Quality Control Issues in Our Industry

Last week, Merry Lycett Harrison, a professional member of the American Herbalists Guild, posted a link to an article about quality control issues with Young Living and DoTERRA essential oils, called Damning Evidence that Young Living and DoTERRAs Essential Oils are Adulterated. I don't have the hard evidence to prove or disprove what this article is saying, but I do know that there is a great deal of fraud (as well just poor quality control) in the natural products industry. This doesn't mean that I don't support the industry, as I recognize that there is a great deal of fraud in the world in general. The old axiom, "Buyer Beware" is as true as it ever was.

I've heard and seen many things in my time in the industry. Most I keep to myself. I don't want some big corporate entity sueing me, which is why I'm omitting certain specifics in what I'm writing here. (I was threatened with a law suit by a major corporation that I have worked with very closely at one time. I was told that even if I was in the right that they had more money than me and they'd win by bankrupting me in fighting them. So, even though I thought they were in the wrong, I backed down simply because it wouldn't have been worth the fight.)

However, I've decided to talk about some of the problems I've seen in this industry. I think people ought to be aware that they shouldn't base their knowledge of natural healing on what companies or distributors, who have a vested economic interest in a particular product, have to say. This doesn't mean they should believe all the negative publicity of detractors, either, as they are usually driven by economic interests as well. I'm likely to upset some people by what I write here, but frankly, I'm tired of keeping my mouth shut about these things.

The reason I've chosen NOT to be involved in owning or managing a company that sells products (although I've helped to start several) is because I value my position as an educator. I probably would be making a lot more money right now if I was selling products instead of information, but my goal is to be a reliable source of third-party information, so I've actually turned down offers to be involved with product companies to try to stay more objective about what I teach and promote. So, with that, let's get started.

Not Everyone Has Integrity

I admire people of integrity, who don't compromise their ethical standards for the sake of profit. I have a very good friend who was a founding owner of a network marketing company selling an antixoidant drink. He found out that the company was lying about aspects of their manufactoring process and the product itself and he resigned at a huge financial loss so as to not be involved in the fraud.

I have friends who operated a bottling plant and bottled a product which was being sold as "all natural." They had the spec sheet on this product, however, and the noni juice product was anything but natural. The fruit was juiced, pasteurized and dehydrated. It was then irradiated, brought into the US where the dried powder was being reconstituted and sold as a natural product.

This kind of fraud and deception is common in corporate America. So, don't think that our industry is immune to it.

Thoughts on Young Living

First, I have every reason to believe that the article is accurate when it talks about Young Living. Here's why. I personally met one of the people who used to supply essential oils to Young Living. He was a wonderful individual, who was very dedicated to quality control. I actually toured his manufacturing plant and his quality control lab. I also purchased and used some of his oils. Young Living was a major account for him, but he dropped them when he discovered they were diluting the oils he was selling them with solvents. It cost him dearly financially, but his integrity wouldn't allow him to knowingly participate in this.

When NSP came out with a line of essential oils, some Young Living people were circulating these lab tests showing spikes in their products that weren't in NSP's essential oils. They were saying this showed that Young Living oils were better because they contained "actives" that weren't in NSP's oils. Kimberly Balas, who knows more about this stuff than I do said, that ironically, those spikes were actually showing the presence of the solvents.

I don't know whether any of this is still true, but this and other bits of information I've found have made me suspicious of Young Living's products as not being of the highest quality. This doesn't mean they're harmful, mind you; it just means that I believe there are better quality oils out there (and often at a lower price).

Experiences with DoTERRA

I was actually approached and given the pitch about DoTERRA's essential oils by one of their principle people when the company was just starting up. This is common, as both Kimberly Balas and I are often approached by brand new MLM companies wanting us to be at the "top" and build a downline with them. I bought some of their oils, and I've used them. I like them and felt they were of a better quality than Young Living's oils. I also bought a copy of the book their distributor's sell to teach people how to use the oils. I think it contains a lot of interesting and useful information, but I also have a lot of aromatherapy books written by professional aromatherapists, too, which I also consult with when I'm putting together information about oils.

I declined to get involved in the MLM aspect as I'm just not interested in building MLM networks. About a year later, I was approached by someone from DoTERRA who wanted to negotiate a deal in exchange for my mailing list. If I would give them my mailing list so they could privately contact all the Nature's Sunshine managers and distributors and sign them up in DoTERRA. They assured me that they wouldn't let anyone know where they got the names, but in exchange they would insert me into the top of the organization and arrange it so I could sell my educational materials to their distributors. I turned them down.

I know many people in my area who use DoTERRA oils. I don't know whether they have quality control issues or not. If there were synthetics in one of their products, perhaps they weren't aware of it, to give them the benefit of a doubt. Although it does point out a fact that adulteration is actually very common in the natural products industry. I'll talk more about that in a minute.

Internal Use of Essential Oils

My biggest issue with Young Living and DoTERRA, however, has been some of the ways that people are using the products. I started using essential oils in 1987 for emotional healing work. I had used some essential oils products prior to that, including NSP's Tei Fu oils as a topical analgesic, tea tree oil as a disinfectant for injuries and peppermint oil for indigestion. I took an aromatherapy course around that time from a Sufi healer, Hakim Chisti and learned a great deal about how essential oils affected mood.

Carl Robinson, who I co-developed many energetic models and herbal concepts with, was using essential oils a lot at the time, including internally. He gave them to me a few times when I was sick and they worked very well. In the early 1990s we developed a product line of glycerine extracts with essential oils added. We were using 1-2 drops of an essential oil blend in about two ounces of extract. Since the essential oils were blended, this means there was less than a drop of any single essential oil in each bottle. And, since a person was only taking a dropperful at a time (about 30 drops), they were getting only a fraction of a drop of essential oils in each dose.

