Essential oils and the immune system
Among the most frequently asked questions are ones about essential oils and the immune system. Many essential oils are said to “boost” or strengthen it, though specifics are rare. Most of the time this is assumed to mean they will help the body fight infection. Even if true, this might not be helpful with infections such as influenza as viruses have strategies that allow them to “hide” from the immune system until antibodies are created.
The immune system is complex, and “boosting” it is a vague term. What are we boosting? CD4+ cells? NK cells? Complement? Cytokines? Neutrophils? And are we increasing production, activity or both? Nothing much is known about how “immune-boosting” essential oils affect anyone, healthy or otherwise. Most of the existing research is either in vitro or in vivo (animal research). There isn’t much solid research in humans.
Many, even most, essential oils are anti-inflammatory, meaning that they inhibit one area of immune response. Sometimes it’s thought that these oils might be useful in autoimmune disease, but this is highly speculative. Anyway, autoimmune diseases are all quite different and how they affect an individual can also vary widely. So in the end, I think the best option, if you are immune-compromised, is to find out what works for you and what doesn’t by trial and error.
There are ways to maintain and improve immune competence, and most of them are extremely simple: eat well, sleep well, get regular exercise, maintain a healthy weight and blood pressure. More on this here http://www.health.harvard.edu/…/how-to-boost-your-immune-sy…. As for essential oils, we really don’t know enough at this point to pick out specific oils as reliably strengthening our immune systems.
Thank you for this voice of reason!
I am interested in learning whether there are specific oils that should be avoided by individuals who have an autoimmune diagnosis. I have your Essential Oil Safety book but I cannot find a reference, if there is one in there. Should someone with an autoimmune disorder such as Thyroid disease, lupus, Celiac Disease, Raynaud’s disease or Rosacea avoid certain oils by virtue of having autoimmune issues? Or does it depend on the specific autoimmune diagnosis?
Hi Kathy, I still don’t believe we know enough about any specific autoimmune disease to contraindicate any specific essential oils, and there’s still very little solid information about the effect of essential oils on immune function.