Caroline Wallace combines two of her passions—science writing and complementary and alternative medicine, along with her knowledge of DoTERRA Essential Oils.
Caroline Wallace combines two of her passions—science writing and complementary and alternative medicine, along with her knowledge of DoTERRA Essential Oils.

Article Review: Activity of Various doTERRA Essential Oils Against Clinical Fungal Strains

This month’s first post is a deviation from my usual coverage of just one essential oil or supplement. I was excited when I came across a particular article in the October 2020 issue of Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology. This study was performed by researchers at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The reason why I was excited was that the research team used and compared 65 single essential oils and 21 oil blends – all from doTERRA! This is the first study of this type and I have had a couple requests to “explain this in English”.

Research studies are often done to see how a new medicine or known compound works in the context of a health condition. Generally, researchers focus on medical conditions where there is a need for a better treatment – either because there are no treatments currently or known treatments are not working well. Below, I give a summary of the study methods and results, followed by expanded commentary.

Summary: Fungal infections can be challenging to treat because the current pharmaceutical agents are not effective or require long treatment times; researchers determined that cassia, cilantro, cinnamon, thyme, oregano, and rose essential oils from doTERRA are effective at preventing 16 clinical strains of Dermatophytes (type of fungus) from growing in a petri dish.

Disease: Dermatophytes are fungi that require keratin for growth. Keratin is a protein in the skin, hair, and nails, which is where these organisms cause infection.

Goal: “To determine the overall activity of a wide range of essential oils against clinical strains of dermatophytes.”

Methods: 65 single essential oils and 21 essential oil blends from doTERRA were tested to see if they inhibited the growth of 16 different clinical strains of Dermatophytes. A control (fractioned coconut oil) and two commonly used pharmaceutical anti-fungal agents were used as a comparison to the essential oils. The disk diffusion assay was used, which allowed the researchers to measure the zone of inhibition of each essential oil against each fungal strain (see pic below). The larger the zone of inhibition, the better the fungus strain is being inhibited. Minimum inhibitory concentrations (the lowest concentration of a compound that prevents visible growth of a bacteria or fungus) were also determined.

Results: Cassia, cilantro, cinnamon, thyme, oregano, and rose essential oils inhibited the growth of the 16 clinical strains of Dermatophytes. Inhibition was improved when oregano was combined with cilantro, cassia, or cinnamon. The DDR Prime blend also was very effective at inhibiting the growth of the Dermatophytes.

In 2004 there were over 29.4 million cases of cutaneous (skin) fungal infection in the US. The estimated total cost for the treatment of dermatophyte infections in the US is $1.67 billion (please see the article for citation of this dollar value). The authors stated “it is important that careful chemical analyses be performed using methods such as GC-MS to verify and standardize the composition of essential oils to ensure batch to batch consistency over time.” Since doTERRA has rigorous testing, well beyond the minimum validation of CG-MS, I would assume that is why these particular oils were tested.

Caroline Wallace combines two of her passions—science writing and complementary and alternative medicine, along with her knowledge of DoTERRA Essential Oils.

This image is modified from Figure 1 of the article. It shows the use of 2 different anti-fungal agents and 2 essential oils in petri dishes that have M. gypseum strain #2 growing. The control plate is completely full of fungus. Terbinafine did inhibit the growth of this particular fungal strain. Both cassia and arborvitae inhibited fungal growth better than the anti-fungal agent itraconazole. Larger areas in the center of the plate with no fungal growth shows better inhibition.

The researchers carefully designed the study with controls to ensure that the data is robust and reproducible for further interpretation. While this study does inform us that the 6 individual oils and 1 blend were effective at inhibiting the growth of the fungus, the study does not tell us how the oils work. From the aspect of science and medicine it is important to know how a compound works to ensure efficacy and safety. But from the patient’s standpoint, they just want to get better faster.

The researcher’s write in their conclusion, “although EOs are utilized globally as an adjunct to alternative medicine including aromatherapy, their use in mainstream medicine as antimicrobials has yet to happen.” It is my personal opinion that safe options that have been shown to be potentially effective, such as these oils in treating certain fungal infections, should be more widely known to the general population.

Good studies always mention limitations (weaknesses) of the study, as well as what needs to be done in the future in order to advance the work. The researchers did not measure the exact percentage of each active compound in each essential oil. These amounts can very depending upon where the plants are grown and how the essential oils are extracted. They did demonstrate synergy (the interaction of two or more substances to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects) between different essential oils, but the biological mechanism of this was not clear. While these limitations do not weaken the findings of the study, they do mean that essential oils from other companies may not have the exact same effects. The next step will be to test the essential oils that were effective in this study in human or animal cases of dermatophyte infections.

Stay tuned for a post about Lavender essential oil later this month! Sign up to receive notifications of new topics. Or if you’re on Facebook, request to join the Essentially Science group!

Disclaimer: The content of this blog, Essentially Science, is for general information only. The content of this blog post are solely my viewpoints. This blog is not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment of any health condition or problem. Any questions regarding your own health and the supplements that you use should be addressed to your own physician or other healthcare provider. Health-related information changes frequently and therefore information contained in this blog may be outdated, incomplete, or incorrect. Statements made about products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.

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