Last week, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Lucas Rockwood, yoga instructor and nutritional coach, on the subject of “Getting Started with Essential Oils.” Our discussion covered the following range of topics on essential oils:
1. Why people have visceral and emotional reactions to smell.
2. The importance of using the highest quality essential oils and tips to ensure that they are therapeutic grade.
3. Why essential oils can be used for relaxing the brain, focusing, and invigorating the mind and body.
4. The ability of therapeutic essential oils to act as potent support against microbes, immune supporters, and to assist with cleansing toxins from the body and environment.
One of my favorite essential oils was highlighted in the interview, tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia).
Below are some fun facts on this incredible oil from the Australian “down-under” that also highlights some of the key points in my chat with Lucas.
Background of TTO (Tea Tree Oil)
TTO has been used for over 100 years in Australia and some even consider it the “Australian lavender” due to its many uses. Historically, tea tree oil was well regarded for creating an unfriendly environment for microbes to live and for its ability for modulating inflammatory processes.
TTO- Chemistry 101
A report by Brophy and colleagues estimated that TTO contains approximately 100 components. However, TTO is mostly composed of terpene hydrocarbons (C5H8), with monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, and their associated alcohols (1).
Monoterpenes have been reported to have the ability the assist with DNA protection and repair (2). Furthermore, terpinnen-4-ol, present in TTO, has oxygenating properties and decreases the ability of microbes and fungus to thrive (3,4 ).
The sesquiterpenes in tea tree oil (5) can cross the blood brain barrier and have been used for meditation and mood support.
(TTO also contains phenylopranoids.)
Researchers of a review on the properties of TTO highlighted the importance of preserving the quality of TTO and how the potential of batch-to-batch variation can be kept in check with standardization (1):
Given the scope for batch-to-batch variation, it is fortunate that the composition of oil sold as TTO is regulated by an international standard for “Oil of Melaleuca—terpinen-4-ol type,” which sets maxima and/or minima for 14 components of the oil (89) (Table (Table1)). Notably, the standard does not stipulate the species of Melaleuca from which the TTO must be sourced. Instead, it sets out physical and chemical criteria for the desired chemotype. Six varieties, or chemotypes, of M. alternifolia have been described, each producing oil with a distinct chemical composition. (1)
MRSA and Tea Tree Oil
In a report in 2006, TTO was found to be effective against MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). The researchers reported:
The combination of a 4% tea tree oil nasal ointment and 5% tea tree oil body wash was compared with a standard 2% mupirocin nasal ointment and triclosan body wash for the eradication of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus carriage. The tea tree oil combination appeared to perform better than the standard combination, although the difference was not statistically significant due to the small number of patients. (6)
I wrote more on TTO studies with MRSA on Dr. Oz’s Sharecare.
Killing by Inhalation
In a study that correlated activity against fungi with vapor activity of several essential oils that included tea tree, it was reported that:
…that the active constituent accumulated on the fungal cells around 15 h caused irreversible damage, which eventually led to cellular death. (7)
Want to Know More Uses for Tea Tree Oil?
Green Med Info lists a bunch of abstracts on tea tree oil and its activity in cell, animal, and human trials. These study topics include:
- Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
- Toenail Fungus
- Hospital Resistance Infections
My Top 3 Suggestions for TTO
1. Apply 1 drop with a Q-tip directly on blemishes.
2. Place 1 drop on toenails that have fungus.
3. Apply 1-2 drops in a pea size amount of carrier oil on cuts, bruises, or scrapes.
Are You New to Essential Oils?
Three ways to Get Started:
- Listen to my interview on YogaBody Naturals: Getting Started with Essential Oils.
- Subscribe to my essential oils blog and learn how to enjoy a healthier lifestyle with essential oils.
- Listen to my latest Essential Oils Teleseminars here.
- Listen to my interview on September 17th at 3PM EST with Dr. Holly on RadioMD.
(1) C. F. Carson, K. A. Hammer, & T. V. Riley. Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: a Review of Antimicrobial and Other Medicinal Properties. Clin Microbiol Rev. Jan 2006; 19(1): 50–62. doi: 10.1128/CMR.19.1.50-62.2006.
(2) Modulation of genotoxicity and DNA repair by plant monoterpenes camphor, eucalyptol and thujone in Escherichia coli and mammalian cells. Food Chem Toxicol. 2011 Sep;49(9):2035-45. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2011.05.015. Epub 2011 May 19.
(3) Cox, S. D., Mann, C. M., Markham, J. L., Bell, H. C., Gustafson, J. E., Warmington, J. R., & Wyllie, S. G. (2000). The mode of antimicrobial action of the essential oil of Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree oil). Journal of applied microbiology, 88(1), 170-175.
(4) Response of Saccharomyces cerevisiae to a monoterpene: evaluation of antifungal potential by DNA microarray analysis. J. Antimicrob. Chemother. (2004) 54 (1): 46-55. doi: 10.1093/jac/dkh245
(5) Predominant adsorption of sesquiterpene constituents of lavender, tea tree, lemongrass and thyme thymol oils on hairless mouse and human hairs in an aromatic bath. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijat.2006.05.003
(6) Carson, C. F., K. A. Hammer, and T. V. Riley. “Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil: a review of antimicrobial and other medicinal properties.” Clinical microbiology reviews 19.1 (2006): 50-62.
(7) Inouye S1, Nishiyama Y, Uchida K, Hasumi Y, Yamaguchi H, Abe S. The vapor activity of oregano, perilla, tea tree, lavender, clove, and geranium oils against a Trichophyton mentagrophytes in a closed box. J Infect Chemother. 2006 Dec;12(6):349-54. Epub 2007 Jan 18.
Disclaimer: This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic, Grade A essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been AFNOR and ISO standardized. There is no quality control in the United States and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin.
This information is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness.
Images courtesy of istockphotos.com