When Eric Cech has an ache or pain, he doesn't reach for the Tylenol. His go-to treatment comes from a flower.
He says a few drops of an essential oil derived from the Helichrysum flower can ease his sore muscles, twisted ankles and even help heal cuts. His friends call it the "magic oil," he says, because it penetrates the skin immediately, is easy to use, is environmentally friendly and even smells lovely.
Cech, of Boulder, is among the growing number of people in Boulder County who use essential oils in place of traditional, western drugs.
"I have no doubt essential oil use is hitting that inflection point on the curve, where it's really growing exponentially at the moment," Cech says.
He would know. Cech is the owner and founder of Boulder's Ananda Apothecary, which has sold therapeutic-grade essential oils, flower essences and aromatherapy supplies since 2004. Today, the company sells more than 120 different pure oils via its online store, AnandaApothecary.com.
The essential oils business is booming, as an increasing number of people explore use essential oils for health reasons, he says.
Although health claims are not backed by the Food and Drug Administration and research is patchy, some smaller studies, many in labs, not on people, have shown some potential for the possible treatment of everything from cancer to anxiety to the bacterial infections.
The use of essential oils for health care is an ancient practice. And although their effectiveness is far from scientifically proven, plenty of Boulderites use essential oils — either inhaled, in a diffuser, applied to the skin or as a dietary supplement, depending on the type.
Advocates say one important thing is to make sure the oils are pure. All essential oils are not created equal, says Boulder yogi Hayley Hobson, who sells doTERRA essential oils ( http://hayleyhobson.com/" title="hayleyhobson.com">hayleyhobson.com).
"The weird thing about Boulder that I've found challenging is everybody feels like they are an expert, so you find a lot of people making their own oils," she says.
Homemade concoctions may not have the levels of purity and quality necessary to make a real difference, she says. Plus, some essential oils you can find at grocery stores are diluted with synthetic ingredients and may only contain 10 percent of the actual oil. DoTERRA, which the company says is the nation's largest and fastest-growing essential oil company, says it provides 100 percent purity with no synthetics.
Representatives of Utah-based DoTERRA recently visited Boulder on a national tour. The two-hour class, held at the Boulder Marriott April 2, was designed to teach people how to use essential oils to cleanse, detox, eliminate gut inflammation, reduce stress and more.
Dave Stirling, CEO and founder, says doTERRA has conducted studies showing essential oils' positive impact on pathogens and staph infections.
A few drops of On Guard cleaner, made with wild orange, clove, cinnamon, eucalyptus and rosemary oils, for example can be added to water, according to doTERRA's website. The company says it is an effective surface cleaner.
A study published in the journal Aromatic Science showed an essential oils blend killed MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant staph bacterium, in vitro, in less time than traditional antibiotics do.
A handful of independent, small studies suggest some essential oils may be helpful for some ailments. Melissa is said to help prevent herpes breakouts, and frankincense has shown the ability to combat cancer cells in a lab, although not yet in humans.
Plus, in reviewing studies, the National Institutes of Health noted that it's not clear that essential oils have no side effects. Indeed, some essential oils, such as lavender and tea tree oils, have shown some hormone-like side effects.
However, the National Cancer Institute states that safety testing on oils has found few bad effects.
Bottom line: The common consensus is that more research is needed.
Essential oil distributors, like Cech, agree with that, too. He says he would like to see more research himself, to explain in indisputable terms what he witnesses essential oils doing daily.
"The demand is still going to grow. People still know what works and what doesn't," Cech says.
Unfortunately, he says, western medicine is run by money. And you can't patent nature, so big business isn't interested enough — yet.