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D. Gary Young (1949–2018), Diploma Mill Naturopath and Promoter of Essential Oils

Consumer Health

William M. London

January 9, 2019


Donald Gary Young (aka Don Gary Young, D. Gary Young, and Gary Young), the founder (in 1994), chairman of the board, and former CEO of the Lehi, Utah–based multilevel marketing company Young Living Essential Oils, died on May 12, 2018, at age sixty-eight due to complications from a series of strokes. The Christian Broadcasting Network’s (CBN) obituary for Young referred to him as a leader in the essential oil movement and a devout Christian but did not mention that in the 1980s, Young pleaded guilty to practicing medicine without a license in the State of Washington and operated clinics in Chula Vista, California, and Tijuana, Mexico, offering bizarre “alternative” medical services. In 2000, he opened the Young Life Research Clinic Institute of Natural Medicine in Springville, Utah, which he closed around the time the clinic was sued in 2005.

Young authored several books, including Aromatherapy: The Essential Beginning (1996), An Introduction to Young Living Essential Oils (2002), Essential Oils Integrative Medical Guide: Building Immunity, Increasing Longevity, and Enhancing Mental Performance with Therapeutic-Grade Essential Oils (2003), Raindrop Technique (2003), and Essential Oil Desk Reference Special Third Edition (2015).

I believe a close look at Young’s activities can be illuminating for consumers who might be attracted to charismatic health gurus who base their teachings on alleged sources of knowledge from antiquity or tradition rather than on rigorously designed clinical research. Thus, this column concludes with a brief discussion of three other faith-guided healers who made news in 2018.

CBN News reported:

Described as a “modern pioneer,” Young was part inventor and part historian. His pursuit of new wellness discoveries was rooted in ancient practices as he attempted to unlock and share the benefits bestowed by herbs, plants, and trees.

According to the news release [from Young Living Essential Oils], while visiting Oman and walking through a market with thousands of giant bags of frankincense resin piled in the streets, Young decided to build a distillery in Salalah, the center of frankincense history; and in January 2010, Young Living opened the first large commercial distillery for the extraction of Sacred Frankincense essential oil in modern times.

My previous column, “Essential Considerations about Aromatherapy” provided an overview of aromatherapy and essential oils that addressed: (1) how essential oils are regulated in the United States, (2) some market research findings for aromatherapy, and (3) the lack of clinical research support for various therapeutic uses of essential oils. My introductory paragraphs were:

The practice of administering plant-derived essential oils on the skin, via inhalation of vapors, or internally via ingestion for supposed healing power is commonly called aromatherapy. The oils for aromatherapy are described as “essential” to refer to the volatile, aromatic components that some people describe as the “essence” of the plant source, which represents the plant’s “life force,” “spirit,” or soul. Aromatherapy is thus rooted in vitalism, which is described in The Skeptic’s Dictionary as:

… the metaphysical doctrine that living organisms possess a non-physical inner force or energy that gives them the property of life.

Vitalism is apparent in Young’s unusual approach called the Raindrop Technique, which has been harshly criticized even by aromatherapy practitioner organizations. 

Young’s Raindrop Technique

Young’s twenty-seven-page book Raindrop Technique (2003) is described on Amazon as:

A full explanation of each step and the details involved in giving a Raindrop with the Young Living Essential Oils for a therapeutic technique for the spine and body.

If you were interested in giving a Raindrop, Young apparently expected you to pay plenty for the privilege. The book’s current Amazon sales price in a paperback edition is $143.50 and as a “mass market paperback” the price is $635.23. Young Living has promoted the approach in meetings about the Young Living Empower: Raindrop Technique that have had an advanced registration charge of $150 and on-site registration of $219. Nevertheless, there are free, lengthy videos available online that demonstrate the technique.

