According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 68 children have autism spectrum disorder (ASD).1)http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html Given such high rates of incidence, ASD certainly affects the lives of someone you know if not your own family. As a parent of a child with special needs, I know how exhausting it can be with IEPs, changing behaviors, health worries, social issues, etc. It’s not easy being a parent of any child; ASD complicates it. One natural solution many families have turned to is essential oil treatment, but how effective are essential oils for autism treatment?
Essential oils are part of our family’s regular health and well-being routine. Both my typically developing daughter and son with special needs have essential oil diffusers in their bedrooms. From headaches to respiratory ailments, we have found essential oils to be very effective. My son routinely rubs On Guard on his feet. My daughter uses lavender to relax while doing homework.
Could essential oils help children with ASD?
How effective are essential oils for autism treatment?
There is a lot of anecdotal support for the use of essential oils with children with ASD; however, it is yet to be corroborated by science. We are really excited about a new clinical trial being conducted by Jill Hollway, Ph.D., M.A., a research scientist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Nisonger Center.
Dr. Hollway is an expert in ASD currently researching new treatments for improving behavioral problems. She is currently focused on the sleep issues associated with ASD.2)http://osuwmc.multimedianewsroom.tv/story.php?id=1089&enter=0 Her new clinical study will test the effectiveness of essential oils for autism in regards to improved sleep and relaxation.
We were fortunate to get an interview with Dr. Hollway!
STUDY: Essential Oils for Autism
For the randomized, double-blind study, researchers will compare the safety and effectiveness of two mixtures of 18 essential oils. For the first three months of the study, only one mixture will be tested. A topical skin application will be applied to the back of a participant’s neck and feet before school. At 20 minutes before bedtime, the mixture will begin diffusing throughout the child’s bedroom and continue through the night.
Also at 20 minutes prior to bedtime, participants who can tolerate them will wear an actigraph, a watch-like device used to measure sleep quality and movement. Measurements will be taken when the actigraph is first put on, during sleep and 20 minutes after the child wakes up for their morning routine.
“A lot of these children wake up during the night, and the actigraph will capture those times. So, it will record the minutes awake, minutes asleep, and calculate overall sleep efficiency,” said Hollway, also principal investigator of the study.
After three months of testing the first mixture, there will be a one month “wash-out” period during which no essential oil mixtures will be tested. Then, the other mixture will be tested in the same way for three months.
Researchers will test the two mixtures over the next two years on more than two dozen children with ASD. 3)http://osuwmc.multimedianewsroom.tv/story.php?id=1085&enter=#sthash.cXQRZgJZ.dpuf
Eco Child’s Play (ECP): What are the 18 essential oils you are testing? What are the mixtures?
Dr. Jill Hollway (JH): We are conducting a randomized, double-blind, crossover study, of two essential oil mixtures to determine whether one, or both, are useful for improving quality of life, by increasing relaxation and sleep efficiency in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). At the completion of this study we will share the results and disclose the ingredients included in each of the two essential oil mixtures.
ECP: It seems like just 2 mixtures from 18 essential oils would make it hard to isolate which oils are most effective. Why did you choose to do only two mixtures with so many oils?
JH: We are investigating the combined effects of certain groups of oils in each mixture, as the combination of these oils may produce enhanced effects compared to the effects of one or two oils.
ECP: Which oils show the most promise at easing the symptoms of autism related to sleep?
JH: The literature suggests that several essential oils may be useful for increasing relaxation and inducing sleep in humans. Some examples of these are lavender, rose, chamomile, and patchouli. However, the resulting reports from these investigations describe methodological issues that make interpretation difficult. For this reason we planned our study to include more rigorous methods of data collection and scientific procedures. We designed our study in a way that we hope will rule out any bias of our study results.
ECP: Are there any other symptoms of autism that show promise of being alleviated by essential oils?
JH: Similar to the oils that are said to be useful for increasing relaxation, there are certain essential oils that are thought to be mentally stimulating, clarifying, and uplifting. Two examples of these are lemon and rosemary. Again, the literature describes studies that suggest these effects, but the investigations were not randomized clinical trials and more studies using scientific methods are necessary before we can say definitively that this is the case.
ECP: What about seizures? A very good friend of mine’s son is experiencing seizures as he is going through puberty. Are there any essential oils that would benefit people with autism that experience seizures?
JH: There is some evidence that linalool a main constituent of lavender oil has anticonvulsant effects in mice. But more study of the anticonvulsant properties of certain essential oils in humans is needed. The human studies conducted to date either had very small sample sizes or methodological problems. Future studies should focus on the safety and efficacy of these oils in individuals with seizure disorder.
ECP: What is the best method for using essential oils with children with autism?
JH: There are two methods of oil application in aromatherapy, massaging the oil into the skin, and diffusion of the oil in the air. In the latter, it is necessary to purchase a diffuser to which water and the essential oils are added, then the aroma is diffused out into the air. Both methods of application are viable ways of absorbing the oils. In the massage/topical method the oil is absorbed through the skin. In the diffusion method, the oils are inhaled into the respiratory system. The chosen method really depends upon the user’s preference.
ECP: Have you been involved any other studies that scientifically examine essential oils and their claims?
JH: Not yet, this is our first study of essential oils. This is a pilot study. Should we have a positive response further study in a much larger multisite trial will be warranted.
ECP: What is the source of the essential oils used in your testing?
JH: This is an investigator driven study and was not industry initiated. It was actually a parent of a child with ASD who suggested that we investigate the use of essential oils in ASD. There is much anecdotal evidence that certain essential oils are useful for improving quality of life in ASD. However, the oils are being used without sufficient evidence of their safety and effectiveness.
ECP: What about the sensory issues many children with autism have with topical applications? Do you have any suggestions?
JH: For children who are sensitive to the topical application and do not want the oils massaged into their skin, the oils can be inhaled using the diffusion method.
ECP: Do you think the study size of 24 is too small for accurate results? Do you plan to follow-up with a larger number of subjects if the results are promising?
JH: Actually, we intend to enroll 34 study participants and we anticipate that approximately 26 will complete the study. This is a cross-over pilot study, to be conducted over a 7 month period. What is nice about a design like this is that each participant becomes his or her own control which increases the power to detect an effect. All participants will receive both oil mixtures. Participants are randomized to oil mixture order. So participants randomized to oil mixture A in the first 3 months will (after the one month wash-out) get oil B for the last 3 months. Those randomized to start with oil mixture B will subsequently receive oil mixture A. This will help to rule out any effect of the order in which the oil mixtures are administered.
ECP: Could essential oils be useful in the classroom environment for children with autism?
JH: There is some anecdotal evidence that essential oils are useful in the classroom, but there is currently no empirical evidence. Future clinical trials of essential oils should include the participation of educators to determine whether the oils are useful in a classroom setting.
Thank you for Dr. Hollway for conducting this research and answering our questions! We can’t wait to see the results! We think essential oils for autism treatment is very promising.
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