Despite thousands of years of historical use, decades of modern research and thousands of peer-reviewed scientific studies describing the benefits of essential oils, the understanding of the most effective methods of application (particularly internal use) and the amount needed to experience these benefits is still in its early stages. The FDA does not classify essential oils as “drugs,” but because of their effects on the body, to develop effective models of use, we must use the same framework used to investigate drugs: pharmacological research. Dr. Cody Beaumont PhD, Sr. Director, Research and Quality Control, discussed some of the early findings of doTERRA's pioneering pharmacological research.
The two branches of pharmacological research
There are two main branches of pharmacological study. Simply put, pharmacokinetics is the study of how an organism (in the case of doTERRA's studies, a human) affects a substance. Pharmacodynamics is the study of how a substance affects an organism. As Dr. Beaumont says, “pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics (PK/PD) are like anatomy and physiology or quality assurance and quality control; you can't really know one without the other.” In pharmacological research, we primarily look at how a substance (essential oils) mimics or affects normal physiological (normal human function) or pathological (related to a disease state) processes. They generally involve seven specific actions: stimulating action, depressing action, blocking or antagonizing action, stabilizing an action, exchanging/replacing or hoarding substances as reserves, directing beneficial chemical reactions or directing harmful chemical reactions.
Pharmacological research at doTERRA
The study design of the pharmacological work conducted at doTERRA is simple and standardized, yet groundbreaking because it has never been conducted with essential oils. Study participants are given a certain dose (for internal use), then blood samples are taken and analyzed at certain times for three measurements:
Cmax: the highest concentration of the substance in the blood within a given area of the body after administration and before a second dose.
Cmin: the lowest concentration of the substance in the blood within a given area of the body after administration and before a second dose.
Half-life: the time it takes to reduce the concentration of the substance in the blood by half.
During contract preparation, data collection was completed for three substances containing essential oils: Turmeric, Copaiba Softgels, and a 300 mg Lavender capsule. The combination of turmeric essential oil and turmeric extract proved a valid answer to the main problem with most turmeric extract supplements: high bioavailability without the toxicity risk. We also found that complete absorption of Copaiba Softgels occurs within two hours. With Lavender Capsule, the dominant ingredient, linalool, achieved shockingly rapid elimination, with a half-life of one hour.
What does this mean for me?
With a better understanding of the concentration (max. and min.) and half-life of the active therapeutic substances or substances of interest, doTERRA can more accurately evaluate the dosage. With the half-life data, we can determine the dosing interval to maintain the desired effects in the most effective way. Once we know the pharmacokinetic parameters of a compound, we can tailor the benefits specifically to the needs of anyone using the essential oil. And this information is not only valuable for people using essential oils at home, but also provides an evidence base for use in a clinical setting. With this information available to physicians, they can feel comfortable using essential oils as supplements or even alternatives to current treatments, knowing that they have undergone the same scientific evaluation to determine efficacy and safety.
The future of essential oils
The next step is further data collection, collecting these pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic data for more essential oils and for the individual compounds that make up essential oils. Then a series of publications that will allow the scientific and medical community to evaluate and share the findings. This powerful research will change the way essential oils are experienced, used and viewed and will enable doTERRA to develop evidence-based use models and continue to provide the most effective essential oils on the market.