Does emu oil have any benefits?
So what is an emu? A bird. It can grow to about six feet and is native to Australia. It is a strange looking bird, but not as strange as some of the health claims being made for its oil. Dozens of conditions ranging from acne and arthritis to eczema and hemorrhoids supposedly respond to emu oil treatment. A pharmacist even says that rubbing emu oil on his bald head grew hair! Patients say their shingles and carpal tunnel symptoms improve. Cuts and burns heal faster. Emu oil even takes the sting out of fire ant bites. Supposedly 95% of NBA teams use emu oil to help injuries heal.
It all sound very interesting but somewhat puzzling. Especially when we examine the chemistry of emu oil. As any fat, it is composed of a variety of fatty acids, mostly oleic, with smaller amounts of palmitic, linoleic, stearic and linolenic acids. There is nothing special here. Of course, there are compounds other than fats in the oil as well. A variety of terpenes, saponigens and flavones are known to be present and if emu oil really does have activity, it is in these compounds that the magic lies. Indeed, they are being actively researched at Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide, Australia. If the active anti-inflammatory ingredient is identified, emu oil can be produced in standardized versions.
What we do know is that the oil does penetrate smoothly into the skin and can act as a good emollient, meaning it prevents moisture loss and makes the skin more supple. But there are many other oils that do that as well, for a lot less money. The majority of anecdotal accounts about emu oil focus on its benefits in the healing of minor wounds, cuts and burns and the relief of pain when rubbed on joints. Again, there are similar testimonials for a wide array of substances ranging from aloe to vitamin E to actual snake oil.
There are no controlled studies for emu oil, only anecdotes. These can sound impressive but may be meaningless. For example, one lady explains how her headache disappeared within a half hour after rubbing a couple of drops of emu oil into her temples. It is hard to imagine how any component of the oil could be absorbed into the blood vessels and make it to the brain and influence the dilation or constriction of blood vessels. What is not hard to imagine is that the lady imagined her headache disappeared because of the oil. It could of course have resolved by itself anyway.
There is certainly no harm in trying emu oil on the skin, but we really need more than just anecdotes before we bite on the healing properties of emu oil. But biting on emu meat is not a bad idea. It is certainly lower in fat than beef and has a very interesting taste. And there may even be another use for emu.
Ivan Durrant, an Australian artist claims to have noted a most unusual emu effect. His art consists of carving patterns in emu eggs. This apparently causes a lot of egg dust to fly around. He discovered that when he licked the dust off his fingers his hunger for the opposite sex became unstoppable. Further research revealed a quarter teaspoon of powdered emu egg shell was enough to stimulate him for at least two days. Sounds about as reliable as curing baldness with emu oil.