Since I write about the human microbiome, I found this information on what’s been discovered – so far – about its interactions with the rest of the body quite fascinating and think you will too. The information is mostly from an article charmingly entitled Friends with social benefits – subtitled Host-microbe interactions as a driver of brain evolution and development? (Stilling et al, 2014)
Our long evolutionary history has resulted in the modern human body’s being home to trillions of colonizing microbes.
The microbiome is comprised of:
Bacteria – at least 40,000 bacterial strains in 1,800 genera
Archaea (a group of single-celled organisms lacking a defined nucleus) and eukaryotes (multi-celled organisms in which the genetic material is organized into a membrane-bound nucleus or nuclei), such as protozoa, fungi and nematodes
Many viruses, collectively termed the virome
The human microbiome collectively contains at least 9.9 million non-human genes.
These non-human microbes carry about 500 times the number of human protein-coding genes that have been annotated to date.
In an adult human body, these approximately 100 trillion non-human associated cells weigh about 1-2 kg (2.2-4.4 lbs).
Note: I’ve seen a variety of estimates for how much the microbiome weighs. When a weight range is given, I’m often not sure if it refers to the microbes living in the gut or to the microbes living in all the body’s microbiomes. Here’s a representation of the various microbiomes – there are others. Eg, different microbes live on various areas of our skin:
The average weight of the adult human microbiome is about the same as the average weight of an adult human brain – about 1.5 kg (3.3 lbs).
Scientists think the comparable weights of our microbiomes and brains isn’t arbitrary but is instead “a window into the connections between neuroscience and microbiology. During human evolution, the primate brain underwent structural reconstructions of fast and dramatic increases in relative volume, leading to the brain as the most energy-demanding organ in the body.”
We’re still in the early stages of understanding how this symbiosis between the human microbiome and brain affects brain function and behavior. Stay tuned – this is a hot research area now.
Microbes, RNA networks and brain development: A social triangle? An integrated model is proposed for the evolution of human social behavior.
Scientists have found evidence that the types of microbes in a given host influence a wide variety of physiological processes, such as post-natal development and immuno-modulation, as well as the host’s brain evolution and behavior.
The long-held belief that mammalian fetuses live in a sterile environment in the womb and first come in contact with bacteria during passage through the birth canal seems not to be true. There is increasing evidence that mothers transmit certain microbes to their babies in utero. “Moreover, the mother’s gut microbiota changes dramatically during pregnancy. After delivery through the birth canal, the microbiota becomes more complex and abundant, and these community-level changes continue via breast-feeding and uptake of new microbes from the environment. It is therefore not surprising that the microbiota critically influences pre-, peri- and postnatal development, and changes during early life stages will result in phenotypic alterations in adulthood.” (Stilling et al, 2014)
It is well-known that the composition of the microbiota changes during animal development and can be influenced by environmental factors such as diet, lifestyle, and habitat.
The hologenome theory of evolution posits:
Natural selection occurs because individual animals and plants act symbiotically with their microbial communities.
This casts the microbiome as a central player on a par with an organism’s inherited genes.
This relationship between genes and microbes affects both the host and its microbiota.
The interaction between the host’s genes and the considerably greater number of genes in the host’s microbiota affects all aspects of the host’s life: development, survival, growth, adaptation, and reproduction. (Rosenberg & Zilber-Rosenberg, 2011)
The genetic information encoded by microbes is able to change, in response to environmental demands, more rapidly and by more processes, than the genetic information encoded by the host organism.
The mutated characteristics resulting from interactions between an organism’s genes and its microbiome are heritable from generation to generation.
“By all accounts, this viewpoint blurs the differences between the genome and environment. It embraces a vibrant and more satisfying view of the nature of biology, namely that the microbiome is as essential as the genome in defining what an animal or plant is and is not.” (Stilling et al, 2014)
Person + Microbiota
Lest you read any of this to mean that you’re doomed by either your genetic inheritance or the current sorry state of your gut microbes, I just want to point out that the composition of your gut microbiome can be changed by improving your diet and taking helpful supplements:
” … changes in environmental parameters, for example, diet, can cause rapid changes in the diverse microbiota, which not only can benefit the holobiont (Note: = you + your microbiota) in the short term but also can be transmitted to offspring and lead to long lasting cooperations.” (Rosenberg & Zilber-Rosenberg, 2011)
For at least 10,000 years, people have used essential oils from aromatic plants as medicines – for physical, emotional and spiritual healing. The Bible contains many references to healing with essential oils and aromatic plants.
