By Dr. Mercola
Scents can have a powerful influence on your well-being. Aromatherapy, which uses concentrated essences of various botanicals, allows you to harness the olfactory power of plants for healing on many levels.
Essential oils carry biologically active volatile compounds in a highly concentrated form that can provide therapeutic benefits in very small amounts.
Quality is of the essence here. First of all, what we’re talking about here is pure, therapeutic grade essential oils from plants, NOT synthetic fragrance oils or perfumes, which can be toxic and typically contain allergenic compounds.
But even among essential oils, the quality can vary widely and assessing the quality of any given brand can be difficult, as factors such as growing conditions and methods of harvesting, distillation, manufacture, and storage can all affect the final product. Radha Beauty Lavender ... Buy New $17.95 (as of 06:30 EDT - Details)
The University of Minnesota1 offers some helpful guidance regarding international standard-setting agencies and considerations to take into account when looking for an essential oil.
One of the most important considerations is to look for a statement of purity. What you’re looking for is 100% essential oil (meaning it has not been diluted, altered, or mixed with anything else). Price can be a tipoff. If it’s really cheap, it’s probably a reflection of poor quality.
There are hundreds and many thousands of essential oils available if you factor in combinations. Each have their own potential benefits. The oils tend to work synergistically, and using a combination of oils often creates a more powerful effect than any one individual oil.
There are many ways to use essential oils for health and well-being, and the featured article2 lists no less than 25 ways to enjoy them. But first, let’s address the question of whether or not they actually have a biological effect, and if so, how.
Scents Can Alter Your Nervous System
When you inhale the fragrance of an essential oil, the aroma penetrates your bloodstream via your lungs,3 and this is thought to be one of the mechanisms by which aromatherapy exerts its physiological effects. Essential oils are also easily absorbed through your skin when applied topically.
The fragrance also affects the limbic system in your brain, which controls both memories and emotions. Many essential oils have antibacterial, antifungal, and/or antiviral qualities, and contrary to antibiotics, essential oils do not promote resistance.4
Modern scientists are not only finding compelling links between scents and human behavior,5 scents can actually influence the biochemistry of your nervous system.
This was shown in a 2002 Japanese study,6 which found that certain oils would stimulate sympathetic nervous system activity whereas others would calm it. (Your sympathetic nervous system modulates processes such as your heart rate, blood vessel constriction, and blood pressure.) Edens Garden Sage 10 m... Buy New $11.45 (as of 11:50 EDT - Details)
- Black pepper, fennel, and grapefruit oil caused a 1.5- to 2.5-fold increase in sympathetic nervous system activity (as measured by an increase in systolic blood pressure)
- Rose and patchouli oil resulted in a 40 percent decrease in sympathetic nervous system activity
- Pepper oil induced a 1.7-fold increase in plasma adrenaline concentration
- Rose oil caused adrenaline to drop by 30 percent
Lavender and Jasmine Help Uplift Your Mood
A Korean study7 found that lavender reduced both insomnia and depression in female college students.
Another study8 published in Phytomedicine in 2010 found that an orally administered lavender oil preparation (Silexan) was as effective as the drug Lorazepam for the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder. According to the authors:
“Since lavender oil showed no sedative effects in our study and has no potential for drug abuse, silexan appears to be an effective and well tolerated alternative to benzodiazepines for amelioration of generalized anxiety.”
Other research9 has concluded the essential oil of jasmine can also uplift mood and counteract symptoms of depression. The authors noted that:
“Compared with placebo, jasmine oil caused significant increases of breathing rate, blood oxygen saturation, and systolic and diastolic blood pressure, which indicated an increase of autonomic arousal.
At the emotional level, subjects in the jasmine oil group rated themselves as more alert, more vigorous, and less relaxed than subjects in the control group. This finding suggests an increase of subjective behavioral arousal.
In conclusion, our results demonstrated the stimulating/activating effect of jasmine oil and provide evidence for its use in aromatherapy for the relief of depression and uplifting mood in humans.”
How Terpenes in Essential Oils Benefit Your Health Peppermint Essential O... Check Amazon for Pricing.