Young Living describes the technique on its website:

Young Living’s proprietary Raindrop Technique® combines unique, targeted massage and energy approaches with pure, authentic essential oils for a deeply harmonizing, rejuvenating, and relaxing experience. The technique, developed by Young Living Founder and CEO D. Gary Young, draws from his experience with Native American wellness traditions and provides a revolutionary means of nurturing harmony—physically, mentally, and emotionally.

These oils are used in the technique in a specified sequence: Valor II, Oregano, Thyme,

Basil, Cypress, Wintergreen, Marjoram, Aroma Siez, and Peppermint.

A Young Living webpage links to its promotional video for the technique on Vimeo and describes in some detail these five steps:

  1. Prepare
  2. Balance body energy
  3. Roll and release
  4. Spinal application of essential oils
  5. Complete the Raindrop Technique

A seventy-minute YouTube video featuring Gary Young describes the technique as combining essential oils, manual technique, and acupressure point manipulation resulting in “energy alignment,” stress relief, and system balance. The video recommends receiving the technique four times a year for general wellness but monthly or weekly as recommended by your health care professional for chronic or sudden illness. Seemingly contradicting the last part of that recommendation is this disclaimer, which appears on screen at the beginning of the video: “Raindrop Technique is not intended to treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”

The technique, as demonstrated by Young, begins with rubbing different oils in a particular sequence with specified grips and motions into foot reflexology points that supposedly represent different parts of the body, including the brain. In the video he goes through the steps described by Young Living. When he administered wintergreen, he claimed without providing evidence that the methyl salicylate in it is beneficial to bone. He referred to peppermint as a detoxifier and a “personifier” (to supposedly make all the previously administered oils work better). He referred to Valor as a “harmonizer.” I imagine that his instructions sound scientifical to many people, especially those who relate to vitalism.

The Aromatherapy Registration Council (ARC), which endeavors to self-regulate aromatherapists and to enhance the credibility and visibility of aromatherapy, uses the term Raindrop Therapy to refer to the Raindrop Technique and similar approaches offered by Young Living’s competitors. In its “Statement of Policy Against Raindrop Therapy” ARC expresses these concerns:

ARC believes that Raindrop Therapy poses risks to the public health. Raindrop Therapy techniques are typically practiced as a one-size-fits-all technique, and may not be suitable for people with compromised liver or kidney function, those with heart disease, those on blood thinning medication, those with allergies to aspirin, and other disorders. Topical application of undiluted oils has a high risk of creating adverse skin reactions. ARC also believes that there is no published, research-validated clinical evidence to support any claim that Raindrop Therapy is able to assist in correcting spinal curvatures caused by scoliosis or to align electric and structural elements of the body, and that, therefore, claims made in this regard or the application of Raindrop Therapy for these purposes is detrimental to the public health. ARC believes that aromatherapy should only complement, not substitute for, conventional medicine.

ARC defines undiluted as “more concentration of essential oil than 2% or the proper dilution ratio generally accepted as safe for that oil.”

In its Code of Conduct, the Alliance of International Aromatherapists (AIA), a nonprofit professional organization for aromatherapists, calls for its members to “neither teach or practice unsafe essential oil administration, such as used in Raindrop Technique®, or Aroma Touch®, or any similar techniques.” AIA issued a white paper on Raindrop Therapy that states:

“Raindrop Therapy” technique as developed by Mr. Gary Young is not to be regarded as a best practice because:

  • It promotes the unsafe use of essential oils, putting people at risk of skin irritation and
  • There is no published empirical substantiation to support its claims that RDT is a “tool for assisting the body in correcting defects in the curvature of the spine, such as scoliosis.”

D. Gary Young’s (Lack of) Credentials

In the 1980s, brochures for Young’s Rosita Beach Clinic in Tijuana, Mexico, indicated that he had graduated from the American Institute of Physioregenerology (which taught therapeutic massage). In a column for the Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington) on October 28, 1986, Doug Clark wrote that the founder and operator of that institute said that Young falsely claimed that he graduated, only took a few classes, did only a third of the homework, owed $1,000 in tuition, and said: “To be honest, I’d hesitate to have anybody go to him for any kind of therapy.” According to Clark, Young said he owed nothing but admitted not graduating and characterized the false claim in the brochures as a “typographical error.”

