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HIV/AIDS Blog Central

Liquid Gold: The Secret Life of Essential Oils

By Philip D.

February 17, 2011

In my opinion, it's a travesty what Advertising has gone and done with the word Aromatherapy. The powerful chemistry found within a single drop of essential oil -- inhaled from a warm washcloth, a steamer, a carrier oil or right on your wrist -- has such a profound, almost instantaneous and usually beneficial effect inside our bodies and minds; to cheapen it by putting inferior quality imitations into room sprays and Glade Plug-ins and calling it Aromatherapy is a crying shame.

It's possible I am biased because I'm doubtful you've met many people that value their sense of smell like I do. It's rather a long story, but 14 years ago I suffered a 36-foot fall from a third-story window. It resulted in a subdural hematoma, a fractured skull and for the 18 months following, a complete and total loss of my ability to smell. (Lucky for me that's all that I lost because the odds of surviving such a fall, statistically, are less than 50/50) I'd say it took almost two years for me to regain it fully but it is, and probably always will be, one of my most valued possessions.

In the first few days after my fateful HIV test, I was a mess with too much time off for the Christmas Holidays and a very busy head. I was spending an inordinate amount on time the Internet (of course, and realized I desperately needed a project to refocus my attention. Since I already happened to own dozens of bottles of therapeutic-grade essential oils (they have been carefully distilled to retain the maximum amount of the constituents that have therapeutic effects), I was inspired to research which of them were the best for my immune system.

I wondered if there was something found in nature that might protect me, when I was forced to endure coughs and sneezes that come with working with those who probably should have stayed home; something that might "hurt" the "bad" stuff and yet might actually help me. In fact, I did. I found 17 of them; and when I'm feeling like I'm coming down with something, I "huff" the blend all night in my ultrasonic diffuser. Most of the time, I'm lucky to ward off what seems to be threatening me

Yes, 17 of them is a lot, but I still strongly believe HIV-positive folks (and their friends) could all benefit from trying a few of them. Here are eight of my favorite essential oils that benefit the immune system, but they all have several other uses as well. I'm not going to tell you where to purchase them but please, please, please get only those marked on the label as therapeutic grade. They are worth the extra price for their superior quality.

Always store them in a cool, dark place, and remember that heating the oils above open flame (or light bulb) greatly minimizes their effects. They work best if you inhale the aroma (with steam, A+++) or apply them topically (wrists or soles of the feet), but they are highly concentrated and some may irritate your skin if used undiluted. Pregnant women should always consult their doctor before using any essential oil.

8. Oregano. Don't laugh. This ultra powerful anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic, anti-inflammatory oil is amazing. Unlike manufactured antibiotics, there is no known tendency for microbes to develop resistance to the effectiveness of oregano. Plus its smell is reminiscent of the warm Mediterranean sun.

7. Thyme. Used since ancient times as a medicinal herb because contains large amounts of thymol which has been extensively documented for its anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal action and found in many over-the-counter mouthwashes for its purifying properties. As a dietary supplement, it is one of the strongest anti-oxidants known. Mixed with a carrier oil (jojoba is a good one) this is great for young-looking skin and appears to be quite beneficial in overcoming fatigue.

6. Clove. With the highest reading on the ORAC scale (measures anti-oxidant levels) of all essential oils, it's no wonder it's been used as medicine for centuries starting with the Egyptians to numb pain and fight infection. This one's not just really good for your body, it also fosters a sense of comfort and security as well.

5. Cinnamon. Want a great oil to boost your immune system and help regulate your blood pressure and blood sugar? Legend has it that during the Bubonic plague, grave robbers also tied rags soaked with it over their noses and mouths to ward off illness. And when it comes to natural anti-bacterials this oil simply kicks ass. Handle this potent one with care because direct contact with the oil, or even inhaling it undiluted from the bottle, may cause irritation to the skin or mucous membranes.

4. Melissa. Okay before I go further, this might have been be number one if it wasn't so damn expensive. In its complexity, power, and gentleness, this oil perfectly illustrates how nature, time and time again, works far more efficiently than one-dimensional synthetic medicines. I love this stuff. Did I mention it's also a natural anti-depressant?

3. Eucalyptus Radiata. (the "softest" of the eucalyptus) When it comes to uplifting and purifying a room this one is superexcellent. This oil and its major constituents possess such toxicity against a wide range of microbes in a laboratory setting, including bacteria and fungi, it is now being enthusiastically studied to test its power on antibiotic-resistant staph (MRSA). Perfect for kids and the elderly. Try spraying some inside a steamy shower and breathing deeply to help relieve respiratory difficulties.

2. Ravensara. Innocent enough fragrance, but don't be fooled. When I mean business, I pull out this bad boy (or girl). Medical science is becoming increasingly interested in this powerhouse anti-viral and what it does inside the human body. In France, it's been extensively studied as an effective anti-viral for the flu, hepatitis, shingles, and mononucleosis. Try it for insomnia as well.

1. Lavender. As predictable as it may seem, there's a very good reason why lavender is found in all sorts of things. It is an anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal wonder that can also help you relax. Rest is vital to the immune system and stress is its worst enemy. In human form, Lavender could easily be a Superhero.