The Hebrew word for “anoint” means to massage a person with a healing oil. The Bible makes several mentions of Jesus’ feet being anointed with a widely prized essential oil called spikenard – still used therapeutically today. Spikenard provides many benefits, including having rich antioxidant properties, giving a boost to the metabolism and assisting with digestive upset. Anointing with oil was done for healing purposes. (Martin, 2014)
The Chinese burned incense made of aromatic plants to create harmony and balance. The ancient Egyptians availed themselves of volatile plant oils for medicinal, cosmetic, spiritual and cosmetic uses. The Egyptians also embalmed their dead with oils of cedarwood, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and myrrh. The ancient Greeks used the oils of aromatic plants for their anti-inflammatory properties, aromas, and to heal wounds.
A tome called De Materia Medica, written by Discorides during the time of the Holy Roman Empire, described the properties of over 500 medicinal plants. In the 11th century, a Persian named Avicenna designed a coiled pipe that allowed plant vapors and steam to cool down more effectively than the straight pipes that had been used for distillation before his invention.
In the 12th century, Hildegard, a German abbess, grew and distilled lavender for its medicinal properties. Then, in the 13th century, the birth of a pharmaceutical industry encouraged even greater use of distilled plant oils.
During the time of the Black Plague in the 14th century, herbal preparations were widely used as protection again the disease. It is believed that many perfumers were spared because of their constant contact with the volatile oils in the plants they handled.
In the 15th century, an even wider variety of plant oils were distilled – including frankincense, juniper, rosemary, rose and sage. Paracelsus, an alchemist and medical doctor, coined the term essence. His radical work challenged the practice of alchemy and led to an increased use of plants for their medicinal properties.
The 16th and 17th centuries saw the rise of apothecaries, which carried a wide range of essential oils for purchase. Perfume makers began to be viewed as artists and split off from the makers of therapeutic oils.
Moving into more recent times, 19th century science developed the ability to identify the major constituents of essential oils. Then, technical advances of the 20th century built on this new knowledge to create SYNTHETIC chemicals and drugs.
And that’s when we got into some trouble – with side effects from our medicines.
The late 20th and early 21st centuries saw a reaction to the widespread use of synthetic pharmaceuticals, their side effects and high cost – and many healers and sensible people have sought to return to using natural, non-pesticide contaminated plants for their therapeutic, aromatic, cosmetic, and spiritual benefits.
Healers in many contemporary cultures continue to use essential oils medicinally – for physical, psychological, and spiritual healing.
Here’s an interesting, expanded story of the protective use of Thieves Blend essential oils (also referred to as Marseilles Remedy and Thieves Vinegar) during the Black Plague (Horowitz & Devita, 2002):
Did you know that during the great plague in Europe in 1413, a small band of thieves were captured in Marseilles, France, and charged with robbing the dead and dying bubonic plague victims? Although this “Black Death” … was highly contagious, not one of this morbid band of thieves ever contracted the disease.
The king, eager to protect himself and the Royal family, demanded to know how the thieves had avoided the plague. Related by blood to a lineage of apothecaries, the thieves were familiar with a combination of specific plant oils that when rubbed over their bodies, protected them from contracting this most feared and deadly disease. They rubbed a concoction that included clove, rosemary, and cinnamon on their hands, ears and temples. This same formulation found in the Royal English Archives is available today from Young Living Essential Oils called the “Thieves” oil blend.
For 500 years it was thought that the Bubonic Plague/Black Death/Black Plague was caused by a bacterium transferred from rats to humans via the rats’ fleas. Recent DNA evidence extracted from Plague victims’ remains in London shows that the epidemic was caused by an airborne bacterium called Yersinia pestis, not spread by infected rat fleas.
