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Clinical Aromatherapy: Studied Anti-Viral Effects of Essential Oils

Scientific proof regarding the effectiveness of natural essential oils against a wide variety of viruses continues to grow. In the 1970's, German researchers tested extracts of more than 90 species of the Lamiaceae plant family to have anti-viral actions. This discovery prompted great interest in the examination of essential oils in Europe for the treatment of viral infections.

Essential oils from many plant families have now been demonstrated to have antiviral properties. Interestingly, different plant families exhibit varying degrees of effectiveness depending on the virus strain. This is due to the particular molecular structures found in each type of oil, which penetrate physical entities to varying degrees (different tissues, cell walls, mucous membranes, etc). The effect on each virus strain depends also on the virus structure (enveloped, non-enveloped, molecular symmetry, etc.) 

Certainly, one of the reasons for oils' effectiveness en vivo is their lipophillic character - essential oils are easily absorbed into mammalian tissues, where they may produce the greatest results. In fact, when studying the anti-viral effects of essential oils, researchers found that normal cells seemed to acquire a special resistance to viral penetration, though the mechanism for this effect is not yet known.

The Herpes Simplex Virus and Melissa Officinalis - Melissa, a member of the Lamiaceae family also known as Lemon Balm, has been shown particularly efficacious against the herpes simplex virus. Dr. D. Wabner of the Technical University of Munich has even reported that application of Melissa oil can lead to a complete remission of HSV lesions, which has otherwise not been thought possible. A cream medication for Herpes outbreaks who's active constituent is an extract of Melissa, is produced in Germany with the name Lomaherpan. Use of pure, true Melissa essential oil may be just as effective - the oil can be applied directly to the lesions to speed healing. Further occurrences can be prevented by applying oil to the area when sensations signal an eminent outbreak. Other essential oils found effective against the Herpes virus include rose otto, bergamot, eucalyptus, lemongrass and tea tree, though none have the prominent position of Melissa officinalis.

Specific Antiviral Components of Essential Oils - The list of essential oils exhibiting antiviral effects is extensive: melissa, rose, tea tree, juniper, eucalyptus, thyme, palmarosa, lavender, rosemary, clove, laurel, cinnamon bark, anise, rose, lemongrass, geranium, neroli, bergamot, clary sage, and dill - with other oils effectiveness most certainly yet to be discovered. The antiviral effect of an essential oil is due to particular molecular components within the oils' makeup - some oils will work just as effectively on a particular infection as another, because they contain similar amounts of a certain component. The components of essential oils showing antiviral activity, and the oils in which they can be found, are as follows (from Schnaubelt, - Advanced Aromatherapy): Anethol - in Anise seed oil Alpha Sabines - in Tea Tree and Laurel Beta Caryophyllene - in Lavender, Rosemary, and Thyme Linalool Carvone - in Dill Cinnamic aldehyde - found in Cinnamon Bark Citral - in Melissa, Lemongrass and other oils Citronellol - in Rose otto (steam distilled rose) and Geranium Eugenol - in Clove Gamma Terpinene - in Juniper, Eucalyptus, Niaouli and Tea Tree Linalol - in Lavender and Neroli (bitter orange blossom) Linalyl acetate - in Clary Sage, Lavender, and Bergamot (bitter orange peel).

Studies of oil application in actual cases of illness are limited, as infecting people with a virus to then be treated with essential oils is a difficult process for obvioius reasons. The oils above have mostly shown effectiveness in-vitro, though tests also indicate that the anti-viral properties should occur in-vivo in humans as well. It has been the Herpes Symplex Virus that has been most thoroughly examined, because of the relative ease of doing so. However, there is nothing truely unique about the herpes virus - correct oil and virus matches should be equally effective.

There are some noted case studies by professional aromatherapists. Of importance in these studies is the oil/symptom relationship. Essential oils from plants of the Myrtaceae family - notably Eucalyptus Radiata and Tea Tree - and Ravensara (also high in Eucalyptol) seem to have helped in cases with respiratory symptoms. For the lower respiratory tract, Hyssop decumbens (from the same plant family as Melissa) has been of interest. Essential oils for such cases may be used either in a diffuser, being taken at regular intervals, or through massage, diluted in a carrier oil.

Due to the difficulty in many cases of illness in determining the exact virus type involved, more specific application cannot be given. Certainly, in cases of HSV, Melissa has been shown effective in a number of studies. For respiratory infections, Eucalyptus and Ravensara have been used with success, and can be safely used as an adjunct to regular medical care. These oils may support one's recovery on a physiologic level - essential oils also play a part in uplifting emotions, which may also speed healing, or at least improve mental outlook during the healing process. For such instances, one may simply find the essential oil or combination that one finds pleasant, calming, and/or uplifting. PLEASE NOTE: In no cases, however, should self-treatment with essential oils be used in place of professional medical care where signs/symptoms of infectious illness are present.

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