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Ratite Oil Research

The following research papers focus on emu oil, which came to us from Australia. The properties of all ratite oils are very similar, so the effects can be applied to oils extracted from other Ratite Birds, including ostriches, emus, cassowaries, moas, rheas, kiwis and elephant birds.

Research studies on Emu Oil have been conducted at these Institutes:

  • Auburn University, USA
  • Boston University Medical Center, USA
  • Indiana University School of Medicine, USA
  • Iowa State University, USA
  • Texas Tech Health Sciences, Burn Unit, USA
  • University of Adelaide, Australia
  • University of Sydney, Australia
  • University of Texas Medical School, USA

Getting a Grip on Pain: Documenting the Facts on Emu Oil and Arthritis

"The dramatic results I have observed convinced me that this oil can make an impact on those suffering from arthritis" - Dr. Thorn Leahey

American emu producers may soon have some solid proof by which to support some very old beliefs concerning emu oil. A clinical study, to be conducted by Dr. Thorn Leahey of the Arthritis Clinic in Ardmore, Oklahoma, is currently being planned to determine what effect emu oil has on hands plagued by arthritis. A preliminary study has already produced some positive indications that the oil may substantially reduce the pain caused by arthritis. "We took a random sampling of 20 volunteers for a double blind, placebo-controlled study using emu oil and mineral oil," said Dr. Leahey. "The only qualifying parameter was that the volunteer could not have ever used emu oil before the test. Volunteers also remained on the same arthritis medicine they were currently taking," he explained.

"In this 2 week study, 7 of the 12 emu oil users reported a significant reduction in pain, morning stiffness and swelling. Only 1 of the 8 mineral oil users (placebo) related the same results," reported Dr. Leahey. Encouraged by these preliminary findings, Dr. Leahey felt the oil merited additional investigation through a comprehensive clinical study that could be documented and published in scientific and trade journals.

The proposed study, which will extend over a three month period, will involve 500 participants. "The main qualifying factor will be that the participant must have had arthritis diagnosed in their hands," he explained. Although the extensiveness of the arthritis is not a factor that will disqualify a volunteer, Dr. Leahey maintains a personal theory that the oil may have its greatest impact on early stages of arthritis pain. "I don't know if any topical aid would be beneficial for chronic or burnout arthritis, where the cartilage has been virtually destroyed. I suspect the oil reduces inflammation around and within joints, and assists in allowing a greater freedom of movement," he reasoned.

"This study will not only provide for a subjective determination of the effect of the oil." said Dr. Leahey, "but it will also include direct measurements. By using a dynamometer, we can confirm changes in the participant's gripping strength. Also, by direct examination of the hands, it is very easy to test the sensitivity and number of tender and swollen joints," he revealed. Volunteers that are accepted and have been off arthritis medicine for one month will receive an initial examination measuring the gripping strength in the hands.

The subject may be asked at the beginning of the study to assign a number corresponding to the pain level being experienced in their joints on a scale of 1 to 5. After the hands are examined, the subject will be instructed on how to properly apply the oil onto the hands, tentatively 3 times a day for 3 months. The subject's hands will be re-examined and evaluated at the end of each 30 day interval. "When I was initially approached by patients advising me that they were experiencing relief from emu oil, I did a literature search on the topic of emu oil and medical applications. I quickly learned that there is a big void in this area and that there were no published articles in scientific or medical journals," Dr. Leahey revealed. Personal observation of the effectiveness of the emu oil on his own patients was the motivating factor behind Dr. Leahey's proposal for a clinical study. 'The dramatic results I have observed convinced me that this oil can make an impact on those suffering from arthritis," he stated.

'The advent of this oil has simply changed my practice," he asserted. Currently, the proposal and budget are being written up for the project. Dr. Leahey is hopeful that the project may begin as early as late July or early August. He noted that local physicians will be made aware of the study and will be asked to assist in securing volunteers for the study. Also, local newspapers and other media surrounding Ardmore will carry advertisements soliciting volunteers. "The research is imperative," stated Dr. Leahey. The initial results and potential are so exciting. In the last few weeks, I've begun recommending the use of emu oil as part of a regular treatment program for patients," he revealed. "I've observed some very surprising results. The oil is very economical compared to regular arthritis medicines, and appears to have fewer side effects," he continued. "It's very encouraging to find something that may help relieve the suffering associated with arthritis, and it's very exciting to be a part of a project that may impact the quality of life for so many people."

