treatment from within the two camps (chronic Lyme/no chronic Lyme).

Posted by: Christopher Maloney, Naturopathic Doctor | June 22, 2015

Are Essential Oils Absorbed Through The Skin?

You can love essential oils and still wonder how and if they are absorbed through the skin.

The answer is yes, at least in terms of lavender, and much faster than you would think. Within fifteen minutes of starting a massage the lavender is in the bloodstream. And it’s gone much faster than you would think as well, with a half-life (time it takes to halve the amount in the body) of less than a half hour. (

Image result for image essential oils

Now, apply the same logic to something like a fragrance, a soap, an underarm deodorant, a toothpaste, a mouthwash, a gasoline spill on your hand, Uncle Joe’s cigar smoke, and every scent you experience throughout the day.

What is the blood effect of that odd-smelling fragrance you get in alcohol antibacterials that you rub on your hand and go about your day? Chances are they don’t have to test for it and no systemic studies have been done because since it is applied topically they don’t need to worry if it is absorbed. But if the highly volatile essential oil scents pass through the skin, it is likely that other fat-soluble fragrances do as well.

Most recently, I found myself surrounded by the odor of acetone, a “harmless solvent” used to carry such things as fingernail polish. In organic chemistry, our instructor talked about another “harmless solvent” benzene, which they used to dunk their hands in while washing away the crud from their flasks. Later on, they found out it was carcinogenic, so they switched to acetone. But chances are we’ll find that acetone is also volatile in the body.

Several of my patients have experienced chronic exposure to toluene, a “harmless solvent” that makes that nice smell from your ink toner cartridges.  Unfortunately decades of exposure in a closed room to an industrial copier slowed the speech and thought processes of one patient enough to qualify her for disability.

So the next time you enjoy your essential oils, breathe deep. They beat the heck out of a lot of the other things you could be breathing and putting on your skin.

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