About 100 years ago, natural herbs were the main remedy for treating human diseases. It has been estimated that 25% of modern medicines are made from plants first used traditionally such as aspirin, artemisinin, ephedrine, and paclitaxel. [1] However, there is limited scientific evidence to establish the safety and efficacy of most herbal products[2]

The use of herbal medicinal products and supplements has increased tremendously over the past three decades with not less than 80% of people worldwide relying on them for some part of primary healthcare.[3]

[1] Junhua Zhang,  Igho J. Onakpoya,  Paul Posadzki,  Mohamed Eddouks : The Safety of Herbal Medicine: From Prejudice to Evidence, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4370194/

[2] Bent S. Herbal medicine in the United States: review of efficacy, safety, and regulation: grand rounds at University of California, San Francisco Medical Center. Journal of General Internal Medicine. 2008;23(6):854–859. doi: 10.1007/s11606-008-0632-y. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]

[3] Martins Ekor:The growing use of herbal medicines: issues relating to adverse reactions and challenges in monitoring safety, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24454289/

Essential oils

Essential oils have a variety of effects on human health. As it has been demonstrated in many studies, these oils have many psychological effects such as:

  • reducing anxiety, stress
  • treating depression
  • falling asleep.

They have also been shown to possess:

  • antimicrobial,
  • antiviral,
  • antioxidant,
  • anti-inflammatory properties and
  • used as an alternative to synthetic insect repellents.

Herbs, essential oils

As there are many proven health benefits to essential oils, there are also adverse effects. It has been shown that certain essential oils and their components contain EDCs which appear to have enhanced breast growth in prepubertal children. There is still a vast amount unknown about their true effects on human health.[1]

There are many methods by which essential oils exposure can occur including inhalation, ingestion, massage, and skin applications.[2],[3] Essential oils have been used in multiple treatments such as Alzheimer disease, cardiovascular issues, cancer, and labor pain in pregnancy[4].

Essential oils are complex substances, comprised of multi-component mixtures that contains hundreds of chemicals.1

Most essential oils are generally safe. The majority of adverse effects are mild, but there have been cases of serious toxic reactions including abortions and pregnancy abnormalities, neurotoxicity, bronchial hyperactivity, hepatotoxicity, prepubertal gynecomastia, and premature thelarche[5].

[1] J. Tyler Ramsey, B. Carrie Shropshire, Tibor R. Nagy, Kevin D. Chambers, Yin Li, and Kenneth S. Korach: Essential Oils and Health, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

[2] Ali B, Al-Wabel NA, Shams S, Ahamad A, Khan SA, Anwar F. Essential oils used in aromatherapy. Syst Rev. 2015:601–11. [Google Scholar] [Ref list]

[3] Svoboda KP, Deans SG. Biological Activities of Essential Oils from Selected Aromatic Plants. 1995: International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS), Leuven, Belgium; 10.17660/ActaHortic.1995.390.28 [CrossRef] [Google Scholar] [Ref list]

[4] Jimbo D, Kimura Y, Taniguchi M, Inoue M, Urakami K. Effect of aromatherapy on patients with Alzheimer's disease. Psychogeriatrics. 2009;9(4):173-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1479-8301.2009.00299.x [doi]. [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]

Lai TK, Cheung MC, Lo CK, Ng KL, Fung YH, Tong M, et al. Effectiveness of aroma massage on advanced cancer patients with constipation: a pilot study [doi]. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2011. February;17(1):37–43. 10.1016/j.ctcp.2010.02.004 [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]

Perry N, Perry E. Aromatherapy in the management of psychiatric disorders: clinical and neuropharmacological perspectives. CNS drugs. 2006;20(4):257-80. doi: 2041 [pii]. 10.2165/00023210-200620040-00001 [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]

Shiina Y, Funabashi N, Lee K, Toyoda T, Sekine T, Honjo S, et al. Relaxation effects of lavender aromatherapy improve coronary flow velocity reserve in healthy men evaluated by transthoracic Doppler echocardiography. Int J Cardiol. 2008;129(2):193-7. doi: S0167-5273(07)01261-2 [pii]. 10.1016/j.ijcard.2007.06.064 [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]

Smith CA, Collins CT, Crowther CA. Aromatherapy for pain management in labour. Cochrane Database Systematic Rev. 2011;(7):CD009215. doi(7):CD009215. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD009215 [doi]. [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]

[5] Diaz A, Luque L, Badar Z, Kornic S, Danon M. Prepubertal gynecomastia and chronic lavender exposure: report of three cases [doi]. J Pediatr Endocrinol Metab. 2016. January;29(1):103–7. 10.1515/jpem-2015-0248 [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]

Henley DV, Lipson N, Korach KS, Bloch CA. Prepubertal gynecomastia linked to lavender and tea tree oils. New Engl J Med. 2007;356(5):479-85. doi: 356/5/479 [pii]. 10.1056/NEJMoa064725 [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]

Ramsey JT, Li Y, Arao Y, Naidu A, Coons LA, Diaz A, et al. Lavender Products Associated With Premature Thelarche and Prepubertal Gynecomastia: Case Reports and Endocrine-Disrupting Chemical Activities [doi]. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2019. November;104(11):5393–405. 10.1210/jc.2018-01880 [PMC free article] [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]

Tisserand R, Young R. Essential Oil Safety - E-Book: A Guide for Health Care Professionals: Elsevier Health Sciences; 2013. [Google Scholar]

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