13 INVESTIGATES: Essential oils - WRBL

13 INVESTIGATES: Essential oils

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When it comes to treating health issues, many people are turning to more natural remedies. 

Some people are even kicking prescription medications after trying plant-based concoctions for ailments like pain, insomnia and cold symptoms. 

Many of these mixtures have been used since ancient China, but these products and ingredients are not endorsed by the FDA.  Lisa Crane looked into this back-to-nature trend to see if there are any safety concerns.

Terri Philpot mixes up some things in her kitchen, and it's not always dinner. 

"We
've made sleep cream, we've made allergy cream, we've made pain cream, antibiotic cream and it works," she said.

She's mixing essential oils to treat her husband's insomnia and pain from a motorcycle accident more than a decade ago.  

"He had a broken femur, his knee was torn up, his ankle was ripped out of socket. I was little bit skeptical just because his levels of pain have been so high for so long I really didn't know if it would help," Terri explained.

But Bill Philpot says the essential oils have worked for him, and not just for pain and insomnia.  

"I don't think there's anything I've tried that hasn't really helped me tremendously."
 
Terri and Bill are part of a growing trend in homeopathic medicine.  Social media is helping spread the word about essential oils, making them more popular than ever.  But advocates are quick to point out essential oils are nothing new.  

"I think we've been retrained to look towards pharmaceuticals or a pill or a quick fix," Terri said.

Mass meetings like the one we attended in Gardendale introduce people to essential oils.  And those meetings are filling up fast.  Speakers, many representing a specific company's line of oils, talk about the benefits of getting back to nature.
 
Registered nurse Shelley Burkett also sells essential oils.  But she turned to essential oils to try to get off her prescription of Ambien for sleep issues and Mobic, which is an anti-inflammatory drug. 

"I believe in modern medicine," she said. "I've devoted my whole adult life to modern medicine. When I went to get my prescription filled, my doctor said I needed to come back in and get my liver and kidneys checked because it causes kidney damage. So I thought, well as good as it works, it's not great if its hurting my kidneys, too."

Burkett said the oils worked.  Now she and her husband have eliminated the need for several daily prescription drugs they were taking for everything from indigestion to insomnia.  She said they eliminated $300 a month in drug costs. Now she touts the benefits of essential oils to everyone. 
 
"I'm much more comfortable using the oils than I am using medications," she said.

Monique McClean said she was skeptical at first, but essential oils won her over and now she travels all over the country promoting their use. 

"Everybody deals with stomach bugs, everybody deals with allergies, you know the flu, just every little thing or issues that come up this product can be used for."

"Peppermint oil can be used for a headache, you just take a drop and rub it on your temples for a headache," Burkett added.

There is a lot to know about essential oils. For instance, lavender is said to be good for cuts, scrapes, bruises even insomnia or a cough.  But if you have multiple symptoms, you might want to blend oils together, and that's where its get tricky. There are pharmacies in east Jefferson County that will make up those blends for you based on your specific needs.

Kristi Russell is the compounding pharmacy technician at Carroll's Pharmacies in Clay and Trussville where she holds informational meetings about essential oils. 

"Just because they're natural doesn't mean they can't hurt you," she said. 

So many customers were asking about them she felt it was important they learn how to used the products safely. 
 
Essential oils, like some vitamins, supplements and herbal remedies are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.  So no government agency is checking on the purity of these products.  And claims that an oil is "therapeutic grade" or "100 percent pure" are based on that particular company's own guidelines, not a regulating agency.  Russell said that's why it's important that you do your research and find a company you trust.  She recommends using essential oils with the same caution as prescription medication.

"Orange, lemon, grapefruit, bergamot, which many may not know is a citrus oil, all have photosensitivity," she said. " It will make you more likely to burn just like taking an antibiotic and sitting in the sun can make you more likely to burn."

Kristi said she does not recommend ingesting any oil.

"You get such great benefits from applying topically, why would you want to ingest them?"

At the pharmacy Kristi said she can mix the proper oils, depending on the issues you want to address, with a carrier oil like almond, olive, vegetable or coconut to create a lotion which can be applied topically.  However, Kristi says she doesn't believe essential oils should replace all prescriptions or over the counter medications.

She said, "Instead of having an "either/or" mentality, we need to have a "both" and an "and."  We need to do complementary and integrated medicine."

Terri Philpot agrees. 

"If I break my arm take me to the hospital, don't put oil on me. It can help with the recovery, but I'm not anti-medicine or anti-doctor by any means," she said.

There are several companies which produce and sell essential oils. Some are multi-level marketing setups.  But if you're not comfortable with that, there are others.  If you decide to try essential oils, talk to your doctor if you have any health issues.
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