An article in Healthy Holistic Living10 discusses some of the components giving essential oils their therapeutic benefits. For example, some essential oils have tremendous antioxidant capacities.
According to this article, one ounce of clove oil has an antioxidant capacity equivalent to 450 pounds of carrots. Essential oils also contain three different types of terpenes, each with its own set of benefits:
- Phenylpropanoids have antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral activity. As noted in the article,11 “phenylpropanoids clean the receptor sites on the cells.
Without clean receptor sites, cells cannot communicate, and the body malfunctions, resulting in disease.” Oils that contain this type of terpene include: clove, cassia, basil, cinnamon, oregano, anise, and peppermint.
- Monoterpenes, which are found in most essential oils, help “reprogram miswritten information in the cellular memory,” according to the featured article.
- Sesquiterpenes help deliver oxygen to your tissues, which makes it more difficult for viruses, bacteria, and even cancer cells, to survive. Essential oils that contain sesquiterpenes include cedarwood, vetiver, spikenard, sandalwood, black pepper, patchouli, myrrh, ginger, and frankincense.
Essential Oils for Common Maladies
There are probably as many uses for aromatherapy as there are essential oils, but research shows particular promise in relieving stress, stabilizing your mood, improving sleep, pain and nausea relief, and improving your memory and energy level.
To give you an idea of the versatility of aromatherapy, the following table lists some of the therapeutic uses of several oils for a few of today’s most common complaints.12 As you can see, there are some real “multitaskers,” like lavender and peppermint, which can be used to treat more than one problem.13
How to Use Essential Oils
Some of the most common ways to use essential oils include:
- Massaging them (blended with a carrier oil) into your skin
- Adding them to bathwater
- Using them in a hot compress
- Heating them in a diffuser
- Rubbing a drop onto pulse points in lieu of perfume
But that’s really just the beginning. There are many creative uses for essential oils. Here’s a sampling of the 25 uses listed by the Epoch Times.18 For the full list, please see the original article.
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Aromatherapy can be a beneficial adjunct to your overall health plan. It’s not a replacement for wise lifestyle choices like good nutrition and exercise, but it can certainly help enhance your physical and emotional health. Aromatherapy is one more tool you can keep in your tool bag for managing everyday stress, balancing out mood swings and improving your sleep for example.
Essential oils are also a great addition to many of your homemade beauty and cleaning products, adding both scent and antibacterial qualities. Whether you seek out a trained aromatherapist or adopt a DIY approach, the following are a few resources you might find useful.
- National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA):23 Everything about the medicinal use of aromatic plants and the holistic practice of aromatherapy
- Aroma Web:24 A directory of aromatherapy information, tips, recipes, sources, including a regional aromatherapy business directory
- American Botanical Council:25 Herbal medicine information that includes an herb library and clinical guide to herbs
- Herb Med:26 Interactive electronic herb database (some information is free, but full access requires a fee)
- I also offer further information on 57 different oils in my Ultimate Guide to Herbal Oils
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Sources and References
- 1 University of Minnesota, Determining Quality of Essential Oils
- 2 18 Epoch Times August 5, 2015
- 3 Holistic Nursing Practice 2002 Oct;16(5):8-16
- 4 10 11 Healthy Holistic Living, Essential Oils
- 5 17 Wheeling Jesuit University Premium Vials, 24 pcs,... Check Amazon for Pricing.
- 6 Jpn J Pharmacol November 2002;90(3):247-53.
- 7 Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi 2006 Feb;36(1):136-43
- 8 Phytomedicine 2010 Feb;17(2):94-9
- 9 Natural Products Communication 2010 Jan;5(1):157-62
- 12 Huffington Post April 26, 2014
- 13 Organic Facts
- 14 Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi. February 2006 ;36(1):136-43
- 15 Chem Senses July 2006: 31(8); 731-737
- 16 Health November 30, 2012
- 19 J Agric Food Chem. 2004 Jul 14;52(14):4395-400.
- 20 J Vector Ecol. June 2001
- 21 Science Daily August 28, 2001
- 22 J Am Mosq Control Assoc March 2014
- 23 National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA)
- 24 Aroma Web
- 25 American Botanical Council
- 26 Herb Med