Oils are essential – a new study into the effects of commercial essential oils on the human endocrine system could be a game changer


AgriFutures Tea Tree Oil Program is funding new research by the University of Queensland (UQ) into the impact of commercial essential oils including tea tree, culinary and medicinal oils on the human endocrine system. This work has potential world-wide implications for many industries including agriculture, medicine and the cosmetics industry.

The three-year research project titled Mechanistic and comparative toxicity of commercial essential oils is being led by, Professor (Adjunct) Andrew Bartholomaeus, who explained the chemical components of essential oils as being like the different shades on a painter’s palette.

“The aroma, taste and biological activity of each essential oil is due to the combination of these components, just like different shades of colour are created from the coming together of primary colours,” said Professor Bartholomaeus, from the Diamantina Institute, Faculty of Medicine, UQ.

“For example components of oregano oil are also found in tea tree oil, as are components of eucalyptus or pine oil. Consequently, information on one essential oil, or one common component, is relevant to many other oils.”

Professor Bartholomaeus added: “Currently there is no evidence to suggest the chemical components of normal culinary herbs have adverse impacts on human health, and the endocrine system, at the levels normally consumed or, applied in their unprocessed form. We have been eating and using these for tens of thousands of years.”

“Essential oils, including tea tree oil, must comply with the same risk assessments as industrial chemicals but these risk assessments may not necessarily apply to natural substances present in food or used medicinally. This research project will look at the critical risks and standards appropriate for tea tree oil and essential oil safety assessments and which of the available experimental models for evaluating risk to humans is most relevant.”

“This may have the potential to open up new markets for tea tree oil; ultimately increasing market demand for tea tree oil. The results of this research may also be applicable to other essential oils.”

Dee-Ann Seccombe Prather, AgriFutures Tea Tree Oil Advisory Panel member and founder, and Managing Director of Down Under Enterprises International Pty Ltd., an international wholesale distributor of Australian tea tree oil and essential oils, has welcomed the research.

“This body of work will add to our extensive knowledge into the efficacy and safety of Australian tea tree oil,” said Ms Prather.

“A lot of that expertise has been supported and funded by AgriFutures Australia and our industry peak body, the Australian Tea Tree Industry Association (ATTIA).

“Our industry is excited by the scientific rigour and due process Professor Bartholomaeus will bring to the project,” said Ms Prather.

Ms Prather said there are currently more than 850 peer-reviewed and published scientific papers demonstrating tea tree oil’s safety and effectiveness, including as an antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory agent.

For more information about this project and research into the safety and efficacy of tea tree oil visit: agrifutures.com.au/tea-tree-oil and attia.org.au