According to his personal achievements page on his website in 2017, D. Gary Young studied various science subjects and the historical significance of essential oils in various countries and universities. The page indicated that he attended Bernadean University between 1982 and 1985 and earned a doctorate in naturopathy. But Bernadean University was a mail-order diploma mill, which had never been authorized to operate or to grant degrees.

Another listed achievement was that he received a humanitarian award from the State Medical Examiner’s office of Baja, California, in 1985 after opening a “natural healing research clinic” and having “designed and built advanced equipment for essential oil distillation that has garnered reviews from authorities… .” However, the page didn’t mention that on August 17, 2000, as documented by the Utah Occupational Safety and Health Division (UOSHD), one of his homemade distillers ruptured at the lid, fatally wounding a worker at Young Living Farms in Mona, Utah, a 1,000-acre farm where plants were cultivated for essential oil extraction using a steam distillation process. Young Living Farms was fined a total of $10,280 for seven safety violations. UOSHD reported: “The entire operation was designed by Gary Young President and built on site. The vessels were not built under any consideration to ASME [American Society of Mechanical Engineers] code for pressure vessels. No type of pressure relief device was installed on any of the vessels.”

According to his biography page from 2017, he earned a degree in nutrition before he earned his Bernadean doctorate, but the specific degree or institution that supposedly conferred the degree is not mentioned. A nutrition degree is not mentioned at all on his 2017 personal achievements page. It is unclear, then, if he earned any degrees from any respectably accredited institutions.

The biography page also reported that at age twenty-four he had suffered a nearly fatal logging accident that left him in a coma for three weeks. It says he was paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair, which launched him on a lifelong personal journey to take back control of his life. It says that when he regained feeling in his lower body three years after the accident, he began researching and using essential oils to alleviate his pain. Eventually, as the story goes, he regained all feeling and mobility and ran a half marathon thirteen years after the accident. Of course, the story ends with victory over adversity: “And Gary Young decided to share his experience of the healing properties of essential oils with the world.”

I’ve seen other stories of founders of multilevel marketing companies facing adversity and then turning their lives around. Such stories probably help to inspire people to invest in becoming distributors. But they don’t establish that safe, cost-effective products are promoted.

Young’s current website provides a list of fifteen reference citations to published research papers he coauthored. While he has a record as a coauthor (never as senior author) of research papers in scientific and medical journals, it isn’t clear to me what role he had in any of the research or how his roles could establish him as an expert in therapeutic uses of essential oils. I reviewed each of the papers he coauthored. I see nothing in them that established him as having expertise regarding use of essential oils for therapeutic purposes. None of the papers provide evidence to support his Raindrop Technique or any other approach to therapeutic use of essential oils. My comments about each of the papers are in an appendix following this column.

Pre-clinical research papers similar to Young’s are sometimes given press coverage. HealthNewsReview.org warned in 2017 that consumers are poorly served by press reports about essential oils that rely only on preliminary evidence to support claims and that use sources with conflicts of interest.

Unlicensed Practice of Medicine in the State of Washington

In 1983, while living in Spokane, Washington, Young was arrested for practicing medicine without a license. Based on a three-week undercover investigation, Young allegedly offered: (1) to deliver a baby, (2) treat cancer, and (3) detect cancer using a blood sample. According to investigators, he also allegedly offered to determine the “nutritional needs of another person during pregnancy by drawing blood and interpreting the results of a blood test.” Young pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge. He was given a sixty-day sentence, fined $250, and placed on probation for one year.

Several months earlier, Young’s infant daughter died of cardiac arrest during delivery in a whirlpool bath at Golden Six Health World, which Young owned. According to the County Coroner, she apparently remained under water for almost an hour before she was removed. Press reported the County Coroner as saying that she probably would have lived if she had been delivered under more conventional conditions.