Although there are countless books with seemingly endless information on the use of these and other oils, I mainly use "The Essential Oils Desk Reference" from Essential Science Publishing and "The Complete Book Of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy" by Valerie Ann Worwood.

In closing, please consider this: The next time you feel illness encroaching, instead of reaching for an over-the-counter, man-made remedy that your body instinctively knows is foreign, why not look to the wisdom of centuries of plant healing to give yourself the extra boost it deserves and immediately recognizes as natural?

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See Also
More on Other Physical/Spiritual Therapies

Reader Comments:

Comment by: Tuse (Hong Kong) Fri., Mar. 25, 2011 at 6:25 am UTC
Hmmm, there's an awful lot of the "new age" lovey-dovey going on in these comments. And the suggestion that fragrances which cost a lot WILL be beneficial to people with HIV is highly suspect. The lotions of the snake-oil merchant were always very expensive - otherwise they would immediately be deemed useless. So the price of an oil is absolutely no recommendation as to its usefulness in fortifying the immune system.
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Comment by: Philip d. Fri., Mar. 25, 2011 at 10:26 pm UTC
Hi Tuse

Thanks for reading my post.

I've used plenty of essential oils but I don't believe that "snake" was one of them.

So sorry.

Comment by: Julia (London) Wed., Mar. 2, 2011 at 8:23 am UTC
Well done Philip!
Loving the inspiration that you are giving to people.
As a professional, qualified aromatherapist, I can't resist a comment.
Aromatherapy is definitely one of the best complementary therapies around, and it is indeed a shame that some companies are allowed to market their synthetic fragrances as "aromatherapy" products.
In regards to the therapeutic grade issue, this is a real concern. Many oils that you buy in shops, markets etc. are adulterated, or simply very cheap quality, or stored incorrectly, and whilst they may make a great fragrance, you won't get much therapeutic benefit from them, so yes, if you are using them therapeutically, don't just buy any oil. Of course, any company can print "therapeutic grade" on their bottles, because there are no strict regulations. And then maybe people say aromatherapy doesn't work...
This is where we come in. Find a governing body, a federation of professional aromatherapists and ask! I, for one, am always happy to recommend good brands.
Thank you Philip, and best wishes for everything!
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Comment by: Phili D Wed., Mar. 2, 2011 at 6:06 pm UTC
Thank you Julia for weighing in on the therapeutic grade issue. I find that when purchasing oils, as with so many things, you get what you pay for. I also make use the gift I was re-given and follow my nose when searching for the best quality.

Please email me with a way to reach you. I'd LOVE to talk shop with you.

Best wishes to you as well.
Comment by: Julia (London) Thu., Mar. 10, 2011 at 3:58 pm UTC
Hey Phili
Sorry, I haven't checked this blog since my entry.
How can I e-mail you directly? Do I click on "e-mail" at the top? It seems to be just a way to forward this article and I didn't wanna put my private e-mail on here...
Sorry, am not very practical with blogs...
Comment by: Philip D Thu., Mar. 10, 2011 at 11:03 pm UTC
Hi Julia

The link is just after the last line of the post where it says "Send Philip D. an e-mail"

ps- i'm not very tech savvy myself

Looking forward to "meeting" you.

Comment by: Susan Tue., Mar. 1, 2011 at 4:11 pm UTC
I've been using essential oils for many years. Long before I was diagnosed. I too rarely if ever get the flu. Haven't had oone in many years. When feeling run down, I dump 2 cups of epsom salts, a half cup of baking soda, dead sea salts, Himalayan pink salts each, and use a mixture of my oils blended in the bath water. It works bloody wonders. Then get into bed after rubbing myself with my self-made pain/discomfort gel into my affected muscles. I never had the flu even when my viral load was at its worst, at over 6 million, and my CD4 count was down to 1. Believe it or not.

And no, I've never found that so-called theraputic grade essential oils are worth the extra cost. I go by smell. The most effective lavender oil I've ever used is supposedly the lowest grade. But is also loaded with terpenes. Extremely effective. Far more effective than more expensive lavender. Oregano oil also works on cold sores and skin eruptions of nearly every kind. If somebody's got KS, I'd recommend applying oregano && lavender to it, straight if possible, and seeing if it makes a difference.

The most important thing when buying oils is to make sure they haven't been diluted. The majority are, even when marked as. 'pure'. Yes, they may be pure, but they're often diluted in jojoba oil, grapeseed oil, rice bran oil or other low cost carrier oils. And always make sure they aren't fragrance oils. Many companies are very tricky with their labeling.
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Comment by: Philip D. Wed., Mar. 2, 2011 at 6:11 pm UTC
Your testimonial is inspirational and encouraging to those that might still think this way of healing is silly. I sincerely thank you for sharing it here.

Best of health, Susan.

