Emu is not a looker by any standard, but this tall, gawky, flightless bird has recently come into limelight for its oil that has wonderful healing properties.
Emu is native to Australia and goes by the scientific name Dromaius novaehollandiae. Besides being an important dietary source for the aboriginals and early European settlers, emu had a fair share in the folklore, too. Emu oil was used by the natives for lubricating their tools and wooden utensils. It was an ingredient in the bush medicine also.
When commercial breeding of emu began in Australia towards the end of the 20th century, it was mainly for the meat which is considered a better alternative to other red meat on account of being nearly fat-free. Initial enthusiasm found many farmers in South America, the United States, China and other Asian countries investing in emu breeding. However, when emu meat did not find favor with the general public, many of them gave up. But the tide is turning now, with the amazing healing properties of emu oil making it a hot commodity, an ounce of it costing upwards of $10.
Harvesting the oil
Emu has significant amounts of fat deposits in the body, a favorable adaptation perhaps to tide over periods of scarcity in its native habitat. Most of the fat is subcutaneous, occurring as a thick layer right under the top layers of the skin. Some adipose tissue is found surrounding the internal organs, too. Oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid, is the main component of the emu fat; it is an omega- 9 fatty acid. Besides palmitic acid, emu oil is rich in the omega-6 linoleic acid and omega-3 linolenic acid, too.
The fat is first liquefied and filtered to obtain the oil. A one and a half year old emu may yield up to 250 ounces of oil. Unrefined oil may carry health risks, so the raw undergoes a refining process that makes it germ-free and safe. The refined oil is odorless and nearly colorless. The process is yet to be standardized, but to qualify as Grade A oil, it has to maintain the correct fatty acid profile.
A natural moisturizer
An emollient is a preparation that softens the skin. The origin of this word has nothing to do with emus, but emu oil is one of the best natural emollients. The medical and cosmetic worlds are just about waking up to the great potential of this new kid on the block, but emu oil has always been a part of the indigenous medicines of the Australian aboriginals. They simply rubbed it on their skin to derive the benefits. As more people discover the healing properties of emu oil, its popularity is all set to eclipse that of Aloe vera in skin care.
Anti-inflammatory properties of emu oil
Emu oil is found to be anti-inflammatory, possibly due to the high proportion of linolenic acid in it. This essential fatty acid has been known to be effective in the treatment of inflammatory conditions of the joints such as arthritis. Fish oil and olive oil which contain linolenic acid have been used as dietary supplements by arthritic patients for temporary relief. But emu oil is found to be more effective in comparison. What is amazing about the emu oil is that even topical application of the oil seems to be having a significant deep action to relieve joint pain and swelling.
Oleic acid, another fatty acid occurring in emu oil, is responsible for the anti-inflammatory effect on the dermal tissues. The aboriginals often rubbed the oil on their skin as a quick remedy for muscle aches too. What makes it special is this ability to pass through the skin to reach the muscles.
An alternative to corticosteroids
Chronic skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema respond well to the application of emu oil in the affected area. Though non-contagious, these incurable skin ailments can make life difficult. Repeated application of moisturizers, and, in severe cases, administration of corticosteroids only helps manage the condition to some extent.
- Psoriasis is an auto immune disease that causes skin cells to proliferate at an abnormally rapid rate even before the top layers falls off. The accumulated skin layers form a dry crust over the raw underlying skin. What triggers psoriasis is a mystery, but genetic disposition is often a common factor. The moisturizing effect of emu oil may soften the crust, but it seems to work in other ways too, regulating the cell cycle and normalizing the turnover. The antioxidants such as carotenoids and flavones present in the oil may be playing a role here.
- Eczema is an allergic reaction triggered by certain external agents or food items. Severe itching, redness, and scaling and cracking of skin are the usual symptoms. Secondary infections may result in pus formation and bleeding from the damaged area. The triggers may vary from person to person, and it is not always possible to identify them. Emu oil is often helpful in relieving the itching; in many cases, the skin clears up in a short while.
Cosmetic application of cell repair and regeneration
- Burns, minor cuts and grazes. Emu oil accelerates the repair of damaged skin and the regeneration of healthy tissue as evidenced by rapid healing of burns and bruises without associated scarring.
- Stretch marks and scars. Users of emu oil have seen a noticeable difference when using emu oil for marks and scars.
- Hair growth. Application of emu oil has reportedly resulted in new hair growth. It is attributed to follicle regeneration as the skin gets repaired.
- Anti-aging. Subcutaneous fat loss in the aging skin causes thinning and wrinkling of the skin. Emu oil reduces the fine wrinkles probably by replenishing the fat stores that keep the skin smooth and supple.
Gentle on the skin
Pure emu oil is naturally soothing and hypoallergenic. Even when applied to raw, bruised or burned skin, it does not cause any stinging or burning; a great advantage where children and pets are concerned. Children need not hide minor cuts and scraped knees from adults anymore!
Consuming emu oil
Benefits include control of cholesterol, weight loss, and resistance to flu, colds and nosebleeds. The fatty acid profile of emu oil is comparable to that of other organic oils, but the exact mechanism of its healing properties is still not clearly understood. Emu oil is combined with glycolic acid in some formulations.
Being a product of animal origin, the use of emu oil raises ethical concerns, especially when it comes to its cosmetic use. Unlike the lanolin obtained from sheep wool, emu oil is produced from the fat deposits inside the body of the bird. In other words, emu oil production entails the killing of the birds. Both medical and cosmetic products that contain emu oil may be unacceptable to strict vegans.
Those who normally eat poultry and other farm-bred animals can have the small consolation that emus are primarily reared for their meat and eggs. Emu oil may be considered an important byproduct of the industry. The large eggs are as edible and nutritious as any other poultry egg. Even the skin is used in leather industry. Not much waste is created as the feathers, too, have commercial uses.