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 health care.

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.

Dual Delivery

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 scarring.

"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 healing.

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 healing."

"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
October 1999