Comment by: Micha (NYC) Mon., Feb. 28, 2011 at 5:45 pm UTC
I love this article thank you! I also love my Petitgrain Mandarin, Pink Grapefruit, bergamot, lime and other citrus scents which are known to be uplifting to your mood. The artificial scents used to give me headaches, but these never do.
I do love a ceramic ring on a light bulb or a candle diffuser with just the pure oils and water. There's tons of good carrier oils to mix them in if your skin is sensitive, like rice bran, grapeseed or coconut (de-scented) or mix them into any unscented products you're currently using from shampoo to body lotion. Enfleurage NYC is my favorite spot to buy them. Good luck and thanks again!!!
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Comment by: Eddy (Los Angeles, CA.) Sun., Feb. 27, 2011 at 11:14 am UTC
I was hooked by this article at first, because it seems to genuinely offer alternative methods of combating HIVers' auto-immune deficits - methods presumably offered in addition to antiretroviral theraphy.

However, one line in the article appears to be unsupportable, namely "but please, please, please get only those marked on the label as therapeutic grade. They are worth the extra price for their superior quality".

A report by Cropwatch states that there is no such thing as a "therapeutic grade". I quote:

"there is no such thing as a ‘therapeutic grade essential oil’, and no quality standards for the authentication or performance of essential oils specifically exist within aromatherapy per se. This latter situation results from the failure of professional aromatherapy organisations and aromatherapy essential oil trading associations to issue a comprehensive set of aromatherapy oil standards"

Cropwatch concludes its report on the so-called "therapeutic grades" by advising:

"Potential essential oil buyers should independently check out the marketing information provided by essential oil traders - do not be put off asking for any extra information or reassurances that you are legally entitled to if the situation is not absolutely clear cut. The professional aromatherapist has a duty to be able to provide all relevant safety information relevant to to their clients’ treatment(s) and
therefore It is part of ‘due diligence’ to ask questions, require any stipulated proofs, request an MSDS, ask for compositional data & certificate of origin of the batch of oil purchased and have their eyes wide open to marketing ploys & scams of all types - including providing GC’MS print-outs and other information which relate to other batches of oils entirely, and, of course, describing essential oils as ‘therapeutic grade’."

The full report is at:
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Comment by: Philip D. Wed., Mar. 2, 2011 at 5:56 pm UTC
Hi Eddy

Thank you for taking the time and energy to research the claim of "therapeutic grade" so extensively. Now I've heard of Cropwatch.

As you can see from the comments left by other readers, legitimate practicing Aromatherapists worldwide, need to unite and provide a standard to rate the potency of bottled essential oils somehow. Otherwise, consumers are virtually blind to what they are really purchasing.

Please, please please....don't throw the baby out with the bathwater, Eddy and keep on sniffin' on!

Comment by: papa_j (Atlanta, GA) Thu., Feb. 24, 2011 at 11:58 pm UTC
Thank you, Philip for sharing this helpful information!
I've been wanting to enjoy some genuine, beneficial aromatherapy throughout my home for years.
Please post some more on this topic when you can.
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Comment by: mountainman4103 (Denver ) Thu., Feb. 24, 2011 at 9:13 pm UTC
Great article.

I found oils to be of a great benefit for me and my little bug.

I use an oil called Thieves oil, legend too is what the grave robbers of old used during the black plague. To protect themselves. People all around me are coming down with the flu and colds this year, but so far,,,,,nothing.

I use it as in a diffuser before I go to bed, and run it for about an hour.

I also used Cumin, an ingredient found in Norvir to fight off a very bad case of prostates. Used as a topical application between my rectum and my scrotum. I also use it sparingly as an immediate
application to the first signs of a cold sore. I no longer get those ugly huge blooms around my mouth. It literally shuts that thing down.

Again, thanks for the article, I've been sharing my information to POZ and non Poz friends for quite some time.

Oh, by the way,,,I'm 63 years old, healthy 720 CD4 count, work out 3 times a week. Have no fatigue or side effects for taking meds now 4 years.
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Comment by: Philip D. Fri., Feb. 25, 2011 at 10:52 am UTC
Hi Mountainman,

I am familiar with the Thieves blend, as it contains several of the oils I mentioned. Anyone concerned with the possible over usage of man-made antibacterial soaps and cleaning products and what they do to our insides, might want to check this blend out as well. It has plenty of other uses too.

Thanks for the info on Cumin. Interestingly, many pharmaceuticals are created with plant based ingredients. Much like the Trojan Horse, it's a great way to "sneak" man-made chemicals into the body.

Congrats on your robust health. Wishing you continued success.


Comment by: Clement (Long Island, New York) Thu., Feb. 24, 2011 at 6:02 pm UTC
Thank you so much on the essential Oils.
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A Positive Spin

Philip D.

Philip D.

After testing HIV positive in 2007, I promised myself that I would make something "good" from all that I was handed. From the very beginning, each time I was presented with an obstacle or challenge, I also received some help. Usually in the form of a person, sometimes an opportunity; but I have grown so much, it has made it impossible for me to call the past few years "bad." Although I've never written much of anything before, I have been so incredibly fortunate, I feel like I must pay it forward somehow. Maybe by sharing my experience, it will help those starting later in the game, on the fast track to HAART, or anyone that's feeling a bit isolated or "stuck" with their diagnosis.

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