For an introduction to inhaling essential oils in general, click here.
In mid-May I began inhaling Benchmark Thyme essential oil in my nebulizer. For two and a half weeks I inhaled 3 drops of the oil mixed with 3mL of normal saline and nebulized it twice a day. By the end of this 2.5 week trial period I noticed a significant improvement in my lung and overall health. Of the oils I have used so far, Benchmark Thyme (BT) is probably my single favorite. In the two weeks before starting BT I was inhaling a combo of eucalyptus and tea tree oils. Although these oils kept me from declining back to pre-essential oil levels, when I began using thyme I could notice a difference. My main lung bug is MRSA, and since BT is specifically formulated to target MRSA infections, I believe this is why it has been so effective for me.
First I will discuss the change in symptoms I felt while on this oil, then I will discuss the science of BT in more detail.
If you have read my first post on inhaling essential oils, you know how effective essential oils have been at combating my lung infections. The oils I tried thus far (Eucalyptus radiata, tea tree oil, lemongrass, and now hyssop) had all made improvements to my lung and overall health. But after about a week of using BT, it seemed to have reduced my mucus more than any of the other oils and the crackling in my breath reduced significantly. In addition, my lungs felt less inflamed and more open, and even when I exercised I would cough very little up (relative to what I used to cough up, which was tons). My energy improved even further so that I did not feel the early-afternoon slumps. After about 2 weeks on BT, I felt like my lung function and overall physical health had reached a peak in the context of the last 6 months. Nebulizing essential oils allowed me to stay out of the hospital for a longer period of time than usual.
Best of all, I felt that I could go without exercising and not feel crappy the next day! When I am very sick, there is so much mucus in my lungs that I cannot sit for more than an hour without feeling uncomfortable and very congested. So in order to clear out the gunk, I am required to exercise even more when I feel really bad (which is a hassle because on those days I have very low energy). But after 2.5 weeks on BT, I felt like I had the luxury not to exercise! I felt so good, I could even sit on the couch reading for a little while and not get all gunked up! Life is weird.
When I do exercise, I feel like I have a lot more power and endurance, and that I am becoming more efficient at using energy to accomplish the same task. What used to be a very tiring hill to hike up is not such a challenge anymore, and I can hike it faster and cough less at the top. I don't have to try as hard when I exercise these days, which makes me a little worried that I'm getting lazy! Maybe I'll just have to double the length of my hikes or look for steeper hills.
I should also add that at several points during my EO experiments since the end of February, I have been using "the Combo", or oral supplementation with a combination of both genistein (a soy isoflavone) and curcumin (an extract from turmeric). In conjunction with the EOs, the Combo has helped me thin my mucus enough so that it becomes easier to cough out, thus improving my ability to clear infection. I wrote up a post on my experiments with the Combo here. My friend Samantha, a CF mom, also has a great blog where you can learn more about the Combo.
After my first experiment with EOs I established a new baseline of about 47% FEV1 (up from 40%). Interestingly, this has not changed in the past four months since I began using EOs regularly. Similarly, my sputum cultures have not changed - I still am growing our heavy MRSA, few non-mucoid Pseudo, and rare mucoid Pseudo. But I feel so different! Even if the bacterial species in my lungs have not changed, the amount of mucus and infection is significantly reduced. My life has changed dramatically even if my numbers have not. And I'm ok with that. What's really important is how I feel.
However, several of my blood markers for immune function, systemic inflammation, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and liver and kidney function have dramatically improved, something I didn't expect! My osteopath pointed this out to me, and he thinks this is totally miraculous. My C-reactive protein was 5.5 in November and is now 2.4. Markers of immune stress like a high white blood cell count, low hemoglobin, and low albumin have significantly improved or returned to within the normal range. My serum vitamin D level has increased, even though I stopped supplementing with it temporarily. Markers of adrenal stress have improved, and all my numbers on my last Comprehensive Metabolic Panel have returned to within the normal range.
