I’m a very science-minded person, and one of the things that really grates my rutabagas is when people make things up and call it science. In particular, I’m not impressed with pseudoscientific made-up vibrations, and especially the made-up idea of vibrating thoughts, law of attraction style. Somehow, the notion of essential oil frequencies and “high vibration” oils flew under my radar until I recently stumbled across a pin on Pinterest.
Once I started looking, I discovered that this notion seems pretty well established in certain circles. And, like the law of attraction, it claims to be based in science, when it’s just not.
Various sites I found all seemed to be talking from the same playbook. After some looking around, I realized that it’s because they are. That playbook, so to speak, is written by D. Gary Young, the founder of the essential oils company Young Living. It’s called Human Electrical Frequencies and Fields, and it’s available on Scribd.
Royal Rife is listed as an influence beyond the whole vibration-a-rama. Young writes that Rife invented a “frequency generator” in the early 1920s. That name sounded familiar to me, and sure enough, Rife has his own brand of quackery. Wikipedia says he claimed that a device he invented, often called the Rife machine, could be used to target the specific vibrational frequency of various pathogens and cancer. His claims were widely discredited within the scientific community.
Quack-check: Young writes: “Bruce Tanio [sic], of Tainio Technology and head of the Department of Agriculture at Eastern Washington University, has developed a Calibrated Frequency Monitor (CFM) that has been used to measure the frequencies of essential oils and their effect on human frequencies when applied to the body.”
Fact-check: According to the Tainio Biologicals website and Bruce Tainio’s 2010 obituary, he did a bachelor’s degree in biology at Eastern Washington University. He was not on faculty, much less a department head. Google Scholar doesn’t show any academic journal articles written by him. His obituary says “As a hobby, Bruce was an inventor and a student of energy and quantum physics, which lead [sic] him to invent several instruments, which minimize environmental stress from electromagnetic frequencies.”
Quack check: Young writes: “Young Living Essential Oils laboratory uses a CFM, and another is located at Johns Hopkins University where it is used to study frequency in relationship to disease.”
Fact check: A search of the Johns Hopkins University site yields no results for “calibrated frequency monitor.”
Quack check: Young writes: “Clinical research shows that essential oils have the highest frequency of any natural substance known to man, creating an environment in which disease, bacteria, virus, fungus, etc., cannot live. I believe that the chemistry and frequencies of essential oils have the ability to help man maintain the optimal frequency to the extent that disease cannot exist.”
Fact check: If there’s no actual research cited, that’s a good indicator that it could be made up. Young claims that his essential oils are vibrating at 52 Hz to 320 Hz. Have you heard of the terms megahertz or gigahertz? Yeah, those are exponentially higher frequency units than hertz.
Let’s get vibrating
Young has a very odd definition of frequency: “Frequency is defined as a measurable rate of electrical energy flow that is constant between any two points.”
Frequency is a measure of the number of events per unit of time. Hertz is a unit of cycles per second. In the diagram above, the sine wave on the top is the lowest frequency, and below that are waves of higher and higher frequency. There’s also a distinction between oscillation and vibration; electromagnetic radiation oscillates, while vibration is a mechanical phenomenon.
Let’s talk about what actually vibrates. Some atoms will vibrate between two energy states; that’s what the cesium atomic clock is based on. Quartz does the same kind of thing in old-school wristwatches.
Atoms will also vibrate at a certain frequency when they’re bonded to other atoms. Because specific bonds have specific frequencies, vibrational spectroscopy can be used to detect those bonds.
Then there are subatomic particles, where we get into quantum physics. Measuring things that happen at this level requires very specific equipment that an essential oil company has access to.
Does any of this extrapolate to the human body level, or even to the essential oil level? Absolutely not. Let’s take rose oil, which supposedly has the highest vibrational frequency. One source I found says rose oil has more than 300 constituents, all of which have different chemical makeups with a variety of different chemical bonds. There simply is no greater harmonic essence of rose oil, or any of the other assorted things that are listed. What’s happening on an atomic or quantum level does not mean that we, or our foods, or our essential oils, are walking around with the shakes.
Young’s vibrational frequencies
I have no idea what Young was “measuring” to come up with these figures, but here are his quack-errific numbers:
|Genius Brain Frequency||80-82 Hz||Fresh Foods||20-27 Hz|
|Brain Frequency Range||72-90 Hz||Fresh Herbs||20-27 Hz|
|Normal Brain Frequency||72 Hz||Dried Foods||15-22 Hz|
|Human Body||62-78 Hz||Dried Herbs||15-22 Hz|
|Human Body: from Neck up||72-78 Hz||Processed/Canned Food||0 Hz|
|Human Body: from Neck down||60-68 Hz||Melissa (Lemon Balm)||102 Hz|
|Colds and Flu start at:||57-60 Hz||German Chamomile||105 Hz|
|Disease starts at:||58 Hz||Myrrh||105 Hz|
|Candida overgrowth starts at:||55 Hz||Lavender||118 Hz|
|Receptive to Epstein Barr at:||52 Hz||Ravensara||134 Hz|
|Receptive to Cancer at:||42 Hz||Helichrysum||181 Hz|
|Death begins at:||25 Hz||Rose||320Hz|
Step away from the vibration
While it may be tempting to believe things that might seem reasonable intuitively, science just doesn’t work that way. If it’s helpful to think of things like vibrations on a metaphorical level, then hey, why not? The problem is, quacks like D. Gary Young are insisting that essential oils are vibrating the way he describes it on a literal level, which is just plain absurd.
I suspect that people like Young, along with the law of attraction people, rely on the fact that the average person has low scientific literacy and will simply accept what they’re told if it sounds good. But a healthy dose of skepticism can be a good thing, especially when people without a science background start talking about energy and vibrations.
So, I’ll keep using essential oils because I like them, which is a good enough reason for me, and steer way clear of Young Living pseudoscience money train.
You may also be interested in the post Are Essential Oils a Placebo or Something More?
Writing about science and debunking pseudoscience makes my heart sing! Visit the How to Spot Pseudoscience to explore other Science Corner posts on Mental Health @ Home.