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Essential oils are quite popular in aromatherapy and massage therapy. These oils are commonly inhaled or rubbed on the skin to promote a myriad of positive effects. Some of these merits are backed by consistency in research studies while others are simply advertisements purported to promote essential oil products. However, there is still a lot of room for research on the real benefits of essential oils and how different aromas affect the human body. Before using any essential oil, it is advisable to step back and carefully review its potential in meeting the claimed benefits. Each essential oil has unique characteristics associated with certain health rewards. The extraction process also plays a big role in the quality, property and the merits of the given oil.

When looking for information about the health benefits of essential oils, you will come across various exaggerations and determinations that are mostly predicated on pure conjecture. In our opinion, these oils can be used to promote mental well-being and muscle relaxation. Nonetheless, they are not to be used as a medication as they aren't. It can be a little daunting to determine the real benefits of a given essential oil. What's more, most research material on the topic remains inconclusive. There are some well-known facts about the use of certain essential oils mainly to target specific results. Here is a brief look at the possible health benefits, but first let’s define what essential oils are.

What are essential oils?

As the name suggests, essential oils are unique chemical compounds that contain the essence (scent, flavor) of a plant. These chemicals are extracted from the plant through various methods like distillation and cold pressing. They can be derived from tree barks, flowers, seeds, leaves or even roots. The unique characteristics of aromatic compounds are what define essential oils and their properties. As aforementioned, the extraction process is of key importance in the creation of essential oils. Those extracted via chemical processes, for instance, are not considered “true” essential oils. You can check out this writeup by AromEssential to learn more about how the top essential oils are obtained. Some of the popular essential oils available in the market today include lavender, peppermint, bergamot, sandalwood, rose, chamomile, tree-tea, jasmine, lemon, and ylang-ylang. To determine the potential health benefits of essential oils, it is important to understand how they work and/or affect the body.

How essential oils work

Most essential oils are inhaled (in aromatherapy) or diluted and rubbed on the skin (in massage therapy). Some can be ingested, but this requires precaution and supervision. It is generally ill-advised to swallow essential oil concentrates. The way different oils interact with the body depends on their individual compounds and characteristics. When applied on the skin, it is believed that some of the chemicals in the essence can be absorbed into your body. It is also a common belief that using heat during application will result in more chemicals being absorbed through your skin. When inhaled, the oils stimulate different parts of the brain and limbic system. In humans and most mammals, the limbic system plays a big role in regulating emotions, sense of smell, behavior, and memory. It is particularly fundamental in memory formation and functions. This is why certain familiar scents trigger emotions and past memories. The limbic system also influences different psychological functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing. While it is universally believed that this can result in physical benefits, there is no conclusive research to provide such proof. Now that we have defined essential oils, their use and interaction, let’s determine how they affect the human body.

a) Essential oils and stress/depression/anxiety reduction

Research studies have shown that patients admitted for stress, depression and anxiety disorder can benefit from different alternative treatments. As a matter of fact, it is usually recommendable to integrate non-medical therapy as a complementary treatment for stress and anxiety. Aromatherapy and massage therapy have particularly shown some positive results in the initial studies. Nonetheless, the use of essential oils in stress reduction remains complimentary. There is no scientific backing on how these oils reduce stress and since the therapy uses scents, most studies are highly biased.

Subjects of essential oils claim that using essential oils in massage therapy helped relieve some of the stress and muscle tension while they were on the massage table, but there was no report on long-term benefits. Aromatherapy is known to stimulate the release of mood changing hormones and neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine in the brain. These neurotransmitters immediately affect body reactions like breathing, blood pressure, and memory. By this merit, they can help to reduce anxiety and nervousness symptoms.

Different essential oils are associated with stress relief and anxiety management. Most aromas simply alter brain chemistry and mood, allowing users to instantaneously feel good. This can temporarily alleviate stress. The popular essential oils associated with this benefit include lavender, rose, vetiver, frankincense, bergamot, chamomile, and ylang-ylang. To use essential oils, install a diffuser in your home or office. If you do not have a diffuser, simply dip a cotton ball in your favorite essential oil and place it in your bag. You can then take deep breaths at a time. Another way is to simply the rub essential oils on your neck, cheeks or temples.