Excerpt from July 1995 issue of www.emutoday.com


Elusive Anti-Inflammatory Component of Emu Oil Isolated

"...even at full strength, emu oil generated irritation levels so low, the results were comparable to that of water..."

A newly-issued (1995) US patent, "Anti-inflammatory Composition Derived from Emu Oil" has revealed that 4 inventors have isolated a yellow-colored component from emu oil that appears to be the active ingredient responsible for the oil's renowned anti-inflammatory activity. US Patent # 5,431,924 reveals that the inventors (all Australian) describe experiments that they conducted with emu oil and with this yellow-colored component to demonstrate the anti-inflammatory activity of the yellow component. Of the 17 claims made In the patent, 3 of them cite compositions in the form of oral, topical, and injectable compounds. The impact of this documentation on the anti-inflammatory properties of emu oil has effects that reach far beyond emu enthusiasts. Kristi Tomlin, registered pharmacist in Blackwell, Oklahoma, acknowledges that the main problem with anti-inflammatories currently on the market is their side effects. "The oral anti-inflammatories eventually cause stomach discomfort and irritation, which in turn leads to other problems," she reports. "For those able to endure this irritation, the next problem is that it eventually stops working. The patient builds a tolerance for the medication, leaving it ineffective."

Topical applications, too, leave much to be desired. "Most of the topical applications which require no prescription use an ingredient derived from a Mexican pepper. Although the warmth it produces contributes to relief, the products often irritate and even burn the skin," Kristi observes. Another method of delivery for anti-inflammatories, the injectable form, is often used for severe cases. In addition to the irritation caused to the blood vessels, one of the main deterrents for using this method is consumer reaction. "Most people do not like the idea of getting shots or giving themselves shots," revealed Kristi. "Patient compliance diminishes considerably if there is an aversion to the method, frequency, or the effects of a medication," she elaborated. Summarily, the majority of anti-inflammatories on the market today produce side effects that are often so severe, the consumer must weigh their benefits against their side effects.

However, in the case of emu oil, laboratory irritation tests conducted by Emu Ranchers Incorporated in 1991 revealed that even at full strength, emu oil generated irritation levels so low, the results were comparable to that of water In laboratory and clinical tests, as well as marketing studies for new products, pure emu oil and compounds formulated with it have generated surprisingly little irritation. Even current research on the oral consumption of bacteria-free emu oil has yet to reveal adverse side effects from oil use. A pharmaceutical grade of emu oil possessing anti-inflammatory properties with minimal side effects could alleviate the most pressing concerns regarding the use of anti-inflammatories in the medical profession today.

The documentation of the patent notes that the inventors have found that "emu oil deficient in linolenic acid is highly active and secondly, emu oil contains other compound(s) which alone or when combined with a transport enhancer provide an effective anti-inflammatory composition." Further, this "biologically active yellow-coloured component may be included In topical, oral and systemic compositions for the treatment or prophylaxis of musculoskeletal and/or dermatological conditions arising from inflammatory reactions of environmental or systemic origins."

One of the most interesting observations noted in the experiments occurred when emu oil was exposed to sunlight for several weeks. Upon examination, the oil appeared inactive when tested for anti-inflammatory activity. However, this anti-inflammatory activity was actually restored with the addition of retinyl acetate. Other findings elaborated on within the patent "clearly identify the yellow components in emu oil immuno-regulant activity, apart from their ability to modulate disease once initiated." The patent displays table after table of experiments conducted with other oils, fats, and compounds used and readily available on the market today.

Allen Strickland, pharmacist in Ozark, Alabama, summarized the three aspects of the invention as (1) a pharmaceutical composition that acts to provide effective transport across the dermis or mucous membranes; (2) a method of treatment; and (3) the process by which the biologically active yellow-coloured component is extracted from the emu oil. According to Strickland, the published documentation in itself will be a valuable sales tool. "It's a lot easier attract the interest of a pharmaceutical company when you have this sort of research to support your product," he reflected. "Pharmaceutical companies devote persuasive reason to pursue research on emu oil." Another notable aspect of the Invention indicates the ease by which the compositions may be formulated.

