ML writes: “Many of my friends, suspicious of modern medicine, are turning to nutritional therapies including essential oils. I dabbled in the New Age years ago, although the dabbling got me too close to the fire, so to speak. As my faith life grew, and I began to abandon my New Age philosophies, I began to experience bizarre physical symptoms which I knew were spiritual in origin. Thanks to my wonderful, faithful husband, I got to a priest for deliverance prayer.
“Because of my prior ‘openness’ to the New Age, I am afraid that I might be even more susceptible to deceptive practices. I don’t know anything about ‘essential oils’, or ‘grounding’–apparently grounding involves walking outside barefoot to balance electrolytes or something like that. (Haha, it sounds funny just to type that!!) Have you heard of any of this stuff?”
Yes, I have, and neither of the practices you mention have much scientific support behind them (as you probably already guessed).
Essential oils are nothing more than concentrated extracts from plants and are referred to as “essential” only because they are said to carry a distinctive scent or “essence” of the plant. Examples would be rose, lavendar or eucalyptus oil. These products are not New Age and it is okay to use them.
Whether or not these products work is another issue altogether. I have seen claims ranging from the improving the immune system to “beautifying legs and hips” but there is scarce evidence to support these claims.
As stated on the Evidence-Based Science blog, “The published evidence [on essential oils] is sparse to nonexistent. There are clinical studies to support a few of the recommended uses, but they are generally poorly designed, uncontrolled, and unconvincing. Research is difficult, because patients can’t be blinded to the odors, and mental associations and relaxation could account for most of the observed effects.”
Another problem with these products is where they are purchased. Because essential oils are the darlings of the New Age “heal yourself” movement, your purchase is probably supporting someone’s New Age business. Some purveyors of essential oils have rather long rap sheets, such as Gary Young of Young Living Essential Oils who was has been on the wrong side of the law quite often in the past for practicing medicine without a license and for conducting bogus lab tests. There are even allegations that he contributed to the death of his own child by performing an underwater delivery and holding the newborn infant underwater for an hour.
You could also be exposing yourself to health risks depending on the purity of the oils you purchase because they could contain insecticides and a host of other potential impurities to which you could be allergic, or which might interact negatively with some medication you’re taking.
Great caution should be exercised when using essential oils and they should never be substituted for conventional medical care in the case of serious or infections conditions.
The bottom line is that there is little evidence that essential oils really work, they could be dangerous to your health, and the field is riddled with charlatans, most of whom are New Age enthusiasts.
As for “grounding”, aka “earthing”, this is complete bunk. The premise is that by taking off our rubber-soled shoes and walking barefoot on the earth, we are able to absorb electrons from the earth that can heal us.
“. . . (E)arthing generates a powerful and positive shift in the electrical state of the body and restores natural self-healing and self-regulating mechanisms,” this site claims. “We know that Earthing allows a transfer of electrons (the Earth’s natural, subtle energy) into the body.”
The only scientific evidence given for these assertions are the usual assortment of heavily biased and methodologically unsound tests.
After delivering a blistering review of the whole concept of earthing, Steven Novella, M.D., an academic clinical neurologist at Yale University Medical Center, concluded: “What is lacking are rigorous studies that are designed to establish the basic claims of earthing or to show convincing evidence of a positive clinical effect.”
In other words, while it might feel good to kick your shoes off and walk around barefoot at the end of a long day, that’s about as far as it goes.
Send your New Age questions to firstname.lastname@example.org