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Thousands of people who despaired of ever finding a treatment that works for eczema swear by emu oil. It turns out that there is a reason emu oil is the answer for certain people who suffer this common itchy, disfiguring skin condition.

Once in a while natural medicine comes up with treatments that don't really make a lot of sense, that don't really have a clear scientific foundation, that work anyway. Emu oil for eczema is one of those treatments that works despite the fact many experts in the field don't expect it to.

The emu is a soft-feathered, brown, flightless bird native to Australia. Emus typically reach a height of 2 meters (about 6 feet). Their long legs allow them to take steps of up to 3 meters (9 feet), and when fleeing danger, the bird can reach speeds of 50 km/hour (about 30 mph) for several minutes.

Natives of the Australian outback, emus can eat and do just about anything, and they swallow hard objects, including rocks, glass, tin cans, and small metal objects to help them digest their food. Emus can swim, and they have few predators other than dingoes, crocodiles, and humans.

Emu Oil an Ancient Aboriginal Remedy

The native peoples of Australia arrived over 40,000 years ago, and the emu plays a prominent role in their mythology. The Yuwaalaraay people have a myth that the sun was created by throwing an emu egg into the sky. An aboriginal group in Western Australian tell the story of the creation of the emu by a small bird, who became annoyed with a hunter and threw a boomerang, cutting off the hunger's arms and transforming him into the flightless, human-sized bird.

Native Australians developed methods of hunting emu for use as food, clothing (feathers), and medicine.

Emu is red meat, and very low in fat, less than 1.5% fat, but the fat under its skin has been used by the aboriginal peoples of inland Australia for countless generations as a remedy for skin ailments of all kinds.

Does Emu Oil Really Work?

Despite the numerous articles claiming there have been "no" studies of the efficacy of emu oil in treating skin problems in humans, there in fact have been four small-scale clinical trials in Australia.

In the first clinical trial, the researchers used a mixture of emu oil, vitamin E, and tea tree oil to test how it influenced the healing of full-thickness skin wounds.

They found that applying the oil actually delayed healing by an average of six days.

Delaying healing is not necessarily a bad thing if a wound is properly dressed. The reason the mixture of emu oil, vitamin E, and the herbal extract slowed down the closure of the wound was that it stopped inflammation, slowing down the rate at which white blood cells broke down dead or damaged skin cells. In some instances, this would prevent the wound from becoming larger as it healed.

In a later experiment, researchers tested the emu oil mixture, pure emu oil, and two other treatments on skin wounds in laboratory mice. They found that it was the mixture of emu oil and vitamin E that modified healing of the skin. Pure emu oil did not slow reduce inflammation of slow down wound healing. Only the emu oil and vitamin E mixture reduced inflammation changed the process of healing of the skin.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Attarzadeh Y, Asilian A, Shahmoradi Z, Adibi N. Comparing the efficacy of Emu oil with clotrimazole and hydrocortisone in the treatment of seborrheic dermatitis: A clinical trial. J Res Med Sci. 2013 Jun. 18(6):477-81.
  • Whitehouse MW, Turner AG, Davis CK, Roberts MS. Emu oil(s): a source of non-toxic transdermal anti-inflammatory agents in aboriginal medicine. Inflammopharmacology. 1998.6(1):1-8.
  • Zemtsov A, Gaddis M, Montalvo-Lugo VM. Moisturizing and cosmetic properties of emu oil: a pilot double blind study. Australas J Dermatol. 1996 Aug, 37(3):159-61. No abstract available. Erratum in: Australas J Dermatol 1997 May. 38(2):104. Zemtsov A.
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