Essential Oils and Pregnancy

22 March 2021

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Are essential oils safe if you’re trying to conceive?

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Many women trying to conceive may think that fertility benefits can be achieved through the use of essential oils, and assume they are safe to use since they are considered ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ products. But it’s important to be aware of the risks.

When it comes to essential oils, many have the perception that these products are natural and therefore, safe to use. However, recent research warns that essential oils actually emit many volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and some of them are considered hazardous.

Essential oils have become very popular in recent times, from lavender, geranium, peppermint, tea tree, eucalyptus oil, and more, for varying reasons – whether to help with sleep and relaxation, relieve stress or headaches, or provide aromatherapy throughout the house.

But are these oils actually safe to use? University of Melbourne asked this very question, by investigating 14 commercially available essential oils. Each of the 14 essential oils in the study emitted 9 or more potentially hazardous VOC’s. Toluene (the chemical used in most nail polish removers or paint solvents) was found in more than 70% of the essential oils studied.

Dr Fleur Cattrall, Medical Director at Melbourne IVF, speaks about the topic in a recent article by Essential Baby, and says that the recent findings should be a warning against women using essential oils who are trying to conceive.

    “Many women trying to conceive may think that fertility benefits can be achieved through the use of essential oils, and assume they are safe to use since they are considered ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ products. But it’s important to be aware of the risks.”

    - Dr Fleur Cattrall

    Dr Fleur Cattrall answers some questions about essential oils and fertility:

    What exactly are ‘volatile organic compounds’?

    According to the Australia State of the Environment, “VOCs are a group of carbon-based chemicals that easily evaporate at room temperature. Many common household materials and products, such as paints and cleaning products, give off VOCs. Common VOCs include acetone, benzene, ethylene glycol, formaldehyde, methylene chloride, perchloroethylene, toluene and xylene.”

    What chemicals do essential oils emit and why could they be dangerous?

    Different VOCs have different health effects, and range from those that are highly toxic to those with no known health effect. The most prevalent potentially hazardous VOCs were found in 90% of essential oils, including acetylaldehyde, limonene, methanol, acetone, ethanol, and 3-carene. There is potential for such chemicals to be cancer causing and some can be associated with birth defects so are best avoided when trying to conceive.

    Why is it important for women who are trying to conceive to know about this new research?

    It may come as a surprise to learn that there are risks to using essential oils if you’re trying to conceive - these essential oils often come with descriptions of being ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ and women trying to conceive have the best intentions but may be unaware of the risks.

    Does it matter what type of essential oil you’re using?

    The study looked at a range of commercially available brands using different plant extracts. Consistently 90% emitted VOCs despite only 1% of the VOCs being listed on the product or the website.

    What are endocrine disrupting chemicals?

    Some of the chemicals present in essential oils have endocrine disrupting ability. These chemicals can mimic the body’s natural hormones and interfere with their function. Endocrine disrupting chemicals can be found in everyday products.

    What else do you recommend women avoid when trying to conceive?

    Lifestyle does have an impact on fertility, and we recommend women limit caffeine and reduce alcohol intake, quit smoking, exercise regularly and make sure to have a well-balanced diet. A Mediterranean style diet has been shown to benefit both male and female fertility.

    Women should also consider:

    • Avoiding chemicals in your environment that could be endocrine disrupting
    • Avoiding shampoos containing parabens and plastics in water bottles and containers
    • Heating food in plastic containers
    • Avoiding unnecessary chemicals in cleaning and personal hygiene products and
    • If buying organic food is not possible, wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly

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