Young’s Rosarita Beach Clinic

In the late 1980s, Young ran the Rosarita Beach Clinic in Tijuana, which offeredlaetrile; colonics; iridology; massage; vegetarian diet; vitamin C therapy; reinfusing blood that had been drawn from patients and exposed to direct current; and a diagnostic test involving looking at dried blood under a microscope, which Young claimed was 95 percent accurate for identifying current and future diseases such as arthritis and leukemia.

The clinic sent prospective patients a kit for collecting blood samples on slides using pin punctures of the little finger of each hand. Prospective patients would mail the slides with $60 for diagnosis using “blood crystallization analysis.”

In his Dictionary of Metaphysical Health Care (1997), Jack Raso offered this description of blood crystallization (diagnostic blood crystallization):

Mode of pseudodiagnosis that involves introduction of a blood sample to a copper chloride solution. “Crystal signs” of illness in the resultant “blood-crystal picture” allegedly express the guidance of “a higher functional plane coming to expression.” “Organ-signs,” for example, purportedly indicate dysfunction of an organ or a bodily system. Supposedly, each so-called organ-sign reflects a “multi-layered organ principle” (which includes “the organ-bound ‘soul organ’”) and, on “the psychic plane,” is the foundation for related “soul qualities.”

As far as I can tell, blood crystallization was developed by Ehrenfried Pfeiffer as a “demonstration of formative forces in the blood” and as a method of diagnosis with suggestions made by the Austrian mystic and self-proclaimed clairvoyant Rudolf Steiner, who founded the religion of Anthroposophy. However, blood crystallization diagnosis remains such a dubious, nonstandard approach that a webpage promoting it as capable of “representing inflammatory or degenerative problems” offers this disclaimer:

Live Cell Analysis using Dark Field Microscopy and Blood Crystallization (Oxidative Stress Test) using Bright Field Microscopy given by your health professional are for nutritional information only and should not be considered a medical diagnosis.

In 1987, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Rosarita Beach Clinic gave these results of “blood crystallization analysis” of three sets of slides submitted by a reporter who presented himself as a prospective patient:

The Times also reported:

The detoxification program at the clinic, which consists of colonics, a special diet and various nostrums, costs $2,000 per week, payable in advance. An at-home program is also available for $90 plus about $400 worth of vitamins and supplements that Young sells through his vitamin company in California.

“Alternative” regimens for detoxification and supplementation are neither evidence-based nor of plausible value for health enhancement.

Young’s Chula Vista, California, Clinic

In the late 1980s, Don Gary Young, Dixie Young, and Richard Crow Jr. operated Young Life Wellness Center and Young Life Products in Chula Vista, California. In 1988, a female investigator for California’s Department of Health Services purchased two “blood crystallization test kits” from this clinic and submitted her own blood sample with the medical history of a fictitious male to the clinic for testing. The clinic responded that the test revealed that, among other ailments, she had “enlarged prostate and that carcinogenic cells existed in a ‘potentially aggressive pattern.’” (The prostate is a gland located between the bladder and penis just in front of the rectum in males.) The district attorney’s office convinced a Superior Court judge to issue a temporary restraining order prohibiting the operators of the Chula Vista and Rosarita Beach clinics from advertising and selling misleading and deceptive health cures and to schedule a hearing for an injunction.1

In June 1988, the judge issued a preliminary injunction against the Youngs and Crow prohibiting operation of the Chula Vista clinic. One of the defendants told the court that the clinic already ceased operation.2

The district attorney’s office also filed an unfair business practices complaint that accused the Youngs and Crow of claiming they can cure cancer and other degenerative diseases by techniques such as implanting electrodes into cancerous tumors and reinfusing electrically treated blood. The complaint also stated that the defendants: (1) falsely said they could identify thirty-four medical conditions, including stress, bowel gases, hypoglycemia, fluid retention, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, parasites, and immune deficiency, and (2) sold unapproved new medical devices and unapproved new drugs, manufactured medical devices and drugs without a license, advertised drugs and devices to cure cancer, and practiced medicine without a license. Deputy District Attorney Donald Canning said: “Don Young holds himself out to be a doctor in his audio and video tapes, but he is not a licensed physician in any of the United States.” Prosecutors sought a penalty of $2,500 for each violation proved in court and a minimum fine for defendants of $150,000.3 I don’t know whether the defendants were financially penalized.