Public Health England scientists point out that a disease that moved through the population at the rapid pace of the Plague could only have been spread directly from human to human, by pneumonic means (via bacteria from victims’ lungs expelled by coughs and sneezes). Spread via infected rat fleas biting a diseased person and then moving on to bite other people would have progressed at a much slower rate. (Hardin, 2014)
Then there are scientists who argue that the Black Death may have actually been a person-to-person transmissible virus similar to Ebola to spread as quickly across Europe as it did – at a rate of about 30 miles every two to three days. Ebola is able to spread person to person at a similar rate. (Paoli, 2013)
ESSENTIAL OILS, EBOLA & THE FDA (Ettinger, 2014)
In mid-September 2014, as the media panic about Ebola was growing in the US, the FDA sent letters to Young Living and dōTERRA instructing them and their distributors to stop making claims that their essential oils could prevent or cure the Ebola virus:
From the website www.theoilessentials.com: “[T]he Ebola virus cannot survive in the presence of a therapeutic grade Cinnamon Bark and Oregano essential oil.”
From the website www.essentialsurvival.org:“Thieves oil can be . . . applied topically on the skin to help the body fight off infection . . . If Ebola was going around in my area . . . I would apply it to my feet and armpits 2x/day or more and take it in capsules at least 2x/day for preventive purposes,” and “If I were exposed to Ebola or had reason to believe I could be sick with it, I would use some of these oils every 10 minutes for a few hours, then cut back to every hour for the rest of the first day. Then I would use them every 2 waking hours of the day for at least a week, or longer if it was known I was sick.”
From a Twitter account credited to “MrsSkinnyMedic.”, a doTerra distributor: “Many Essential Oils are highly Anti-viral. I list here a few of them those (sic) oils that could help prevent your contracting the Ebola virus …
Young Living, doTERRA, and their representatives also posted these kinds of ads:
Essential oils may or may not turn out to be found effective against Ebola. Many essential oils do have strong anti-viral properties. Stay tuned.
WHY APPLY ESSENTIAL OILS ON THE SOLES OF YOUR FEET AND SPINE (Vincent, undated)
The chart above shows the acupressure points on the feet where various therapeutic grade essential oils may be applied for therapeutic benefits. Researcher Jean Valnet, MD, has found that an essential oil applied directly to the skin can pass into the bloodstream and diffuse throughout the tissues in 20 minutes or less.
Reflexology is the practice of massaging acupressure points on the feet or hands to relieve stress, illness, pain; to stimulate healing and maintain health. It has been practiced for 1,000s of years. Each area on the feet connects to a particular body organ system via nerves and electromagnetic (Qi) energy channels (meridians). Rubbing stimulates that area.
The meridians run through our seven main life energy centers, called chakras in Sanskrit, which link to our seven main endocrine glands. The meridians supply the physical, mental and emotional energy in the chakras.
Combining the use of pure essential oils and reflexology is the perfect delivery system of these ancient medicines.
I can personally attest to refloxology’sbeing a very pleasant experience. Sometimes a particular acupressure point will feel very tender when rubbed – but it’s clearly a productive pain, not a bad pain. Often I can tell exactly why – for example, when I had stomach flu and the least bit of pressure applied to the corresponding areas on my feet produced an exquisite pain. But I did pranayama while the reflexologist was rubbing those areas and my stomach flu was totally gone an hour after the session.
Essential oils from many plant families have demonstrated antiviral properties in laboratory and real-world settings. 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).
Many of the abstracts on Pub Med, the database of the National Institute of Health for peer-reviewed journal articles, describe essential oils’ activity as an excellent preventative measure (see www.pubmed.gov): Use before exposure can lessen the potential of infection. This is the case for any type of virus, be it our ‘regular’ flu season in the U.S., or where one might be exposed to an uncommonly high infected population. In this case, some advanced practitioners would apply small amounts of oil several times a day to the neck and sternum, and may even ingest one or two drops of an anti-viral oil blend.
Enveloped viruses are most sensitive to essential oils with a high amount of monoterpene alcohols (e.g. Linalool, present in Lavender, Coriander, Petitgrain and Thyme c.t.Linalool. Citronellol present in Geranium and Rose Otto; Geraniol present in Palmarosa; alpha-terpinol found in Eucalyptus Radiata, Niaouli and Ravensara; Terpinol-4 present in Tea Tree, Hyssop and Marjoram; and Menthol, found in Peppermint and Spearmint) and monoterpine phenols (e.g. Carvacrol in Oregano, and Thymol in both Thyme and Oregano). Influenza (Flu) viruses are Enveloped viruses.
