Although traditional forms of medicine such as essential oils and aromatherapy have been used for centuries to treat diseases and other ailments, many still doubt their health benefits to the body. According to studies from Mount Sinai hospital in New York, aromatherapy has been used to relieve pain, improve mood, promote a sense of relaxation, and can be used in a variety of settings from hospitals to spa treatments (Aromatherapy). Essential oils have even been shown to have antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties, making it especially useful in protection against disease. According to a comprehensive review from researchers in India, essential oils can also inhibit the antibiotic resistance of bacteria, making them a powerful alternative to the growing problem of drug resistance in pharmaceuticals (Tariq et al. 2019).
It is believed essential oils’ mode of action in killing pathogens is by rupturing the cellular membrane of the infectious agent. This membrane rupture can lead to loss of vital molecular components and ions, ultimately leading to cellular death and the eradication of the bacteria or fungus. In fungal pathogens, the essential oils destroy the cell membrane by establishing a membrane potential across the cell wall and disrupting the assembly of ATP, which provides the cell with energy and results in cell wall damage. Essential oils can also disintegrate mitochondrial membranes by interfering with the electron transport system pathway, which also gives the cell energy. In bacterial pathogens, essential oils primarily destabilize the cellular structure, which causes a breakdown of the membrane and disrupts many cellular activities including energy production and membrane transport (Tariq et al. 2019).
Out of all the essential oils, Melaleuca alternifolia oil, or tea tree oil (TTO), has been shown to especially have antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties while not being harmful to the skin. This is why today, tea tree oil is used in many different cosmetics such as perfume and skin care (Brophy et al. 2013). In a study conducted by researchers in Australia, the antibacterial properties of TTO were compared to phenol, an antiseptic used in many cleaning products. Tea tree oil was rated safer and 11 times more effective than phenol (Carson et al. 2006). Not only that, but tea tree oil has also been shown to inhibit the growth of Candida albicans, Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus which are the bacteria that commonly cause yeast infections, food poisoning, and skin infections respectively (Carson et al. 2006). TTO has also been found to inhibit the growth of Gram-positive bacteria, which create plaque buildup on your teeth meaning tea tree oil can be used for dental hygiene as well.
In addition to the Melaleuca alternifolia tea tree oil, the oil from the Melaleuca cajuputi tree has also been shown to have antifungal and antiviral properties. It even has more anti-inflammatory properties than the alternifolia oil (My et al. 2020). Many studies have shown that cajuputi essential oil inhibits the growth of many different microorganisms including ACE2 and PDB6LU7 which are proteins that can cause the flu, pneumonia and COVID-19. This demonstrates that the cajuputi oil can be crucial in the prevention of disease. Cajuputi oil has also traditionally been used as an herbal medicinal to relieve symptoms of colds and even to provide postnatal care to women and newborns (My et al. 2020).
The active ingredient in Melaleuca alternifolia and cajuputi that allows them to kill so many different microorganisms are the molecules terpinen-4-ol and 1,8-cineole respectively (Hyunh et al. 2012). Other molecules responsible for their antimicrobial activity are linalool, alpha-terpineol, alpha-terpinene, terpinolene and 1,8-cineole (Carson et al. 2006). Although these plants are from the same family and have similar active ingredients, the abundance of these ingredients that give them their antiseptic properties are different. In the Melaleuca cajuputi, the active ingredient is 1,8-cineole, with an abundance of over 30% and the second most active ingredient being terpineol, with an abundance of only 10% (My et al. 2020). By comparison, the Melaleuca alternifolia oil, or tea tree oil, has the active ingredient terpinen-4-ol with an abundance of over 30% and the second most active ingredient being γ-terpinene with an abundance over 16%.
It’s important to make the distinction that tea tree oil only refers to Melaleuca alternifolia tree oil, not the Melaleuca cajuputi, even though they are both from the same family tree. The Melaleuca alternifolia tree is native the southeast area of Australia while the Melaleuca cajuputi is native to the north and central regions of Vietnam. Luckily, all of our products at Vien Minh use tea tree as well as cajuputi oil filled with these beneficial ingredients that make essential oils such a powerful form of traditional medicine!