Young Life Research Clinic Institute of Natural Medicine

In her October 9, 2017, article in The New Yorker, Rachel Monroe reported that Young opened the Young Life Research Clinic in Springville, Utah, which offered essential oils and other alternative treatments for various diseases. In 2005, the clinic settled a lawsuit with a patient who claimed that infusions of vitamin C had caused kidney failure, almost killing her. Young closed the clinic and opened one in Ecuador.

Young Living Essential Oils

Young Living claims to be the “world leader in essential oils and wellness solutions.” It has websites in almost seventy countries around the world. For some countries, Young Living sites were created in more than one language.

Rachel Monroe’s article in The New Yorker described Young Living’s multilevel-marketing model:

Distributors often buy products at wholesale prices and sell them at a retail markup, but the real money comes from recruiting other distributors into your “downline,” and getting a commission on their sales. Young Living divides its sales force into a complex hierarchy stratified partly by sales volume, ranging from Distributor (the lowest level, comprising ninety-four per cent of members) to Royal Crown Diamond (less than one-tenth of one per cent).

Though the medium may have changed, the sell remains the same—becoming a distributor is a path to independence, flexibility, and “abundance,” the industry’s favorite euphemism for money.

The reality for most recruits is quite different. Multilevel-marketing companies are structured in such a way that a large base of distributors generally spend more than they make, while a small number on top reap most of the benefits. It is often expensive to invest in an initial stock of products, as well as to make required minimum monthly purchases—around a hundred dollars for Young Living members who want to receive a commission check. According to a public income statement, more than ninety-four per cent of Young Living’s two million active members made less than a dollar in 2016, while less than one-tenth of one per cent—that is, about a thousand Royal Crown Diamonds—earned more than a million dollars.

Young Living has good reason to avoid making specific medical claims for its products in the U.S. In 2014, the Food and Drug Administration warned Young in his role as Young Living CEO that distributors promote many Young Living products for conditions that cause them to be drugs because they are intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease. The warning noted:

Your consultants promote many of your Young Living Essential Oil Products for conditions such as, but not limited to, viral infections (including ebola), Parkinson’s disease, autism, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, insomnia, heart disease, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dementia, and multiple sclerosis, that are not amenable to self-diagnosis and treatment by individuals who are not medical practitioners.

One of Young Living’s ads stated: “Viruses (including Ebola) are no match for Young LivingTM Essential Oils”

While Young Living marketed its essential oils as dietary supplements, the FDA warned that the products were misbranded and that products not intended for ingestion, such as oils applied to the skin, cannot be considered dietary supplements. On the same day, the FDA also warned dōTERRA International, LLC, Young Living’s major competitor, which was founded in 2008 by former Young Living executives, about improper representations of its essential oil products.

In 2017, Young Living pleaded guilty in federal court to federal misdemeanor charges regarding its illegal trafficking of rosewood oil and spikenard oil in violation of the Lacey Act and the Endangered Species Act, and was sentenced to a fine of $500,000, $135,000 in restitution, a community service payment of $125,000 for the conservation of protected species of plants used in essential oils, and a term of five years’ probation with special conditions.

Following in Young’s Footsteps?

With dubious educational and professional credentials, Young developed a career as a promoter of egregious pseudomedicine and a leader in the essential oil movement. He was especially influential in launching Young Living Essential Oils, which remains a big player in the aromatherapy industry. But even organizations devoted to advancing aromatherapy have raised safety concerns about Young’s Raindrop Technique and have criticized Young for making unsubstantiated therapeutic claims.