Non-enveloped, or ‘naked’ viruses are more sensitive to essential oils with a high content of terpenoid ketones (eg. Pinocamphone in Hyssop; Verbenone in Rosemary c.t. verbenone, Pinocarvone in Eucalyptus Globulus, and Thuja in Sage). (Note: Other oils and components have also demonstrated anti-viral effects….)
It has been suggested by respected medical aromatherapists that essential oils have a powerful effect on the immune system, and can drastically alter our immune defenses to protect against the Influenza virus. The pH and electrical resistance in the ‘host’ (infected) cells and tissues can be altered in such a way as to be unfavorable to virus replication. Further, research has shown that many of these oils raise chemical markers in the body which indicate positive stimulation of the immune system. Essential oils may provide a dual-protective effect: by increasing the strength and efficiency of our immune response AND by limiting the ability of viruses to replicate.
The list of essential oils exhibiting antiviral effects is extensive:Melissa (as above), tea tree,juniper, eucalyptus, thyme, palmarosa, lavender, rosemary, clove, laurel, cinnamon bark, anise, rose, lemongrass, geranium, neroli, bergamot, clary sage, and dill. The antiviral effect of an essential oil is due to particular components of the oil – 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 K. Schnaubelt, Ph.D. – Advanced Aromatherapy, p. 36):
Anethol – found in Anise
Alpha-Sabines – found in Tea Tree, Laurel, and other oils
Beta-Caryophyllene – found in Lavender, Rosemary, Thyme Linalool, and other oils
Carvone – found in Dill
Cinnamic aldehyde – found in Cinnamon Bark
Citral – found in Melissa, Lemongrass and other oils
Eugenol – found in Clove
Gamma-Terpinene – Found in Juniper, Eucalyptus, Niaouli, Tea Tree and other oils
Linalyl acetate – found in Clary Sage, Lavender, Bergamot and other oils
RESEARCH EVIDENCE ON ESSENTIAL OILS
Scientists tested 14 essential oils against three major respiratory tract pathogens: Haemophilus influenzae, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Streptococcus pyogenes and Staphylococcus aureus.
The 14 essential oils tested were Cinnamon bark, Lemongrass, Perilla, Thyme (wild), Thyme (red), Thyme (geraniol), Peppermint, Tea tree, Coriander, Lavender (spike), Lavender (true), Rosemary, Eucalptus (radiata), and Citron. All the oils tested were of high quality (purity >95%).
All the essential oils examined exhibited antibacterial activity. Among the 14, Cinnamon bark, Lemongrass and Thyme (wild and red) oils showed the highest activity. Perilla, Thyme (geraniol), Peppermint, Tea tree, Coriander and Lavender (spike and true) oils showed moderate activity against all isolates except E. coli. However, Tea tree and Coriander oils showed activity against E. coli comparable to that against other strains. Eucalyptus (radiata) oil, and especially Citron oil, were weakest in activity.
The authors noted:
Essential oils produced by plants have been traditionally used for respiratory tract infections, and are used nowadays as ethical medicines for colds. In the medicinal field, inhalation therapy of essential oils has been used to treat acute and chronic bronchitis and acute sinusitis…. Essential oils are known to possess antimicrobial activity…. Gram-positive bacteria are known to be more susceptible to essential oils than Gram-negative bacteria
These findings were presented in an article called “Antibacterial activity of essential oils and their major constituents against respiratory tract pathogens by gaseous contact” published in the internationally highly regarded Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy. (Inouyea et al, 2001)
Another research study (Friedman, 2002), done under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, tested the antibacterial activities of 96 essential oils and 23 oil compounds against three other bacteria: Campylobacter jejuni, Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes, and Salmonella enterica. It found 27 oils and 12 compounds to be active against all four species of bacteria:
The oils most active against C. jejuni were marigold, ginger root, jasmine, patchouli, gardenia, cedarwood, carrot seed, celery seed, mugwort, spikenard, and orange bitter oils.
The oils most active against E. coli were oregano, thyme, cinnamon, palmarosa, bay leaf, clove bud, lemon grass, and allspice oils.
The oils most active against Listeria monocytogenes were gardenia, cedarwood, bay leaf, clove bud, oregano, cinnamon, allspice, thyme, and patchouli oils.
The oils most active against Salmonella enterica were thyme, oregano, cinnamon, clove bud, allspice, bay leaf, palmarosa, and marjoram oils.
