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Essential Oils: Avoiding the risks and reaping the rewards

Essential oils have been around for centuries. Today, they are helping patients reduce pain, decrease anxiety, and sleep better.

Tina Koutouras was struggling for an answer.

Her young son has a severe food allergy that has made her a staunch label reader. And he often coughed and sneezed throughout the night, making sleep difficult.

"I had already been working hard to reduce the toxic load in our home since the kids were babies. They've always kind of had allergies, eczema since they were babies. And I had to eliminate a lot of products that had fragrances, fillers, and artificial ingredients," Koutouras explained.

A friend opened her eyes to the world of essential oils, and the homeopathic possibilities they offered. Koutouras researched the brands and found one she felt she could trust. Now essential oils have become an essential part of her family's life. She turned to a blend of oils, by doTerra called Breathe, and has noticed a positive improvement.

"Something that we continually turn to for respiratory support. It has helped us just to sleep better, so when they have a cold. I use the diffusers a lot. I like getting the molecules into the air so that we can all reap the benefits," she added.

Essential oils have been around for centuries. Fragrant extractions from plants believed to have various benefits.

Frankincense and myrrh mentioned in the Bible. While other popular ones include peppermint for things like irritable bowels, rosemary to help you focus and lavender to help you relax.

"Essential oils are for support. They help boost our immunity,' Koutouras said.

Doctor Brenda Powell practices integrative medicine with the Cleveland Clinic. The focus of her practice is in personalized patient-centered care with attention to mind, body, and spirit. That includes holistic healing and the possibilities of essential oils.

"The biggest thing we are doing with essential oils is pain reduction or anxiety reduction or sleep," she said. She counsels patients on the benefits of particular oils but mixes in an appropriate dose of caution too.

"We have to be careful because some of the essential oils if you take them orally, can be toxic to you. Some of the essential oils put on the skin if they're citrus-based can make you sensitive to the sun," Powell cautions.

Koutouras sticks to using the oils in a diffuser, or in a roll-on blend she knows her family will tolerate. She uses them to make her own cleaning products. She plays it safe though and does not allow her children to handle them.

The Koutouras family uses the doTerra brand, after reviewing findings from third-party testing. "Trust was huge for me," Tina said. They also liked the company's testing process, called Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade.

There have been government warnings about some other brands, that made false promises, claiming to do the jobs of classified drugs.

"They do not cure diseases," Koutouras said of any essential oils.

Interested in trying essential oils for the first time? Dr. Powell has this suggestion. "I would have them get a diffuser, or just buy the essential oil and do the whiff treatment. Rather than putting it on the skin. They can try and dilute it with some olive oil, or coconut oil and put in on their skin. But do it on the inside of your wrist to see if they are allergic," Dr. Powell says to steer clear of ingesting any essential oils.

For her part, Koutouras says for any brand you consider buying, look at the ingredients, familiarize yourself with concentration and purity. She also sticks with oils that come in tinted glass bottles.

And check with your doctor first too. "Say, "I would like to try these essential oils, would any of them interfere with the medications that you have me on, what are your thoughts on it?""