Young was revered as a Christian by the Christian Broadcasting Network. His teachings about healing with essential oils were significantly rooted in the Christian Bible. It seems likely that he attracted devout conservative Christian customers by appealing to Christian scripture and nature. But even Young’s teachings about healings rooted in non-Christian traditions of holism, spirituality, and vitalism could have appeal for many Christians.

In The Healing Gods: Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Christian America (2013), religious studies scholar Candy Gunther Brown noted that many devout Christians interpret the Bible as providing endorsement for a wide range of dubious approaches to healing, including detoxification methods and vitalistic practices such as homeopathy. She notes the recent marketing of Christianized versions of practices such as acupuncture, reiki, yoga, and chiropractic.

I see people who use religiously based qualifications to provide health care services as following in the footsteps of Donald Gary Young.

For example, in January 2018, Malachi Alexander Love-Robinson, aged twenty, who received national media attention in 2016 for operating a South Florida holistic clinic and pretending to be a doctor, signed a plea agreement that called for a sentence of forty-two months of incarceration with credit for more than a year already spent in prison. It appears that his only “doctorate” was a divinity degree from the online Universal Life Church Seminary that could have been bought for as little as $29.95.

In March 2018, the Los Angeles City Attorney charged Timothy Morrow, aged eighty-three, with child abuse causing death and practicing medicine without a license. The City Attorney’s press release describes the alleged circumstances this way:

During 2014, Morrow allegedly began to treat the 13-year-old victim for his diabetes by prescribing herbs in lieu of the insulin the victim’s pediatrician had prescribed. In August, 2014, Morrow allegedly came to the family’s Harbor Gateway home to treat the 13-year-old victim after he became sick and semi-comatose due to complications from his Type-1 diabetes. Shortly before the victim died, Morrow allegedly told the victim’s parents not to give him insulin but instead to administer the herbal oils that he was selling. The victim suffered a cardiac arrest and died the next day as a result of complications from his diabetes. The medical examiner determined the victim would have lived had he received proper medical treatment.

Morrow’s YouTube channel offered forty videos and had at least 2,700 subscribers. His “Message from Our Founder” on the Common Sense Herbal Products website describes him as a “Master Herbalist and Iridologist” to whom God began talking about herbs over twenty-five years ago.

Hundreds of practitioners are using the credentials “PSc.D.,” “D.PSc.,” and/or “Doctor of Pastoral Medicine” obtained through the Pastoral Medical Association (PMA) to promote their services. The PMA describes itself as:

…an established ecclesiastical association developed over a decade and a half ago to restore bible based wellness and counseling services, to provide a constitutionally sound path for licensing of spiritually oriented practitioners that desire to offer those services, and to connect the millions seeking such services with our licensed providers.

We now serve a community of hundreds of thousands of individuals and families in all U.S. States, throughout Canada and many other countries who value and prioritize their health, who believe in freedom of choice when it comes to health, and who are seeking natural means for restoring and building good physical, mental and spiritual health.

In June 2018, James Joseph Martin of West Sacramento, California, who did business as Dr. James Martin, D.PSc., was sentenced to one year in jail and five years of probation after pleading no contest to three felony counts of practicing medicine without a license, four felony counts of grand theft, and two misdemeanor counts of improperly using the titles “Dr.” and “physician.” He was also ordered to:

I imagine that many other spiritually oriented practitioners without real medical expertise strive to be as consequential as Donald Gary Young was. I recommend that consumers be wary of Young wannabes.



Notes
  1. M. Himaka. “Clinic Given Order of Restraint.” San Diego Union, March 8, 1988.
  1. “Judge Orders Chula Vista Medical Clinics to Shut Down.” San Diego Union, June 18, 1988.
  1. B. Callahan. “Court Blocks Ads, Sales by Chula Vista Clinic.” San Diego Union, March 11, 1988.


