I am a chronic illness warrior who is always on the lookout for scientifically proven ways to support natural wellness.
If you are at all familiar with essential oils or know someone who is, you've probably heard the claim that has been going around since the 1990’s stating that essential oils have the highest “frequency” of any substance on earth and that this frequency is between 52 and 580 MHz. If it didn't make sense to you at first blush, there's a good reason. In this article, I will explain why this claim is false and is a perfect example of using scientific language in a way that is not scientific.
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are highly concentrated oils distilled from various parts of plants by steam or cold pressing. In the last few decades, they have become more and more popular. Currently, essential oils represent a $12 billion-dollar global business. Plant oils have long been believed to have natural healing properties and our earliest record of distilled plant oils dates back to 2500 BC.
It is important to note that the version of “essential oils” that were being distilled in ancient times are not the same as the essential oils we have today. It is also important to note that just because something is has been around a long time doesn’t necessarily make it “better.” 4,500 years ago when humanity was using pressed plant oils, they were also practicing “trephination,” the drilling of holes in the skull to release demons. (Clearly every millennia has had its ridiculous health crazes.)
At the same time, just because something is part of more recent scientific development doesn’t by definition make it safe or effective either. It was not that not long ago that doctors were encouraging pregnant women to smoke and Fen-Phen was considered a miracle weight loss drug. And don’t forget that “modern science” also brought us things like the lobotomy and radioactive water. We’ve come a long way, but perhaps not as far as we think.
Even though oils (in some form) have been used for thousands of years, current advocates approach essential oils with a surprisingly postmodern view which relies heavily on subjective experience and anecdotal evidence. This is no doubt partly because those who sell essential oils are legally required by the FDA to refrain from making any claim that essential oils can treat or cure disease. (A rule many essential oil distributors seem to break wantonly.)
This doesn’t mean that there isn’t any science to back up some (but certainly not all) of essential oil proponents claims. There have actually been more than a few credible research studies involving essential oils. In fact, even the Mayo Clinic agreed that aromatherapy may be effective in improving sleep quality and relieving some symptoms of mental illness.
Which brings us to the claim that’s been going around since the 1990’s that essential oils have the highest “frequency” of any substance on earth. This is a claim that MLM distributors can make to “wow” potential purchasers without technically breaking the FDA’s disease claim rule.
So let’s take our brains out of neutral and examine this popular claim that has been going around the essential oil community for a while now.
Here is an example of the claim that has been cited numerous times all over the internet. It comes from a very popular essential oil website:
“…Everything has frequency. Emotions have frequency and so do thoughts. Even solids have frequency…Those with consciousness such as humans experience higher energy frequency states. Not all of us humans vibrate at the same levels. Also, we don’t always vibrate at optimum energy frequency states…Essential oils have the highest frequencies of any measured natural substance. Pure grade essential oils range in frequency from 52 to 580 MHz. A healthy body, from head to foot, typically has a frequency ranging from 62 to 78 MHz, while disease begins at 57 MHz.”
Let's look at it line by line and see if it actually holds any water.
“Everything has frequency.”
What kind of frequency? When other health bloggers and new age healers cite this concept they rarely define what type of wave frequencies they are referring to and often when they do they change their definition mid-way through their argument. This claim is true in the sense that all objects have a set of frequencies at which they resonate: a guitar string, a wine glass when you dampen your finger and run it around the top, etc.
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“Frequency is the rate at which something occurs or is repeated over a particular period of time or in a given sample. “the rate at which a vibration occurs that constitutes a wave, either in a material (as in sound waves), or in an electromagnetic field (as in radio waves and light), usually measured per second.”
In fact, if they are referring to anything producing regular vibrations that can be measured in cycles per second, whether electromagnetic, or sound etc., this is a true statement. This is because at an atomic level there is no such thing as “solid” in the way we tend to think about it, since atoms are mostly made up of empty space and are all interacting with one another giving my hand, for example the “appearance” of being solid. As my fingers press the keys on my keyboard it’s actually tiny electrons repelling other tiny electrons. According to Jack Fraser of the University of Oxford, “Virtually every single process which is keeping you alive can be traced back to an electric field that some component of your body is creating.” These tiny moving atoms do, in fact, have a “frequency.”
“Emotions have frequency and so do thoughts.”
