THE BENEFITS AND THE CLAIMS
By: Max Davies
Australia's indigenous people have a close affiliation with the land and use ingredients derived from flora and fauna for the treatment of ailments and injuries. The application of emu oil to assist healing was first documented by G. Bennett 1860 "a topical embrocation for pain relief from sprains and bruises even in horses and cattle". The Wiluna communities emu farm 1000 kilometers from Perth in Australia's rugged outback first produced, under Government supervision, emu products for traditional use. In the period 1984-87 the first pure emu oil was refined and marketed. This paper examines the origins & evidence supporting the benefits and claims regarding the use of emu oil for the treatment of arthritis and skin disorders.
The term "emu oil" refers to oils and preparations containing preparations of oils derived from the Dromais Novae - Hollandiae (the Australian Emu).
Emu oil should conform to the standards laid down by the Australian National Food Code for oils for human consumption. "Pure Emu OIL is not blended with mineral, plant or other oil from livestock. It may contain an approved food grade antioxidant at an acceptable level as described in the Australian National Food Code.
Observations & Australian Research:
The traditional diets and the application of oils by ancient and modern civilizations are an acceptable reference source. The recorded observations of traditional use by indigenous Australians faded as new western medicines were developed in the nineteenth century. The work of Steve Birkbeck at Wiluna attracted little attention until suggestions of "anti-inflammation & unique healing properties" were investigated by Dr George Hobday MD from Brentwood, Western Australia. Dr Hobday conducted the first recorded emu oil trials, in three main areas:
dry skin problems;
treatment of muscle aches and pains., and
treatment of wounds which had epithelialised.
Dr Hobday observed the following benefited from emu oil applications:
eczema but not inflamed eczema;
significantly reduced recent kelold scarring,
if applied immediately to burn blisters;
on joints to reduce pain, swelling & stiffness;
for children's legs with "growing pains";
to recent bruising & muscle sprains;
to speed up the healing process and reduce scarring.
On rheumatoid arthritis Dr Hobday reports:
"I have not found emu oil to be effective against active arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis although some colleagues have noticed benefit. This is an area that obviously requires further research."
In 1985 commercial mixtures of emu and eucalyptus oil were trailed. In 1990 -1992 the following was documented:
A biologically active component of emu oil is useful in pharmaceutical compositions for the treatment of inflammation of environmental and systemic origins. Pharmaceutical compositions including emu oil and dermal transport enhancing compounds are useful topical anti -inflammatory treatments.
The transport enhancer can be either methyl, ethyl or isopropropl salicylate either isopropyl, butyl or amyl alcohol; cineole; eucalyptus oil; tea tree oil; oil of wintergreen or like substances. Cineole, eucalyptus oil, tea tree oil and isopropyl alcohol are preferred.
The yellow components of emu oil possess remarkable prophylactic anti-infl amatory emuno-regulant activity in addition too the ability to modulate disease (polyarthritis) once initiated.
The purified fractions were found to exhibit extremely potent anti -inflammatory activity.
The potent anti-elastase activity demonstrated could provide an anti degenerative effect on dermal tissues particularity during dermal damage through strong UV radiation (sunburn) occurs. The anti -inflammatory capacity reduces when exposed to ultraviolet light.
The presence of linoleic acid or oleic acid triglycerides appeared not to be related to the biological activity.
The anti -inflammatory activity and colour can be abolished by chemical oxidation ie. by mixing with benzoyl peroxide in an organic solvent.
Other Australian research concluded..
Emu oil contains very high levels of the fatty acids found in abundance in healthy skin. The replenishment of the triglycerdic and fatty acid levels (called the mantle) of deficient skin helps it to return to normal cell production. The application of certain oils to the skin allows some of the oils to penetrate and maintain the permeability of the cells, normal cell evolution then resumes and improvement in the overall appearance of skin occurs.
Unfortunately the Australian work has never been widely published and only limited pure research was conducted. The results were however taken-up overseas and interest grew quickly in France and America. The French reports supported the Australian research by concluding that emu oil: is anti-inflammatory, promotes cellular regeneration; and is deeply penetrating.