Appendix: Comments about Papers Coauthored by Young

Only one of the papers Young coauthored can be considered a clinical investigation, but that paper is a case report—an anecdote backed with documentation. It’s the least informative type of study in the hierarchy of clinical evidence regarding safety and effectiveness of treatments. The paper, “Management of Basal Cell Carcinoma of the Skin Using Frankincense (Boswellia sacra) Essential Oil: A Case Report,” was published in OA Alternative Medicine, a journal of Open Access Publishing London. Assuming that the oil could receive Investigational New Drug status in the U.S., it would take three phases of increasingly rigorous research with well over a thousand people before standards for drug approval could be met. Effective treatments of basal cell skin cancers are already available.

Another paper he coauthored in OA Alternative Medicine reviewed the anti-cancer activity of frankincense essential oils in laboratory studies, but such studies don’t establish that the oils are safe, effective treatments for any specific type of cancer.

I’m not qualified to evaluate “Detecting Essential Oil Adulteration,” a paper coauthored by Young and published in the Journal of Environmental Analytical Chemistry, but I’m all for quality control of consumer products. Purity is important, but it shouldn’t be mistaken for safety or effectiveness.

Perhaps other papers coauthored have value in answering questions of interest to some serious scientists, but I don’t see how any of the papers answer any practical questions that consumers should ask about any product promoted to them for health enhancement.

Young coauthored a paper published in the Journal of the American Nutraceutical Association about an explicitly pre-clinical investigation that involved injecting wolfberry juice and other juice mixtures into the abdominal cavity of mice and then looking for effects on immune function. I don’t imagine that many people interested in essential oils would be interested in receiving injections of juices into their abdomens.

He coauthored a paper published in Flavour and Fragrance Journal reporting inhibition in cell culture of methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) by fifty-two of sixty-four blends of essential oils. The paper acknowledges that much more research is needed before clinical safety and efficacy in treating MRSA infections can be established.

A Young paper published in Pharmaceutical Biology addresses technical aspects of assessing anti-microbial activity of essential oils in a laboratory, not in or on people.

Young coauthored two papers published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. One reported on Boswellia sacra essential oil effects on cultured breast cancer cells. Another reported on frankincense essential oil effects on cultured pancreatic cancer cells. Neither study establishes that the oils are safe and effective to use in treating actual breast or pancreatic cancer patients. The other, “Differential Effects of Selective Frankincense (Ru Xiang) Essential Oil versus Non-Selective Sandalwood (Tan Xiang) Essential Oil on Cultured Bladder Cancer Cells: a Microarray and Bioinformatics Study” published in the journal Chinese Medicine, is similarly uninformative regarding how cancer should be treated.

Another paper reported on a cell culture study and was published in the Journal of the Utah Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters: “Inhibition of LPS Induced Nitric Oxide Production in Murine RAW Macrophage-like Cells by Essential Oils of Plants.” The authors noted: “…The correlation of results from these data to in vivo anti-inflammatory activity along with the overall benefits to the patient is still speculative.” In other words, the research doesn’t support any meaningful health claim about any essential oil.

Five of the papers were published in the Journal of Essential Oil Research. Those papers reported: (1) reductions in aerosol-borne bacteria under a fume hood with exposure to an oil blend, (2) reduction of bacterial plaque production when mixed with some oils, (3) three of seventy-three oils having highly inhibitory activity and fifteen having moderately inhibitory activity against cultures of Streptococcus pneumoniae R36A, (4) descriptions of the chemical composition of essential oils from herbal parts of three varieties of Chrysothamnus nauseousus, and (5) a description of the chemical composition of an essential oil found in the stem of a plant from Ecuador. None of the studies provides a sound basis for recommending essential oil treatment for any health concern.

William M. London

William M. London's photo

William M. London is a professor of public health at Cal State LA, editor of Consumer Health Digest, and a scientific and technical consultant to the Committee on Skeptical Inquiry.