A question I am often asked is: Do essential oils have antioxidants? When you hear the term antioxidants, what do you think of?
If you spend a lot of time reading about nutrition (like I do), it starts to feel as if we’re all in some sort of contest to see who can eat the most antioxidants. Those who are interested in (dare I say, obsessed with?) antioxidant nutrition will often talk about a food’s ORAC value. As in, “Wild blueberries have an ORAC value of 9,621, while regular blueberries only have an ORAC of 4,669!” What on earth are these people talking about?
ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity. It is a test of its kind and measures both the time and degree of free-radical inhibition.
All antioxidant capacity measures are estimated by Ferric Reducing Power, and are expressed as micromole Trolox equivalent (TE) per 100 grams (µTE/100 g). The ORAC test is accurate to /- 5%.
Free radicals, and the damage they can do at the cellular level, have received a lot of attention in the last few years too. The oxidative stress caused by free radicals – which are produced during normal metabolism and cell function, as well as from stress and pollutants in our air, water and food – is implicated in everything from aging and wrinkling of skin to DNA damage, diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Antioxidants offer powerful, effective protection for your body and cells against their oxidative stress, by blunting the damaging effects of free radicals.
Now you are going to say: English PLEASE! What does this all mean?
It basically means that the ORAC test attempts to quantify the total antioxidant capacity of a food by placing a sample of the food in a test tube, along with certain molecules that generate free radical activity and certain other molecules that are vulnerable to oxidation. After a while, they measure how well the sample protected the vulnerable molecules from oxidation by the free radicals. The less free radical damage there is, the higher the antioxidant capacity of the test substance. There are actually a handful of different tests designed to measure total antioxidant capacity in this way, but the ORAC is probably the best known and most popular.
Now, I am not a scientist (just a nurse who loves to do research!) but what I can tell you is that it is a nice method that measures the antioxidant activity of a food rather than the levels of specific nutrients, such as Vitamin C or E, for example.
When it comes to essential oils, more and more researchers are discovering just how powerful antioxidants are and how important they are for health. The National Institute on Aging developed a way for us to quantify antioxidant capability in the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) system of measurement. Within the ORAC system, cloves come in as one of the highest valued antioxidants, towering over sorghum, the next on the list, by a difference of more than 50,000. This means that clove is a key ingredient for anyone who wants to detox and rid their body of harmful toxins. As a concentrated essential oil, there is simply no comparison. However, some sources have claimed the following:
Disclaimer: once hosted by the USDA website, a peer-reviewed table of ORAC valued peer-reviewed resources is not available. The above chart is from BioSource Naturals.
With all of that antioxidant healing power, you probably already have a feel for the potential that clove essential oil carries. With great power comes great responsibility, though, and Clove carries as much potential for damage as it does for healing.
A recent study, published in the Journal of Immunotoxicology, demonstrates this balance between effectiveness and caution. After investigating the effects of eugenol – CEO’s most prominent property – on the liver, they discovered two sides of one coin. Eugenol in low doses protected the liver, not only against at least one cause of liver disease but also against inflammation and cell death. On the other hand, “a larger dose amplifies the liver injury via oxidant and inflammatory effects.” (Pubmed.gov)
Let’s explore just a few of clove’s properties in light of current research.
1. Antibacterial – clove is widely understood to be generally antibacterial, but the University of Buenos Aires took the time to pinpoint bacteria that clove was especially able to target. They found that E. coli was particularly susceptible to clove, followed by Staph aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. With all of these connected to significant illness, skin infections, and pneumonia, clove is a valuable tool for disease prevention. (pubmed.gov)
2. Antifungal – Candida is a devastating, pervasive problem in our culture, and one that remains a personal soapbox of mine. Our diets high in sugar and acidification kill beneficial gut microbes and colonize Candida. In mainstream medicine, nystatin is used to manage yeast infections, though it never addresses the root causes and can bring side effects of its own. Published in the journal Oral Microbiology & Immunology, researchers weighed the effects of clove against nystatin, finding it just as effective, but as a natural substance rather than chemical concoction. (pubmed.gov)
3. Analgesic and Antiseptic – Clove essential oil is a longtime dental remedy, dating back to 1640 in French documentation “Practice of Physic,” and beyond in Chinese tradition. To this day, clove remains a go-to for dental needs.
The Journal of Dentistry published a comparison between clove in a gel and benzocaine, the topical numbing agent the precedes needles in dentistry. In over seventy participants, no difference was recorded between benzocaine and CEO gel, indicating the same numbing effects. (pubmed.gov)
Aside from pain relief and numbing, clove’s dental benefits extend to slowed decay and remineralization. Underscoring this point, the Indian Department of Public Health Dentistry conducted a controlled study to evaluate clove essential oil, its lead molecules, and fluoride against decay caused by apple juice. CEO emerged as a promising mineralization tool, “significantly” decreasing decalcification, and actually remineralizing teeth. (pubmed.gov)
As a side note, I find it interesting that fluoride is so heavily used in general dentistry and recommended when there are clear, natural alternatives. It’s one more reason to immerse ourselves in the ancient wisdom of natural health and remedies!
I would personally recommend blending clove essential oils with other oils. I enjoy an immunity blend of equal parts cinnamon bark, clove, eucalyptus radiata, rosemary, orange and lemon essential oils. When using clove, be sure to always dilute! It will burn your skin if you don’t and should always be used with much caution. With that said, don’t be afraid of using it as clove is a highly versatile oil.