Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Bad Science - Faulty Research

A friend just sent me a link to a research study that has been publicized in a lot of the media lately...even on the Today Show.

I read it, and the story made me angry. Some quotes below, then my immediate reaction:

Researchers taped cotton balls laced with either lemon oil, lavender oil or distilled water below the volunteers noses for the duration of the tests.

The researchers tested volunteers ability to heal by using a standard test where tape is applied and removed repeatedly on a specific skin site. The scientists also tested volunteers reaction to pain by immersing their feet in 32-degree F water.
While lemon oil showed a clear mood enhancement, lavender oil did not, the researchers said. Neither smell had any positive impact on any of the biochemical markers for stress, pain control or wound healing.

This is probably the most comprehensive study ever done in this area, but the human body is infinitely complex, explained Malarkey. If an individual patient uses these oils and feels better, theres no way we can prove it doesn't improve that person's health.

But we still failed to find any quantitative indication that these oils provide any physiological effect for people in general.

The wound healing experiments measured how fast the skin could repair itself, Glaser said. Keep in mind that a lot of things have to take place for that healing process to succeed. We measured a lot of complex physiological interactions instead of just a single marker, and still we saw no positive effect, he said.


I love it when they use an oil inappropriately, and then use the fact that this test didn't work to generalize that aromatherapy as a whole has no effect.They did find that lemon oil, by inhalation, "clearly enhanced the mood of the subjects." Of course. All citrus oils do.

Had the lavender been applied topically, in proper dilution, they would have seen wound healing results.

I question whether there is any substance that will help deliberately irritated skin heal more quickly simply by inhalation. In our essential oil arsenal, we have a wide range of products that would, if applied properly, have hastened healing.

More to the point would have been a test of a specific essential oil, anecdotally recommended for a specific condition. This would be a valid research project.

But the pharmaceutical companies might not like the results.

In my parents' generation, a "bunch of Malarkey" was (according to Webster) "insincere or foolish talk." I think the media is pushing a whole bunch of malarkey!"


Jessie said...

I agree that some aspects of the research are disappointing and that their lack of knowledge of effective EO use negatively affected how the study was set up, but...

From the paper's summary:
"Self-report and unobtrusive mood measures provided robust evidence that lemon oil reliably enhances positive mood compared to water and lavender regardless of expectancies or previous use of aromatherapy. Moreover, norepinephrine levels following the cold pressor remained elevated when subjects smelled lemon, compared to water or lavender. DTH responses to Candida were larger following inhalation of water than lemon or lavender. Odors did not reliably alter IL-6 and IL-10 production, salivary cortisol, heart rate or blood pressure, skin barrier repair following tape stripping, or pain ratings following the cold pressor."

I think it's fantastic that there is now a paper out there that states unequivocally that lemon oil positively enhances mood. In my opinion, that's a pretty big step.

It would be interesting to see what the authors would have to say if you questioned them directly about the design of the experiment.

Look, Kyle Porter at OSU is the third author, and he apparently enjoys clarifying research questions! ;)

June said...

This is indeed a bunch of malarky. While I love the amount of communication available to us all these days, we need to use common sense and not believe everything we hear. Programs like this do a great disservice to the public.

As a society we are over-exposed to quick fixes, astounding use of antibiotics and a pill for every problem. Essential oils are very effective but they do take longer because they are bringing the body and mind into natural balance. Half the people I know are taking anti-depressants which only "work" so long as you keep taking them. We are becoming an addicted society.

Meditation and appropriate use of Essential Oils can achieve wonders while being pleasurable. And that's my two cents worth! ;-)

Ginger said...

speaking of main stream research what do you make of the study that was popular last year about tea tree and lavender being bad for boys and men? http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/01/070131204136.htm

Marge said...

Regarding the lavender/tea tree brouhaha...that has pretty well been regarded to be more "bad science." Robert Tisserand is one of the foremost experts on essential oil safety. He wrote one of the many rebuttals about Journal article. It's posted on the NAHA site:

The Australian Tea Tree growers published their own rebuttal:


If you have access to Perfume and Flavorist Magazine, its editor, Brian Lawrence wrote a two issue rebuttal in the May and June issues, reviewing the biological activity of lavender and tea tree essential oils and a safety assessment of EOs. A shame the researchers jumping on this bandwagon hadn't read the article first.

Denise said...

o.k. I got to the part about " This is probably the most comprehensive study ever done in this area" and I could not stop laughing.

"Researchers taped cotton balls laced with either lemon oil, lavender oil or distilled water below the volunteers noses": well...which lavender oil and was it organic? who produced it? what kind of tape and why tape it below their nose? Why not just shove it up their nostrils? LOL My mind was reeling at this 'scientific investigation'.

Scientific indeed! I noticed they screened their subjects ability to smell and opinions about aromatherapy; they analyzed their subjects blood, mood, stress and hormone levels. But they did not feel the need to screen or analyze the oils they used. Which tells me the most important aspect of the 'scientific investigation' was ignored...the prejudice and/or ignorance of the investigators.

It might have more interesting, had they used 'unhealthy' volunteers.

"We all know that the placebo effect can have a very strong impact on a person’s health..." as can the knowledge that you are going to be inflicted with pain and injury, repeatedly!

Thanks so much for the laugh...but now I hafta clean the coffee of my computer screen!

Loretta said...

"The project was supported in part by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health." Your (and my) tax dollars being completely wasted! Can you think of anything more annoying than having a cotton ball with undiluted EO taped under your nose? Do any aromatherapists actually use such methods? Of course not. Malarkey indeed.

Anonymous said...

I've been agitated since I 1st read this blog & corresponding article last night. I always sleep on things when I'm agitated, not wanting to take action and say things that won't help the cause. I believe the study was designed so that aromatherapy would fail.

Being still agitated this morning I've spread this article around a bit & written to Marge letting her know of my actions.

Marge encouraged me to post my closing comment to her here: "Well, gotta go, my elbow hurts, I think I'll go tape an aspirin to my knee and see if it will take the pain away.

Kathy B., Bothell WA

Denise said...

Kathy B!

I had to tell you, I loved your aspirin on the knee analogy! Too perfect and I have repeated it, to gales of laughter!