Another sign of overall health for us CFers is the ability for us to gain or maintain weight. I have been able to gain 7 pounds in the last 2 months! I attribute this to my body having to use less energy to fight infection, allowing me to store the calories that I eat as fat and muscle.
About Benchmark Thyme
Thyme oil is one of the most potent antimicrobial oils in existence. There are about 350 species within the Thymus genus native to Europe, North Africa, and Asia. In the scientific literature, there has been significant study on a handful of these species and their major constituents. There have been several studies on Thymus vulgaris, Thymus zygis, and Thymus serpylum, but most research has been done on specific chemotypes of T. vulgaris. The major constituents of thyme that are the most well-studied are thymol, geraniol, eugenol, carvacrol, and linalool. Thymol, carvacrol, and eugenol have very strong effects against MRSA . Thymol chemotypes of thyme are the strongest antimicrobial oils that I have read about in the scientific literature , and are stronger than vancomycin against MRSA .
I have been hesitant to try inhaling thyme because I have been warned by multiple herbalists that although thymol is a very effective antibacterial constituent, it is toxic to the kidneys in high doses. Inhaling a few drops a day would likely not cause any adverse effects, but it is something important to keep in mind (especially since I've had kidney troubles caused by IV antibiotics in the past). A solution to this problem is to choose chemotypes of thyme that do not have much thymol in them, and instead have more linalool, geraniol, or alpha-terpineol. Lauren Andrews, a local aromatherapist, told me about Benchmark Thyme, and lent me a book called "Aromatherapy vs. MRSA" by Maggie Tisserand. There is some research currently being conducted by Maggie Tisserand, an aromatherapist in the UK, on the use of a specially formulated thyme blend she calls "Benchmark Thyme" for therapeutic use against MRSA infections. Benchmark Thyme oil is unique because it harvests certain chemotypes of thyme at certain times of the year to ensure a specific balance of chemical constituents that are effective against MRSA . Thyme may be irritating to inhale, or so I have heard, but BT is formulated to be as gentle as possible on the mucous membranes while still maintaining its bactericidal powers. There has been one in vitro trial of BT that demonstrated its effectiveness against MRSA .
Although BT is spicy, I have found it to be very tolerable to inhale when properly diluted. I use 1 drop BT to 1 mL saline, using 3-5 drops of BT in a treatment, twice a day in my nebulizer. It can, however, burn the back of the throat if not properly diluted, so if this happens just add more saline to the mix. It is much less painful to inhale than lemongrass oil. Please be sure to read the safety section in my article on inhaling essential oils to learn more about how to nebulize essential oils safely to prevent potentially harmful side effects.
For those CFers struggling with MRSA infections of the lungs, inhaling Benchmark Thyme might be a very powerful tool to add to our antibacterial regimes. I have had positive results myself, and I would love to know if others with MRSA infections could benefit from this oil as well. In the absence of clinical trials, which are unlikely to manifest at this point, we must perform self-experiments to see what works and what doesn't. If you end up trying it, please let me know how it goes for you. It is important to collect empirical evidence so that our work may be published or shared with the public to benefit as many people as possible. For information on where to buy BT oil, visit Maggie Tisserand's website here. Aromatics International sells Benchmark Thyme oil here.
 Inhibition of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) by essential oils. <http://aromatherapyliving.com/docs/MRSA_Research_Young_Living_Weber_Univ.pdf>
 Antibacterial activity of essential oils and their major constituents against respiratory tract pathogens by gaseous contact. <http://jac.oxfordjournals.org/content/47/5/565.full>
 Antibacterial effect of essential oils from two medicinal plants against MRSA. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19576738>
 The Thyme is Right. <http://www.benchmark-thyme.com/userfiles/file/FHT%20Article%20Benchmark%20Oil%20APRIL%202011%20without%20cover.pdf>
 Enhancing the in vitro activity of Thymus essential oils against Staphylococcus aureus by blending oils from specific cultivars. <http://www.benchmark-thyme.com/userfiles/file/copy%20Abstract.pdf>
Mica McDonald (they/he) is a clinical herbalist, nutritionist, ecologist, and writer living in Abenaki territory (Vermont).