What Are Essential Oils, And Do They Work?
Essential oils have gained wide popularity recently for helping with various health issues. With claims ranging from treating medical conditions like headaches and improving mental health problems like anxiety and stress to managing skin conditions like aging, essential oils seem to be popping up in every debate relating to health. But what are essential oils, how do they work, and is there any evidence to support the claims?
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are the concentrated extracts of various plants used in alternative medicine like aromatherapy and naturopathy — holistic healing approaches to support health and well-being. Alternative medicine enthusiasts believe these oils work in unique ways to support health and overall well-being. Made from the extracts of plant leaves, seeds, barks, or roots, each essential oil has a characteristic scent or essence of its plant of origin.
Once extracted from the plant, essential oils are combined with carrier oils to dilute them and “carry” them for use. A tremendous amount of plant material is used to make essential oils, making some very costly. Essential oils are used in various ways, including massage, inhalation, and topical application.
Do Essential Oils Work?
The simple answer is yes! They are not as effective as various products in the market would have you believe, but, yes, essential oils do offer benefits. Most of the claims made are not supported by evidence, but research continues to unfold many of their benefits.
Essential oils are used in alternative medicine like aromatherapy, which employs the smell (aroma) of essential oils to produce desired outcomes. Essential oils are either inhaled (scent of the oil) or absorbed through the skin. Different essential oils work in different ways; some reduce inflammation, some act as antioxidants, some as antimicrobials and anticarcinogens, and some act on the nervous system to improve mental health.
Benefits Of Essential Oils
The market is flooded with essential oils extracted from various plants. Every product claims to have the most benefits, but either has side effects or lacks the evidence to support those claims. Some of the most claimed benefits of essential oils include the following:
Reducing Stress, Anxiety, And Depression
Managing stress and anxiety is perhaps the most common use of essential oils, with many oils having proven benefits. It is believed the smell of essential oils provides the needed anxiolytic effects. For example, in a study of nearly 40 participants, the aroma of sweet orange essential oil reduced anxiety and stress in the study group compared to the control groups. Similarly, there is also evidence for the anxiolytic effects of essential oils of peppermint, lavender, oregano, lemon, etc.
A study published in the Journal of Mental Health Clinicians showed the mental health benefits of lavender essential oil might be due to its primary constituents, linalool and linalyl acetate, that act on the brain and produce various effects. On the other hand, a study involving 80 cardiac patients demonstrated that aromatherapy with peppermint essential oil reduced pain and anxiety associated with intravenous catheterization. Another study involving 64 patients with suddenly reduced blood flow to the heart showed similar results for aromatherapy with peppermint oil.
To add more, plenty of evidence suggests lemon essential oil has strong anxiolytic, antidepressant, and stress-reducing effects thanks to its action on specific receptors in the brain and its ability to induce changes in the neuronal circuits involved with pain and anxiety. Similarly, oregano essential oils also have the same benefits. All in all, if you are stressed, essential oil therapy can significantly complement your stress and anxiety-reducing efforts.
Treating Headache And Migraine
Essential oils can also help relieve headaches and migraines. One study involving 32 participants showed that a combination of peppermint oil, eucalyptus oil, and ethanol on the forehead and temples had a muscle-relaxing and mentally relaxing effect with improved cognitive function. It is believed 10 percent solution of peppermint in ethanol may be as effective as aspirin or paracetamol in reducing tension-type headaches.
On the other hand, Inhalation of lavender essential oil can help manage migraine headaches as a study consisting of 47 patients showed the study group experienced a reduction in the severity of their headache after the therapy compared with the control group. Furthermore, a review published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology described that many essential oils could help relieve migraine effectively. However, more studies are needed to support these claims.
Improving Sleep And Helping With Insomnia
Sleep problems are increasingly becoming a worldwide health crisis, with more than 70 million suffering from one or the other sleep conditions in America alone. But the good news is essential oils have become an excellent respite for these people. One study shows lavender oil aromatherapy improves sleep quality in ICU patients. It produces similar results in post-partum women as well.
Another study involving 120 cancer patients showed that inhalational therapy with lavender and peppermint essential oil improved sleep quality in the study group compared to the control group. Similarly, aromatherapy or topical application with other essential oils like lemon, sweet orange, and oregano also improve sleep quality and help witty insomnia.
Anti-inflammatory And Antioxidant Benefits
Essential oils may also fight inflammatory conditions owing to their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. They reduce the production of oxidants and other inflammatory mediators like interleukin-1. Thus, essential oils of lavender, peppermint, and other plants may help manage various inflammatory conditions like arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.
One study found that ingesting thyme with oregano essential oils helped reduce colitis, while two more studies involving caraway and rosemary oils found similar results. Although all these studies were performed on laboratory mice, these still show the prospects of essential oils in reducing inflammation in people with conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, and more. But keep in mind their effectiveness and safety in humans are not well understood.
Essential oils have become a popular home remedy for many health conditions. Although not as effective as traditional western medicine, they effectively complement medical approaches to managing health issues. Plus, essential oils are very safe and cost-effective therapies that can boost your overall health and well-being.