The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

December 8, 2013

Naturally essential

By Brandi Underwood
Register-Herald Reporter

— Feeling feverish? Instead of immediately rushing to the nearest urgent care clinic this season, certified childbirth educator and essential oils guru Sarah DeGroff, of Teays Valley, offered some tips on alternative homeopathic treatments as part of an Essential Oils for Everyday Health class.

Offered through the New River Community and Technical College, DeGroff’s class discussed ways to use essential oils — natural, aromatic compounds extracted from plants — to relieve headaches, reduce stress, soothe stomach aches, improve skin conditions, target joint pain and lessen the effects of allergies, among others.

DeGroff informed the class of a few alarming medical facts to back up her enthusiasm for trying natural treatments before resorting to prescription drugs.

Since 2007, a trend reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that more people in the U.S. are now dying from MRSA — an antibiotic-resistant staph infection — than from AIDS, DeGroff said.

DeGroff said that antibiotic-resistant bacteria, known as “superbugs,” have developed due to the overuse — and often misuse — of doctor-prescribed antibiotics.

The CDC also reports that more than 2 million people become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year in the U.S., and an estimated 23,000 individuals die annually as a result of a MRSA infection.

These “superbugs” are a growing concern in the medical community, and recently, the CDC has launched several educational campaigns to help spread awareness concerning antibiotics and their proper usage. One of those campaigns, called “Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work,” encourages individuals to not seek antibiotics for viral upper respiratory infections, as antibiotics are useless against viral infections and rather contribute to creating individual antibiotic resistance.

While DeGroff said that she is not against allopathic medicine, as there are times when it is extremely helpful and even lifesaving, she believes in trying to avoid allopathic methods for ailments that can be treated naturally.

DeGroff shared her knowledge on several essential oils, including lavender, peppermint, lemon, melaleuca (also known as tea tree oil) and frankincense.

Lavender, one of the most popular essential oils, is widely known as a calming and stress-reducing agent. Highly fragrant, lavender can help reduce anxiety and insomnia through inhalation. It can also be used topically to soothe skin irritations, burns or bee stings.

Lemon, one of the most popular citrus fruits for its fragrance, is often used to both elevate and energize. As a natural antioxidant, lemon is a popular addition to water because of its detoxifying properties. The oil can also be added to water and vinegar to make an all-natural cleaning agent to sanitize kitchen countertops and bathrooms.

“I use it in my house to clean, and I’m not worried if one of my kids decides to lick something,” DeGroff said.  

Peppermint, a common breath freshener and stomach ache remedy, can be applied directly to forehead temples to help reduce a fever.

“Unlike fever medication, which can take at least 30 minutes to take effect, peppermint oil can start working to reduce a child’s fever within five or 10 minutes,” DeGroff said.

The uplifting scent can also be inhaled to boost energy and elevate one’s mood.

Need a cool down at the gym? DeGroff said that peppermint oil can be added to water in a spray bottle to instantly cool and refresh the body.

Melaleuca, also known as tea tree oil, is widely used medicinally for its soothing and healing qualities.

DeGroff explained that melaleuca can be added to coconut oil for a homemade “boo-boo spray” instead of using first-aid ointment.

Also, melaleuca is a strong virus and bacteria fighter, and can be applied to the bottoms of feet with coconut oil to fight a nasty cold or flu, and also applied directly to problem areas to fight athlete’s foot or toenail fungus.

Lastly, DeGroff discussed the benefits of frankincense, one of the most well-known oils since biblical times. Popular through history for its immense healing powers, DeGroff said that frankincense is used to reduce inflammation, help relieve migraine headaches and support the immune system.   

“When you’re not sure what oil to go to, frankincense is the go-to for just about every ailment,” DeGroff said.

When it comes to essential oils, quality is key for both safety and effectiveness, DeGroff added.

DeGroff explained that cheaper essential oils can be perfectly effective for cleaning purposes, such as sanitizing door knobs, bathrooms and kitchen countertops, but that ingesting those oils could be dangerous due to unsafe additives.

“But if you’re going to be using essential oils for personal use, whether diffusing them in the air, applying them to your skin topically or ingesting them, it’s important to ensure that the oils you’re using are 100 percent pure, therapeutic oils free of pesticides or additives,” DeGroff said.

At the end of the course, DeGroff maintained that essential oils aren’t an end-all fix-all, but can have many cost-saving and positive health benefits when used correctly and regularly.   

She encouraged those interested in essential oils to do their own research to find out which brands and oils will be best suited for their individual needs. With literally thousands of uses, DeGroff said that research and knowledge can help individuals better take advantage of the benefits and numerous oil applications possible.

“At 3 a.m., when you’re feeling terrible or have a restless, sick child, essential oils are tools you can use that are safe and have no side effects,” DeGroff said.

Additional essential oil courses will be available through New River Community and Technical College on Jan. 21 on the Beckley campus and Feb. 4 on the Greenbrier Valley campus. Tuition is $10 per person. For registration and more information, contact Stacy Raffo at 304-883-2446.

— E-mail: bunderwood@register-herald.com