Blue-Emu

Being heavily advertised on cable television: Blue-Emu spray for pain relief (a relatively recent addition to the company’s line of ointments). You can watch baseball great Johnny Bench flogging both the spray and the original emu oil creme in the video here. The spray:

(#1)

Originally I thought this must be a joke: emu oil? blue emu oil? But no.

I recalled my surprise on discovering that mink oil (great stuff for conditioning  leather) was in fact made from mink fat (and neatsfoot oil from the bones and feet of cattle). My first guess at the meaning of the N + N compound mink oil was that it was (absurdly) a Use compound (‘oil for minksto use; oil to use on minks’), or possibly a Resemblance compound (‘oil that is like a mink’ in some way or another), but it turmed out to be a Source compound (‘oil from minks’). Ok, mink oil is a way to get the most out of a mink after you’ve killed it for its pelt.

Well, rendered goose fat and chicken fat are used for cooking in various ways, but they’re also used in folk medicine, as ointments. Why not emu oil? In fact, both ostrich oil and emu oil have medicinal uses, though the WebMD site is very cautious about the therapeutic values of emu oil:

The emu is a flightless bird that resembles a small ostrich. Emu oil is taken from the fat of this bird during processing. It is used to make medicine.

Emu oil is taken by mouth for improving cholesterol levels, as a source of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, for weight loss, and as a cough syrup for colds, H1N1 (swine) flu, and flu.

Some people apply emu oil to the skin for relief from sore muscles, aching joints, pain or inflammation, carpal tunnel syndrome, sciatica, shin splints, and gout. It is also used topically to improve healing of wounds, cuts, and burns from radiation therapy; to reduce bruises and stretch marks; to reduce scarring and keloids; to heal surgical wounds caused by removing skin for skin grafts; to reduce redness due to acne; and to soften dry cuticles and promote healthy nails. Emu oil is also used topically for athlete’s foot; diaper rash; canker sores; chapped lips; poor circulation; and skin conditions, including cancer, dry skin, dandruff, eczema, psoriasis, wrinkles or age spots. It is also used to protect skin fro sun damage and to promote more youthful looking skin.

Emu oil is also applied to the skin to reduce pain and irritation from shingles, bedsores, hemorrhoids, diabetic nerve pain, insect bites, earaches, eye irritation, “growing pains,” and frostbite. It is used for rashes, razor burn, and nicks.

Some massage therapists apply emu oil to clients’ skin as part of their treatment.

Some people put emu oil inside the nose to treat colds and flu.

Emu oil (7%) is used in combination with glycolic acid (10%) for lowering blood fats including triglycerides, and low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol; preventing and treating allergies; preventing scarring; treating headaches, especially migraines; preventing nosebleeds; treating and preventing cold and flu symptoms; and relieving discomfort associated with menstruation.

In veterinary practice, emu oil is used to reduce swelling in joints, prevent cracked or peeling paws, calm “hot spots,” and reduce irritation of flea bites.

In manufacturing, emu oil is used to sharpen and oil industrial machinery, for polishing timber and leather, and for conditioning and waterproofing.

How does it work?

Emu oil contains chemicals called fatty acids that might reduce pain and swelling (inflammation). There is some evidence that emu oil might work better for sudden (acute) inflammation than for ongoing (chronic) inflammation.

When emu oil is applied to the skin, it has moisturizing and cosmetic properties that resemble mineral oil.

On the last point: pretty much any oil — including petroleum, in Vaseline, and coconut oil, which I use for my flaking skin — is a moisturizer as well as a lubricant, and some oils are not only edible but tasty.

The virtues of fatty acids in reducing swelling and joint pain seem to be dubious, but there are lots of products trading on the idea.

Blue-Emu spray goes one step further. Look at the text in #1. And consider this ad copy from the Blue-Emu site:

Blue-Emu continuous spray is an odor free pain relief spray that combines the active ingredient, trolamine salicylate, with emu oil. This unique formula provides relief of minor aches and pains of muscles, and joints associated with minor arthritis, strains, sprains, bruises, and backaches. Spray-and-go makes it easy to use and enables hands free application. It sprays at any angle so that hard to reach spots are no longer a problem.

Ah, the active ingredient is trolamine salicylate! From WebMD:

Trolamine salicylate is used to treat minor aches and pains of the muscles/joints (such as arthritis, backache, sprains). It belongs to a class of drugs known as salicylates [related to salicylic acid and hence to aspirin].

Now we have a substance with a genuine track record. But a lot will depend on the level of its concentration in the Blue-Emu spray.

But back to the emu. From Wikipedia:

The emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) is the second-largest living bird by height, after its ratite relative, the ostrich. It is endemic to Australia where it is the largest native bird and the only extant member of the genus Dromaius. The emu’s range covers most of mainland Australia, but the Tasmanian emu and King Island emu subspecies became extinct after the European settlement of Australia in 1788.

… The neck of the emu is pale blue and shows through its sparse feathers.

(#2)

The blue neck:

(#3)

And from this, Johnny Bench gets his joint spray. Which — major point in the ads — doesn’t stink (in #1, “odor free”). I can’t vouch for that. Despite the fact that I’m a walking circus of arthritic pain (wrists and ebows at the moment), I haven’t tried the stuff. I’m a wary geezer.

A final sobering note: in the late 19th century, penguins were heavily hunted for their oil. Not just whales and seals.

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