The Mechanics of Emu Oil and Its Relation to Skin Afflictions
When various pathologies go wrong, this oil helps them to respond!
by Beth Silva
Emu oil is Just one of a number of mediums currently being employed
by a growing number of physicians in alternative and conventional
Because so many users of emu oil often appear to experience complete
alleviation from various conditions, the question arises: How does
the oil work? The explanation, according to Dr. Leigh Hopkins,
consultant pharmacist and Clinical Professor of Pharmacy, lies
within what happens with various pathologies and how the oil may
help bring those back into correct balance.
In a recent interview, Hopkins offered to share a macro view of a
plausible explanation of the discerned benefits of emu oil in
relation to various skin conditions. Hopkins emphasized that today's
modest explanation of how emu oil works may be modified as
additional research is documented.
Today, emu oil is being used around the world by a growing number of
individuals, from pharmaceutical and cosmetic product manufacturers
to family physicians and compounding pharmacists.
"It's clear from documented 'before and after' pictures and from
what we hear and see - sorting through real activities of the oil
verses coincidental, chance occurrences - that healing is
occurring," says Hopkins. "At the same time, when the oil is used in
a topical application on normal or dry skin, for example, there's
also an improvement in the quality of the skin itself that occurs
fairly quickly. This indicates that there are two processes going
on, one of which deals with the epidermis (skin's outer layer),
which is essentially a dead layer of protein."
Hopkins explains that the epidermis serves as the protective
function of the skin and is analogous to fingernails, toenails or
hair - all being nonviable cells.
"While you may be able to hydrate the skin - plump up the epidermis
and make it softer and smother - that's incidental to the healing
benefit that's also being seen with the oil," adds Hopkins. "The
healing has to be occurring within the dermis (skin's lower levels),
and in the cells that are viable, that is, cells that can divide.
Those are the cells from which healing has to come. And those cells,
depending on the nature of the wound, may have to differentiate into
other types of cells. So, the healing process occurs from the dermis
and emu oil has an impact on healing at the dermal level."
Because activity is occurring at both the epidermis and the dermis
levels, Hopkins comments that there could be two entirely different
mechanisms - two explanations, and probably multiple different
explanations for the activity at either site. Putting it simply,
there's no single explanation as to the function of emu oil as it
relates to the restoration of various conditions.
Operating Across A Broad Range of Mechanisms
Numerous companies now offer pure emu oil. This is because emu oil
has been documented to exhibit anti-inflammatory, moisturizing, and
significant epidermal proliferative activity (among others), and the
oil appears to promote faster healing of burns with less pain and
"It's that broad group of activities that make the emu oil appear to
be snake oil," says Hopkins. "If we take a series of skin conditions
that respond in various ways to emu oil, such as dry skin, various
bums, ulcers, wounds, eczema, psoriasis, etc, each of those
conditions in the hands of conventional medicine has its own unique
therapeutic approach. That the oil works where we use a number of
different types of drugs is what makes it hard for the conventional
medical community to accept that the oil can be operating across a
broad range of disease conditions by way of some common action
within the dermis layer of the skin."
Hopkins relates that one problem the emu oil industry faces is
coming up with explanations as to why the oil helps alleviate
various pathologies. He remarks that the industry has to explain
fundamental mechanisms under which the oil is working.
"And those more fundamental mechanisms are really basic nutritional
mechanisms - fats that are in emu oil," says Hopkins. "And the
ratios of fats in emu oil are critical to the normalization of the
healing process. I don't want to single out a single fat, that's
probably incorrect, it's more the composition of fats in emu oil
(linoleic, oleic, palmitic, stearic, palmitoleic) or a ratio of
saturated to unsaturated fats or some other relationship within all
these fats rather than a specific fat that's in the oil. If it were
such that it was a specffic fat, there are a lot of ways to get
those fats from other oils. But the ratio of those fats are likely
to be important to the benefits that we see with the oil."
Examining the Healing Process On a Cellular Level
Dr. Hopkins, whose undergraduate work was in biochemistry, relates
that there may be numerous explanations for emu oil's specific
influences on body cells themselves and on receptors within the
cells. He also mentions that emu oil does more than just prompt
Says Hopkins, "It's clear that the oil does work and this would have
to be labeled in a macro and fundamental level of healing. And we
don't necessarily want to think of emu oil as stimulating healing
-it can be retarding or blocking an excess activity as well as
stimulating underperforming activity. Any and all of those depends
on the underlying explanation for a specific disease."
Hopkins says that this may be the case with the use of emu oil with
psoriasis or other skin maladies. "In certain conditions, taking
psoriasis (a condition that responds in a variable fashion to emu
oil) for example, in which there are specific cells that are out of
control - those cells need to be tamed, if you will."
According to Hopkins, a better way to describe what emu oil does for
the body would be that "...emu oil helps to normalize basic cellular
function, and enable the body to progress with what should be normal
"We know from our experiences that the oil does work and it does
normalize various conditions," continues Hopkins. "And I emphasize
normalization. With emu oil we can typically increase or decrease
whatever is going on because often the problem is because something
Is either not performing well enough, or another system is
overperforming. For example, an excessive inflammatory condition is
an overperformance of a system that's designed normally to produce
an inflammatory response because that's part of the body's normal
response to some invasion of organisms or other foreign substances.
The concept of normalization involves progressing past that
inflammatory phase and moving into the next phase of the response -
to whatever has been presented to the body. And sometimes things get
hung up in those different phases and you have to give them a little
boost - get them moving."
Hopkins relates that at the root of almost every chronic and acute
skin condition is a cell line or a hormonal response that is
exaggerated, which needs to be kicked into its next phase of
healing. He adds that these are complex phases of healing that go on
and are incompletely understood.
The fact that emu oil appears to help normalize basic cellular
function in so many skin ailments is outstanding. Emu oil has been
successfully employed on various types of burns as well as on
abrasions and also gaping wounds.
Regarding the use of emu oil on deep wounds Hopkins says, "It's very
impressive when you see after a certain amount of time that you can
have an essentially completely healed system - everything has been
replaced, the muscle, the tendon, the nerves, the blood vessels, the
skin - repaired and grown back. The very impressive ability of the
oil is that it seems to encourage those systems to work in concert
as they're designed to do. When you're deficient in certain
components, that system then doesn't heal normally, quickly, etc.
and the oil simply helps to orchestrate the healing process."
Reprinted with permission from EMU TODAY & TOMORROW