We can safely assume this author is not referring to how often I feel happy or how often I think about pizza. Here we see the argument veer in to the metaphysical new age belief in the “Law of Attraction.” If you’re unfamiliar with this alleged “law,” this Huffington Post article describes it as follows: “Everything is vibration and, vibrations of similar frequencies are drawn together. You have the ability to control your vibration; then you can most certainly control the conditions of your life.” We’ve now left the realm of verifiable hypotheses.
According to the book Winning Your Infinite Freedom by Robert C. Worstell, ”Our physiology creates disease to give us feedback, to let us know we have an imbalanced perspective, and we're not loving and we're not grateful…What your body is doing only reflects what you’ve been thinking up to this point.” Ergo, our thought’s “frequencies” such as the “frequency of ingratitude” are creating disease within us.
This is untestable, unverified, pseudoscientific dribble on its face, not to mention extremely offensive if taken to its logical conclusion. Victim blaming is the core of this claim: cancer is now the cancer patient’s inability to produce “higher frequency vibrations.” The holocaust is no doubt because all those millions of people in concentration camps couldn’t get together and “vibe at a higher frequency.”
This is where we first see the term “frequency” get forced into a new definition. Yes, “The brain does produce electrical activity from the ion currents flowing among neurons during synaptic transmission…” but, “these fields are minuscule and can be measured only by using an extremely sensitive superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID) in a room heavily shielded against outside magnetic sources.” For more on this, see this excellent article in Scientific American.
“Those with consciousness such as humans experience higher energy frequency states.”
Because this is from a website that promotes essential oils, I believe this is in reference to essential oil guru D Gary Young’s statement: “For a number of years during my clinical practice, I researched the use of electrical energy for the purpose of reversing the disease process. I kept feeling that there had to be a more natural way of increasing a person’s electrical frequency, which led to the discovery of the electrical frequency of oils.”
While the human body does produce electrical energy (around 100 watts to be exact) the sun, which does not possess human consciousness, is without question currently “experiencing a higher energy frequency" than I am. This statement doesn’t actually make any sense if we are using language in a meaningful way. Since they can’t possibly be referring to any measurement of energy we know of (because inanimate substances and objects can certainly have higher frequencies than conscious humans do) they must have pulled the ol’ switcheroo and are now referring to some phenomenon we can’t scientifically verify. This is what’s known as an “argument from ignorance” because we can’t measure these undefined “frequencies” and therefore have no method for proving their claim true or false.
“Not all of us humans vibrate at the same levels. Also, we don’t always vibrate at optimum energy frequency states…”
I have nothing to say here except that this is what happens when you develop a scientific theory from a Beach Boy’s song.
“Essential oils have the highest frequencies of any measured natural substance. Pure grade essential oils range in frequency from 52 to 580 MHz.”
There are several critical problems with this claim. Remember how we talked about the motion of atoms earlier? As molecules within organic substances constantly move, they bend and stretch at certain set frequencies and we know this through the use of infrared spectroscopy. Sounds like good news for the “camp vibes” right?
Well, the more atoms a molecule is made up of, the more bonds you have bending and stretching at their own set “frequencies.” Therefore, as Dr. Robert Pappas explains, “It would be impossible to characterize an essential oil or even a single essential oil molecule as having a single vibrational energy frequency. Furthermore, the energy of vibration in molecules is way higher than the 52 Mhz – 320 range claimed…”
I believe the particular finding this author is citing was done by Belgian pharmacist Dominique Buadoux. However, unless you read or speak French you are out of luck as Baudoux’s work surprisingly, not been disseminated in English.
“A healthy body, from head to foot, typically has a frequency ranging from 62 to 78 MHz, while disease begins at 57 MHz.”
Here is where we get into even mirkier waters. “Clinical research” on this subject was done by the aforementioned D. Gary Young and a Bruce Tainio. Unfortunately, the original “research” can’t be found anywhere on the internet. (If you have it, please drop it in the comments below.) A search of Bruce Tainio’s website also yields no evidence of this research though it has been heavily circulated within the essential oil community. Also, the technology that allegedly measures these frequencies is now conveniently “out of production” and “unavailable.”
While essential oils certainly have verifiable beneficial qualities, this is not one of them! If you are propagating the myth about essential oils and frequencies, respectfully, stop it! Or alternatively, produce the original research and devices you cite so we can collectively prove the claims true or false.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Irene on August 14, 2020:
There is actually scientific equipment that measures frequency.. and yes we do vibrate at a particular frequency as do essential oils. The fact that you could not find the research does not mean the research does not exist.