We learned that this was still too strong, so we wound up cutting the amount of oils added to the products down to about 1/2 to 1 drop per two ounces. However, even at our higher level, people were getting much less that the amount recommended by DoTERRA distributors. Plus, most of these products were being used short term for solving specific health issues, so people weren't taking them regularly.

Topical Use of Essential Oils

As I studied more about essential oils I found that essential oils absorb through the skin in sufficient quantities to be therapeutically useful. They are also absorbed into the blood stream through the lungs. So, I moved away from internal applications, realizing that it was safer (and often more effective) to use them topically or as an inhalant. This is because you can deliver the therapeutic action right where it is needed.

However, even there, I find it's usually best to dilute essential oils in a lotion or fixed oil for topically application. I rarely apply them neat (undiluted).

Even topically, they can be a problem. I'd heard of the "rain drop" therapy. I knew that Kimberly Balas thought it was not good, but I decided to let someone do it to me once anyway. For those of you who are not familiar with this, a person puts multiple drops of mutiple essential oils on your spine and rubs them in. The oils are neat (undiluted), too.

Having done this therapy, and being very sensitive to how things affect my body, I agree with Kim's assessment of it and don't think it's wise. Essential oils have an extremely strong effect on the nervous system and putting that many essential oils over your spinal column is very irritating to the nervous system. I could tell it was energizing, but energizing in a way that isn't healthy, like drinking a lot of coffee.

Lots of things will make you feel better temporarily, but it doesn't mean they're improving your overall health or that they're good for you long term. To help you understand this better, let me tell you about hormesis. It's a term I just learned. In 1888, a German pharmacologist named Hugo Schulz put small doses of lethal poison onto yeast and found it stimulated its growth. Various researchers following up on this found this is generally true. Small amounts of substanes that are toxic in large quantities seem to show beneficial results. (Chalk one up for homeopathy.)

This effect is called hormesis. It is what happens when a small amount of something produces a good result, but when you increase the dosage (or do more of the same activity) the results are harmful. Unfortunately, there's an attitude amoung Americans that "if a little is good, more is better." So, while certain things, such as essential oils, can be very helpful in very small doses, they can start to cause problems in higher doses. So, with essential oils, less is often better, but that doesn't sell a lot of product, does it? (Sorry if that comes across as cynical, but my biggest issue with a company that sells essential oils is that the way I use them it takes a long time to go through one tiny bottle, so how do you get repeat sales? I guess the answer is you come up with ways of suggesting people use more.)

Experiences with Nature's Sunshine Products

One thing I like about Nature's Sunshine is that they are committed to very high quality. I personally know Lynda Hammonds who is in charge of their quality control and she does not compromise. But, even if a company is trying to put out a good product, mistakes can still happen. When I worked for the company in the 80s, a quality control issue arose that had to be fixed.

Parthenium integrifolium has long been used as an adulterant to Echinacea. That's because the dried plant material looks almost identical, even though the two plants do not have the same therapeutic properties. Well, it turns out that NSP's control sample of "echinacea" was actually "parthenium" and they'd been selling the wrong plant for years. So, errors can happen. The important thing is that they were willing to fix the problem when it came to their attention.

By the way, I doubt that would happen today, since they now audit their vendors to avoid those kinds of mistakes, but it does illustrate the problem. For example, testing valerian from Walmart, Lynda's QC group found it was the wrong species. They've had plant material come in where the "actives" had been extracted (such as essential oils) and they were selling the spent plant material as the herb.

When using herbs you have to use the right plant, gather it from the right places and at the right time of the year and use the right part of the plant. Cheap brands are usually selling the plant material that better companies reject, so, just because it says "St. John's wort" or "Echinacea" doesn't mean its the stuff that's going to improve your health.

One of the reasons I've been willing to do so much education for NSP is because I know that they don't compromise on quality. I've not only toured their manufacturing facillity, I worked at the company in the 1980s and I know they test and retest everything. But, even though they have impecable quality, I have issues with the way some people sell their products.

Nature's Sunshine isn't the only quality company out there; it just happens to be the one I have the most first-hand knowledge about. For more information see my blog post Product Companies in Modern Herbal Medicine.

Selling on Hype

I've worked very hard to try to help people sell products based on their ability to help people. When you're selling a product, it's so easy to get caught up in making sales rather than just helping people. I've seen way too much of that in network marketing companies, including Nature's Sunshine, and it really bothers me.

For example, there are Spanish-speaking distributors in NSP who sell yin and yang packs of NSP's Chinese herbs. They are having people take seven of the Chinese herb blends at one time, claiming that this is all you need to do. This really annoys me because I love NSP's Chinese herb line and I hate to see it abused in this manner. I've heard stories of people developing heart palpitations, anxiety and other negative symptoms from doing this. Yet, these people are told "it's just a healing crisis."

This is the kind of thing that happens when sales become more important than really learning how to help people. I was extremely disappointed when NSP encouraged this by creating the yin and yang packs to cater to this. In my latest Comprehensive Guide to Nature's Sunshine Products (6th edition), I decided to simply put that we didn't recommend these packs to voice my protest over this practice.

It's easy to care more about sales than it is about people. This is especially true when we have a vested interest in a company, such as people who have built a network marketing organization around a product line. We have to constantly be on guard. We have to be willing to learn and change our minds.

I've discovered things I was teaching weren't true or weren't as well researched as I thought they were and I've had to change what I teach. I'm sure there are many errors in my understanding of health (and many other things in life), but I'm always open to evidence that challenges my current position. That's because I'm more interested in truth (and helping people) than I am in my ego or my pocketbook.

Which is why I tell people never to blinding trust anyone. And that includes ME!