"The compositions of the invention may be readily formulated by those skilled in the art using appropriate vehicles to produce a variety of topical compositions including liniments, aerosols, creams, ointments, gels, lotions and the like" reads the patent. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this documented research from the perspective of the emu rancher is the unmistakable recognition by the US government that emu oil really does contain an active component. Strickland noted that many drug formulations are based on an active, natural source.

"Even aspirin, one of the most widely used compounds, is based on salicylic acid which is found in the bark of the willow tree," he explained. Edna Hennessee of the Cosmetic Specialty Labs, Inc., notes that ingredients from natural sources provide an excellent base for cosmetics. "In my 53 years in this business, I have found that it is very difficult to duplicate (synthetically) what nature has provided. That emu oil is simply good stuff," she asserts.

A brief summary of the claims listed in the patent lay claim to:

  • A biologically active yellow-coloured component of emu oil prepared in a prescribed manner;
  • A composition comprising the aforementioned component and a pharmaceutically acceptable carrier;
  • The composition noted above in an injectable form, an oral form, and a topical form;
  • method of extraction;
  • compositions with named carriers;
  • compositions with emu oil concentration levels of from 20 to 95%;
  • topical compositions with the yellow-colored component comprising 1-99% by volume and method of extracting the component;
  • named chemical treatment of the component upon extraction;
  • methods for the prophylaxis and treatment of musculoskeletal or dermatological conditions arising from inflammatory reactions of environmental or a systemic origins.

The compositions named within the patent call for a pharmaceutically acceptable carrier to transport the oil through the skin. Despite documented, continuing investigations being conducted by researchers on the transdermal qualities of the oil (Auburn University), the experiments discussed within the patent indicate that best results were obtained when the oil was combined with a separate carrier such as isopropyl alcohol, eucalyptus oil, etc. When the mixture was applied to the skin of rats, potent anti-inflammatory activity was observed, according to the patent.

When various pathologies go wrong, this oil helps them to respond.

"The fact that emu oil helps 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."

Emu oil is just one of the 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.


Using Emu Oil for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Dr. Leigh Hopkins

Several folks have reported relief from carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms of the burning and tingling numbness in the fingers, with applications of emu oil to the wrist area. Since some individuals suffer permanent nerve damage from carpal tunnel syndrome, it is worth some degree of caution when recommending emu oil for treatment. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a repetitive stress injury reported at an increasing rate in the U.S. work force. Anyone who does repetitive work with their hands and arms is susceptible. Musicians, cooks, writers, typists and others complain of finger stiffness in the morning, a weakened grip and pain and numbness in the hands and wrists.

The syndrome occurs when the tendons in the wrist become inflamed after some type of aggravation such as typing or writing. These tendons pass between the bones and ligaments of the palm of the hand in a constricted area called a tunnel. Treatment includes resting the hands using splints. Oral and injected anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen are also common treatments. Surgery may be used to expand the tunnel and reduce the pressure on the nerve that is causing the pain. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke reports that 1% of individuals with this syndrome develop permanent injury. The majority recover completely and can avoid re-injury by changing the way they do repetitive movements, the frequency with which they do the movements, and the amount of time they rest between periods when they perform repetitive movements.

An uncommon but very effective treatment is to take vitamins B6 and B2. Doctors noticed that carpal tunnel syndrome often occurred in women on birth control pills that had high estrogen doses (these products are no longer available). Pregnant women also have an increased risk for carpal tunnel syndrome. And finally, diabetics are also at increased risk. All these conditions are associated with an increased need for vitamin B6. The dose of vitamin B6 is 200 to 300 mg per day in divided doses. Vitamin B2 is necessary to convert vitamin B6 into its active form. This treatment should be tried for three months; if there is no symptom relief by then, vitamin B6 may not be for you.

In summary: Emu oil may act in an anti-inflammatory manner to relieve the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome similar to oral anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and Motrin. Vitamins B6 and B2 can be taken for 3 months at a daily dose of 300 mg for each vitamin. These should be taken in 100 mg. doses at each meal. If, after a trial of 3 months there is no benefit from the use of emu oil and the B vitamins, you should seek other therapies since permanent nerve damage may occur in some people.

From www.emutoday.com, August, 1997.


The Mechanics of Emu Oil and Its Relation to Skin Afflictions

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 specific 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 labelled 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."

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