Essential oils are often used in aromatherapy, a form of alternative medicine that employs plant extracts to support health and well – being.
However, some of the health claims associated with these oils are controversial.
The article explains all you need to know about essential oils and their health effects.
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are compound extracted from plants.
the oils capture the plant’s scent and flavor, or ‘essence’.
Unique aromatic compounds give each essential oil its characteristic essence.
Essential oils are obtained through distillation (via steam and/or water) or mechanical methods, such as cold pressing.
Once the aromatic chemicals have been extracted, they are combined with a carrier oil to create a product that’s ready to use.
The way the oils are made is important, as essential oil obtained through chemical processes are not considered true essential oils.
How Do Essential Oils Work?
Essential oils are most commonly used in the practice of aromatherapy, in which they are inhaled through various methods.
Essential oils are not meant to be swallowed.
The chemicals is essential oils can interact with your body in several ways.
When chemicals in essential oils can interact with your body in several ways.
When applied to your skin, some plant chemicals are absorbed.
It’s though that certain application methods can improve absorption, such as applying with heat or to different areas of the body. However, research in this area is lacking.
Inhaling the aromas from essential oils can stimulate areas of your brain that plays a role in emotions. behaviours, sense pf smell, and long – term memory.
Interestingly, the system is heavily involved in forming memories. This can partly explain why familiar smells can trigger memories or emotions.
The limbic system also plays a role in controlling several unconscious physiological functions, such as breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. As such, some people claim that essential oils can exert a physical effect or your body.
However, this has yet to be confirmed in studies.
There are more than 90 types of essential oils, each with its own unique smell and potential health.
Here’s a list of 10 popular essential oils and the health claims associated with them:
- Pepermint: used to boost energy and aid digestion
- Lavender: used to relieve stress
- Sandalwood: used to calm nerves and help with focus
- Bergamot: used to reduce stress and improve skin conditions like eczema
- Rose: used to improve mood and reduce anxiety
- Chamomile: used to improve mood and relaxation
- Ylang – Yland: used to treat headaches, nausea, and skin conditions
- Tea Tree: used to flight infections and boost immunity
- Jasmine: used to help with depression, childbirth, and libido
- Lemon:used to aid digestion, mood, headaches and more.
Health Benefits Of Essential Oils
Despite their widespread use, little is known about the ability of essential oils to treat certain health conditions.
Here’s a look at the evidence regarding some of the common health problems that essential oils and aromatherapy have been used to treat
Stress And Anxiety
It has been estimated that 43% of people who have stress and anxiety use some form of alternative therapy to help relieve their symptoms.
Regarding aromatherapy, initial studies have been quite positive. Many have shown that the smell of some essential oils can work alongside traditional therapy to treat anxiety and stress.
However, due to the scents of the compounds, it’s hard to conduct blinded studies and rule out biases. Thus, many reviews on the stress – and anxiety – relieving effects of essentials oils have been inconclusive.
Interestingly, using essential oils during a massage may help relieve stress, although the effects may only last while the massage is taking place.
Headaches And Migraines
In the ’90s, two small studies found that dabbing a peppermint oil and ethanol mixture on participants’ foreheads and temples relived headache pain.
Recent studies have also observed reduced headache pain after applying peppermint and lavender oil to the skin.
What’s more, it has been suggested that applying a mixture of chamomile and sesame oi to the temples may treat headaches and migraines. This is a traditional Persian headache remedy.
However, more high – quality studies are needed.
Sleep and Insomia
Smelling lavender oil has been shown to improve the sleep quality of women after childbirth, as well as patients with heart disease.
One review examined 15 studies on essential oils and sleep. The majority of studies showed that smelling the oils – mostly lavender oil – had positive effects on sleep habit.
It has been suggested that essential oils may help fight inflammatory conditions. Some test – tube studies show that they have anti – inflammatory effects.
One mouse study found ingesting a combination of thyme and oregano essential oil helped induce the remission of colitis. Two rat studies on caraway and rosemary oils found similar results.
However, very few human studies have examined the effects of these oils on inflammatory disease. Therefore, their effectiveness and safety are unknown.
Antibiotic and Antimicrobial
The rise of antibiotic – resistant bacteria has renewed interest in the search for other compounds that can fight bacterial infections.
Test – tube studies have investigated essential oils, such as peppermint and tea tree oil, extensively for their antimicrobial effects, observing some positive results.
However, while these test – tube study results are interesting, they do not necessary reflect the effects that these oils have within you body. They don’t prove that a particular essential oil could treat bacterial infections in humans.
How To Choose The Right Essential Oils
Many companies claim that their oils are ‘pure’ or ‘medical grade’. However, these terms aren’t universally defnited and therefore hold little weight.
Given that they’re product of an unregulated industry, the quality oils:
- Purity: Find an oil that contains only aromatic plant compounds, without additives or synthetic oils. Pure oils usually list the plant’s botanical name (such as Lavandula officinalis) rather than terms like ‘essential oil of lavender’.
- Quality: True essential oils are the ones that have been changed the least by the extraction process. Choose a chemical – free essential oil that has been extracted through distillation or mechanical cold pressing.
- Reputation: Purchase a brand with a reputation for producing high – quality products.
Safety And Side Effects
Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s safe.
Plants and herbal products contain many bioactive compounds that may harm your health, and essential oils are no different.
However, when inhaled or combined with a base oil for use on your skin, most essential oils are considered safe. Be sure to consider others in your environment who might be inhaling the aroma, including pregnant women, children, and pets.
Nevertheless, they may cause some side effects, including
- asthma attacks
- allergic reactions
While the most common side effect is a rash, essential oils can cause more serious reactions, and they have been associated with one case of death.
The oils that have most commonly been associated with adverse reactions are lavender, peppermint, tea tree, and ylang – ylang.
Oils that are high in phenols, such as cinnamon, can cause skin irritation and shouldn’t be use on the skin without being combined with a base oil. Meanwhile, essential oils made from citrus fruits increase the skin’s reaction to sunlight and burns can occur.
Swallowing essential oils is not recommended, as doing so could be harmful and, in some doeses, fatal.