The published American research highlights the moisturizing benefits of emu oil and the proven capacity of the relative high levels of oleic acid to transport other bioactive compounds within the oil into the skin. The absence of phosphos-lipids in emu oil contribute to the penetrating ability as follows:
"Our skin is phospho-lipid deficient. In other words, there's no phosphorus in our skin. If you put anything on your skin that has phosphorus in it, your skin is 'programmed' to keep it from penetrating. Anytime you put anything on your skin that is phospho-lipid deficient, or has no phosphorus, it penetrates right through."
To date the research material available supports the claims made under certain conditions. The yellow compound or associated other compounds in emu oil have important qualities for arthritic pain relief, accepted anti-inflammatory qualities and the pure oil has skin repair properties, under certain conditions, however, users of products may conclude:
Emu oil offers unique properties, some understood, some remain a basis of traditional medicine and others are yet to be fully researched.
Emu oil is not a sun screen.
It is important to protect the oil, through handling and packaging, from strong sunlight.
Further research has been funded by the Australian Governments Rural Industries Development Corporation and the emu industry.
EMU OIL By G.R. Hobday
A CLINICAL APPRAISAL OF THIS NATURAL AND LONG USED PRODUCT
Emu oil comes from the rendered fat of the emu, which is filtered and treated to remove all proteins, bacteria and particulate matter. After this treatment the oil is odorless and either a clear liquid or a cloudy cream dependent on the ambient temperature.
Used for centuries by the Indigenous people of Australia and then by white settlers it has more recently been used in a limited clinical way as an embrocation for muscle and joint problems and for a variety of skin conditions.
It has been frequently tested by government and private laboratories and found to contain a number of fatty acids, ranging from Palmitic to Eicosenoic (C16:0 to C210). It contains no steroids or hormones and when suitably treated, no bacteria.
Although known to have been used by the Aboriginal peoples of Australia for the treatment of muscle and joint pain, anthropological studies have failed to determine for how long. Discussions with Aborigines in Wiluna and elsewhere have determined that the methods of treatment included hanging an emu skin on a tree to collect the oil and wrapping sufferers in a freshly killed skin. In both cases the heat of the sun was used to liquefy the emu fat and enhance its absorption qualities.
EARLY SETTLER USAGE
The use of emu oil was among many natural remedies adopted by white settlers from the original inhabitants of Australia. Its use expanded when the efficacy of the oil was realized. It was discovered that emu oil burned and carbonized over 100 C so a "double boiler" method was developed to improve extraction techniques.
Use of emu oil was most prevalent in country areas where it was applied in the treatment of painful joints, bruised and swollen muscles and subcutaneous tissue, burns, and dry skin problems. Also it was widely used to keep leather riding tackle supple in the dry inland areas of Australia and as cooking oil.
Bush legend has it that emu oil penetrates glass. It does not, but stored jars have been found to have a film of oil on the outside due to the meniscus and capillary action of the oil against the glass.
The use of emu oil has increased dramatically over the last ten years - initially obtained from the fat of wild birds but now exclusively from farm bred stock. Emu oil products are now available in most pharmacies and department stores in Australia in a range of preparations from pure oil to creams and cosmetics with a variety of additives.
I was initially introduced to emu oil by patients of mine who advocated its use in treating their skin, painful joint and muscle ailments. My immediate concern was to ensure that it was safe to be used . I was aware of the past reputation of emu oil but it is satisfying for me to find that on no occasion over the past ten years, having exposed the oil to over 500 patients, using the oil over lengthy periods, it has been very rare for anyone to report that it had deteriorated or "gone off".
Before recommending it I had tests done to identify its content which showed it contained a variety of fatty acids but no hormones or steroids. I had the oil tested for bacterial content and found that in its pure state it grew no organisms. In addition, when made into a moisturizer, which is a mixture of oil, and emulsifier and water, I had the cream challenged with four organisms (Staph Aureus, E Coli, Pseudomonas and Candida Albicans) in increasing quantities and compared with glycerol 10% in Sorbolene. The emu oil cream was found to withstand greater quantities of bacteria before growth took hold. Neither cream contained preservatives for this test.
