Do Essential Oils Offer Any Physical or Emotional Health Benefits?
Essential oils, or aromatherapy, is the practice of taking essential oils from plants and herbs for their purported therapeutic benefits. Aromatherapy has been practiced for centuries, and today, it is frequently used with other complementary treatments, the most popular being massage and acupuncture.
In the U.S., the industry has grown in the past few years. In 2017, the industry saw a yearly revenue increase of 10%, with projections estimating that the essential oil industry will grow to nearly 7.3 billion dollars by 2024. The most popular essential oils on the market today are orange oil, corn mint oil, and eucalyptus oil. Recent aromatherapy studies on cancer patients have looked at how these oils impact or alleviate nausea, anxiety, and other health issues, which will be explored in more detail throughout the article.
What is an “essential oil” and how is it used for aromatherapy?
Tracing the exact origins of the practice of aromatherapy is difficult. But the Ancient Egyptians are currently credited with creating one of the earliest dilution mechanisms for extracting oils from the clove, cinnamon, and cedarwood plants. At the time, the Egyptians didn’t use the essential oils for aromatherapy. They were used to embalm their dead in elaborate, religious and funerary practices. Using essential oils for aromatherapy originated sometime later in China.
The Ancient Greeks also learned how to extract oils from many different plants and herbs. But these were primarily used as perfumes. In Greek mythology, the pantheon of the gods was believed to possess specialized and mystical knowledge of the role of perfumes and fragrances for religious purposes and other rites. Hippocrates is credited with being the first to use perfumes and fragrances for healing purposes.
The term “aromatherapy” wasn’t invented until the mid-1930s by a French chemist, who decided to experiment with the healing powers of essential oils after a burn accident. The chemist discovered that lavender oil could speed the healing process for wounds, and French surgeon Jean Valnet used lavender oil to treat wounds during WWII. Since then, aromatherapy has been used for medicinal purposes.
Today, aromatherapy and oils are used to improve harmony and balance between the mind, body, and spirit. Essential oils are often used to reduce stress, and alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, and nausea and vomiting in cancer patients.
Oils are extracted from the most fragrant parts of plants or herbs, which are usually the leaves, bark, skin, or peel. These parts of the plant are then crushed to release the fragrance, and then a steam extraction process is used to isolate the therapeutic aromas and suspend them in a carrier oil. Every plant used to make an essential oil has a different chemical structure, affecting the way it smells, how it impacts the body, and how it is absorbed.
When left exposed to air and direct sunlight, the scent of these oils will fade quickly, but they are highly concentrated. An essential oil manufacturer would need more than 200 pounds of lavender flowers to make just one pound of essential oil.
Essential oils are used in three ways
One or more essential oils are diluted with a carrier oil and then rubbed into the skin.
The user inhales the essential oil with a room diffuser, or by placing a few drops of the oil onto a small towel or cotton ball and inhaling the scent.
The person breathes in the essential oil with an inhaler by putting a few drops of the oil in hot water.
It is also possible to mix an essential oil with dissolvable, mineral soaks for sore or tired muscles, combining it with lotion, or applying it to a bandage for wound healing. The type of essential oil a person uses and the issue they are trying to alleviate will determine the best way to use the essential oil. In some cases, it is possible to combine different oils or methods of application.
What are the different types of essential oils?
There are 90 different essential oils, and some of them can be combined for different effects and fragrances. Essential oils also vary significantly on price, potency, and their range of applications. The top five most popular essential oils today are:
Lemon essential oils are affordable, easy to find, and are also versatile. They can be used for destressing, enhancing the immune system, and also for cleaning since they have antimicrobial properties.
A popular essential oil for decades. It’s used for relaxation and improving sleep. It also smells pleasant and has cell regenerative properties for improving skin conditions and burns. Lavender essential oils are also safe for children.
Ginger extracts are commonly used in cooking and essential oils, used for relieving stomach discomfort, nausea, and as an anti-inflammatory.
Essential oils extracted from the geranium are primarily used for hormonal imbalances, nerve pain, and as an antimicrobial agent.
Eucalyptus extracts have been used for centuries for alleviating nasal congestions, clearing coughs, and treating bronchitis.
What are the most common ailments to treat?
Some of the most common health issues that essential oils are used to treat are:
- Stomach problems
- Skin conditions
- Anxiety and sleep problems
- Inflammation and muscle pain
- Sinus issues and congestion
- Headaches and migraines
What does the current research say about the effectiveness of essential oils?
Clinical trials on the efficacy of essential oils have been conducted on their ability to alleviate anxiety, nausea, and vomiting in cancer patients. However, there are no studies on essential oils being used to treat cancer, only the symptoms that occur as a result of the disease and the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. These studies have found mixed results on the effectiveness of essential oils and aromatherapy.
A clinical trial conducted on 103 cancer patients found that patients who received a massage with essential oil Roman chamomile had a reduction in anxiety symptoms. Patients who had massages without essential oil did not report any changes in mood. Studies on cancer patients who inhaled lavender essential oils before receiving treatment reported less pain and anxiety before and during the procedure than patients who did not use lavender essential oils. Other studies on cancer patients who used mixed essential oils or no essential oils before treatment reported no change in pain or anxiety symptoms.
The FDA considers essential oils a supplement, and they are not regulated like other medications and prescription drugs. For people who wish to alleviate certain symptoms and health issues with alternative methods, essential oils have very few side effects and risks when used as directed. Patients may also benefit from trying natural and safe CBD oils, where studies show more promising results than the reviews so far conducted on essential oils.
CBD oils can be purchased free of THC, the chemical compound that gets a person “high” and can show up as a negative result on an employer drug test. However, the amount of THC in CBD oils is not enough to induce euphoria and get a person high.
For those interested in essential oils, they may also want to give CBD a try.
The FDA does not currently regulate CBD oils and other products the same as prescription drugs. However, several clinical trials show promising results for CBD oil patients. The FDA has also recently approved several cannabis-derived medications for a variety of serious health issues, including epilepsy.
CBD oils are easy to use, affordable, and they don’t come with many risks or side effects. The most common side effect that people report for CBD oil is dry mouth, which is easy to counteract by staying hydrated and being sure to drink water when using the oil. A person who uses CBD won’t become addicted or build a tolerance to the product.
A recent survey of self-reported CBD users found that 36% used the product to treat a specific condition and that it worked “very well” to alleviate their symptoms. Only 4.3% reported that CBD didn’t work to address their particular situation.
CBD oil is very similar to essential oils, in that the beneficial compounds of the hemp plant are extracted from the leaves, flowers, and stems of the plant and then suspended in a carrier oil. CBD oil can be applied topically, ingested, or used in lotions or bath bombs.
Currently, 33 states plus the District of Columbia have legalized CBD oil for manufacture, sale, and personal use. In the ten states where medical marijuana is legal, CBD oil and related products are also legal by default. The federal government has also made it legal to ship CBD oil and CBD products across state lines.
The most reputable and high-quality CBD products are products that are grown and manufactured in a state where medical marijuana and CBD oil have been legal for many years. For essential oil users, CBD oil may be a beneficial and complementary product to add to their treatment regimen.