The oil compounds most active against C. jejuni were cinnamaldehyde, estragole, carvacrol, benzaldehyde, citral, thymol, eugenol, perillaldehyde, carvone R, and geranyl acetate.
The oil compounds most active against E. coli were carvacrol, cinnamaldehyde, thymol, eugenol, salicylaldehyde, geraniol, isoeugenol, citral, perillaldehyde, and estragole.
The oil compounds most active against Listeria monocytogenes were cinnamaldehyde, eugenol, thymol, carvacrol, citral, geraniol, perillaldehyde, carvone S, estragole, and salicylaldehyde.
The oil compounds most active against Salmonella enterica were thymol, cinnamaldehyde, carvacrol, eugenol, salicylaldehyde, geraniol, isoeugenol, terpineol, perillaldehyde, and estragole.
The authors discuss the possible significance of these results with regard to food microbiology.
Thyme oil kills Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes, and Salmonella enterica
From Aromatherapy and Essential Oils (National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, 2012):
Many studies of essential oils have found that they have antibacterial effects when applied to the skin. Some essential oils have antiviral activity against the herpes simplex virus. Others have antifungal activity against certain vaginal and oropharyngeal fungal infections. In addition, studies in rats have shown that different essential oils can be calming or energizing. When rats were exposed to certain fragrances under stressful conditions, their behavior and immune responses were improved.
One study showed that after essential oils were inhaled, markers of the fragrance compounds were found in the bloodstream, suggesting that aromatherapy affects the body directly like a drug, in addition to indirectly through the central nervous system.
MY FAVORITE ESSENTIAL OIL BLENDS
I’ve been wearing dōTERRA’s On Guard essential oil blend for a few years – a bit dabbed on my chest and wrists after a shower and at bedtime. On Guard is a therapeutic grade blend of cinnamon, clove bud, eucalyptus globulus, rosemary, and wild orange oils. It kills pathogenic bacteria, molds and viruses; is a good topical disinfectant and supports the immune system. On Guard has a fresh, spicy, rich aroma.
I use On Guard alternately now with Young Living’s Thieves Blend, which I’ve worn for years. The combination of therapeutic grade essential oils in Thieves is based on research about four thieves in France who covered themselves with cloves, rosemary, and other aromatics while robbing bubonic plague victims. It is highly effective in supporting the immune system and good health and has been university tested for its cleansing abilities.
The therapeutic grade oils in Thieves Blend are clove (Syzygium aromaticum), lemon (Citrus limon), cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum), Eucalyptus radiata and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis CT 1,8 cineol).
In addition to bottles of the oil blend, Young Living uses Thieves oil blend in their Thieves Household Cleaner, Thieves Spray, Thieves Wipes, Thieves Lozenges, Thieves Dentarome Plus and Thieves Dentarome Ultra toothpastes, and Thieves Fresh Essence Plus Mouthwash.
My holistic dental hygienist swabs a little Thieves oil on the gums before starting a dental cleaning – for its pain relieving and antimicrobial qualities.
While walking outside with a friend one summer, she said, “At first I thought we’d passed someplace with spice cake baking in the oven, but the wonderful aroma continued for blocks. And then I realized it was coming from you.”
dōTERRA has also cleverly put two of their therapeutic grade essential oils, On Guard and Peppermint, into little beadlets. They come in slim bottles containing 125 beadlets – perfect to carry with you and use while traveling.
You get the same immune-boosting benefits of dōTERRA’s On Guard Essential Oil Blend from their On Guard Beadlets – but in a more convenient, easy to take with you form. Put a beadlet or two on your tongue, bite down on the gelatin coated covering and you get a zingy dose of breath freshener and immune booster. On Guard is a proprietary blend of wild orange, clove, cinnamon, eucalyptus and rosemary oils.
dōTERRA’s Peppermint Beadlets are great breath fresheners and excellent for oral care, respiratory health, digestive comfort, and all other situations in which peppermint essential oil is used internally.
Friedman, M. et al. (2002). Bactericidal activities of plant essential oils and some of their isolated constituents against Campylobacter jejuni, Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes, and Salmonella enterica. Journal of Food Protection, 65:10, 1545-60. See: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12380738
Inouyea, S. et al. (2001). Antibacterial activity of essential oils and their major constituents against respiratory tract pathogens by gaseous contact. Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, 47:5, 565-573. See: http://jac.oxfordjournals.org/content/47/5/565.full