From clinical experience with emu oil, it became obvious that its two major actions were its anti-inflammatory properties and its ability to penetrate the skin. It also appears to provide some solar protection. How these actions occur and to what extent remains to be discovered.
TEN YEARS OF CLINICAL USAGE
During this period my experience with emu oil has been entirely confined to use on the skin. After advising patients of its experimental nature I have prescribed emu oil for use in three main areas,
Dry skin problems
Treatment of muscle aches and pains
Treatment of wounds which had epithelialised
Eczema sufferers often complain that the moisturisers available on the market, such as glycerol 10% in Sorbolene, irritate their skin. I have found that emu oil, or creams made from emu oil, have often been of benefit and provide significant reduction of irritation and inflammation of the skin.
Emu oil does not appear to have the sufficient anti-inflammatory properties for use against inflamed eczema. However it is very useful follow up to steroid treatment.
Massaging emu oil twice daily appears to significantly reduce recent keloid scarring and have an anti-inflammatory action against the formation of keloid tissue. It does not seem to reduce old keloid scarring.
The use of emu cream or oil immediately in early blistering appears to hold great promise. Although trials have been limited it seems to promote faster healing with less pain and scarring.
Donor Sites in Skin Grafting
I have found that the donor site after skin grafting benefits from the application of the oil, which appears to reduce pain and promote a less scarred heal.
To date use of emu oil on psoriasis has not been particularly effective, although some patients have reported some benefit.
The benefit of emu oil on joints to reduce pain, swelling and stiffness is most evident where the joint is close to the skin surface, such as hands, feet, knees and elbows.
Deep joints such as the hip do not appear to respond.
Stiff joints, particularly as seen in hands, is one area where massaging emu oil is of considerable benefit. Whether this is due to its anti~inflammatory therefore pain relieving property or whether this is due to another facet of the oil remains to be determined by research.
The method used is to massage oil two or three times a day into the painful area and the use of a compress of oil overnight. The best compress I have made is to use approximately eight thicknesses of ordinary paper tissues folded to the size of the affected area on to which the oil is poured and spread like butter. The compress is backed with a slightly smaller sheet of light plastic.
The compress is then bandaged over the painful area overnight. In practice 1 have found the oil not to deteriorate and the compress to be re-useable for several days with the daily addition of a little extra oil.
This painful condition usually experienced at 2am in the knees of six year old children, is caused I believe, by the active growing child over-stretching the ligaments and tendons around the knee. By day, the pump action of movement removes the reactive swelling of the area. At night, however, this swelling builds up, the child moves, cries from the pain in the joint, causing distress to parents and frequently a visit to the doctor where investigations for arthritis may be done.
To date, as a result of massaging emu oil on the joint prior to the child going to sleep, no parents have returned to say their child is suffering from "growing pains".
I have not found emu oil to be effective against active arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis although some colleagues have noticed benefit. This is an area that obviously requires further research.
Bruising and Muscle Pain
Emu oil appears to provide significant benefit to recent bruising and muscle pain where the injury is relatively superficial. The treatment being the massage and compress combination previously described. Similarly, sports related muscle strains have been significantly reduced with a post-exercise emu oil massage. Some trainers and masseurs are using this in preference to other oils, again indicating a superior anti-inflammatory action over commonly used embrocations.
Emu oil applied to epithelialised wounds appears to reduce scar tissue formation. Also the anti-inflammatory action seems to soothe wounds after surgery. This has been very evident in coronary artery bypass graft operations where the greatest discomfort often comes from the leg from which the vein has been removed. In my experience massaging emu oil onto this area two or three times per day has significantly speeded up the healing process and reduce scarring.
As the emu oil used is sterile there is no concern with using it on any open area. 1 have encountered no ill effects from using emu oil on open areas such as a partially healed wound or abrasion.
Used for centuries by the original inhabitants of Australia, emu oil has reached a point of usage where proper clinical studies need to be done to determine its true place in the medical armamentarium. To date no true experimental work has been done. It is my hope that those skilled in research will take up this challenge and run it as fast as the emu.
Research is continuing as we read this report with exciting results. Several Australian scientist are on the verge of releasing their research documents with the exiting results from their tests.