Always make sure you dilute essential oils before using them. Avoid oral application unless the product is approved for the same. The essential oil should be pure and denoted as GRAS (generally recognized as safe). Most products are diluted and/or blended with synthetics that are unsafe for human consumption. It is therefore very important to check the label and determine if your favorite oil is approved for oral use.

b) Essential oils and sleep issues/insomnia

The universal belief is that placing a few drops of essential oils under your night pillow might promote healthy sleep patterns. Some plant scents can promote focus and attention. Others simply aid muscle relaxation and sleep. Scents are obviously linked to emotions and memory in one way or another. They can affect a person’s mood, lower their skin temperature, heart rate, and even blood pressure. Lavender, in particular, is associated with these effects, making it one of the popular options recommended for those looking to promote quality sleep patterns by using essential oils.

A few studies exist on the relationship between essential oils and sleep. In almost all of them, using lavender is said to promote quality sleep and alleviate mild insomnia symptoms. However, its efficacy in promoting quality sleep is still undetermined. The best way to use lavender is with a diffuser, but you can also inhale deep breaths from a cotton ball dipped in diluted lavender oil before going to bed. Another way is to put a few drops around your pillow and mattress.

Essential oils may not be as effective as pharmacological solutions, but they are believed to work well alongside provided a medication. Besides promoting sleep, they can reduce anxiety and elevate your moods. Valerian root is one great example of essential oils believed to aid quality sleep. It is often mixed with herbal teas to help users fall asleep. Other essential oils believed to impact the quality of sleep include bergamot, sweet marjoram, clary sage, and roman chamomile.
Since essential oils help the mind and body relax, they are considered ideal for inducing sleep. Peppermint and orange oils are natural decongestants and also have anti-inflammatory properties. These characteristics make them ideal for those who struggle with breathing issues while they sleep. Nevertheless, essential oils cannot be adequately used as a medication for sleep disorders and conditions.

c) Essential oils and headaches/migraines

Peppermint oil is believed to have anti-spasmodic spans several centuries. It can be sighted in various traditions across the world. In the Persian tradition, a mixture of chamomile and sesame oil applied on the temples was believed to soothe headaches. Back in the early 1990s, research studies also determined that peppermint oil combined with an ethanol mixture relieved the pain associated with headaches and mild migraines when applied on the forehead. Since then, studies have been conducted on the chemistry and effectiveness of essential oils in headache treatment. Most studies are inconclusive. Nonetheless, there is enough to merit the use of essential oils in complementary alternative therapy for the same.

Headache and migraine treatment mainly revolves around reducing stress/tension, improving blood circulation and promoting quality sleep and rest. There are many essential oils that are believed to induce these effects. In fact, most essential oils are associated with some form of stress and anxiety relief. In aromatherapy, the main reason for using essential oils is to promote relaxation and reduce stress. Rosemary was traditionally used to improve blood circulation and relieve headaches. Lavender, on the other hand, was thought to promote good sleep, reduce anxiety and muscle tension. These qualities constitute the main reasons for using essential oils in soothing depression-induced headaches and migraines.

There are different types of headaches and migraines. Successful treatment relies on understanding what causes the headache in the first place. If your pain is caused by nasal blockage and sinus issues, eucalyptus essential oil and peppermint can help de-clog and decongest your nasal passages thus relieving the headache. Chamomile, on the other hand, soothes the muscles, relieve, tension-induced headaches. It also reduces anxiety and relieves insomnia symptoms. It is worth noting that essential oils were provided to compliment already proven medication. They are not ideal replacements for treating any medical condition.

d) Essential oils and anti-inflammation

Essential oils have long been associated with pain relief and anti-inflammation. Aromatherapy is commonly recommended as a complementary therapy for autoimmune illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis. Essential oils can also be used to aid the relaxation of sore muscles, reduce spasms and cramps. Lab rat studies indicate that essential oils can promote pain relief, reduce swelling and inflammation. Although there are no human studies on the same, patients of various kinds of pain and inflammation have often shown improvement after using different essential oils in combination with their regular prescriptions.

Peppermint oil is believed to have anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. This combination provides the right ingredients for both pain and inflammation relief. It is also said to reduce muscle spasms. Eucalyptus has a calming effect thought to soothe tired muscles, relieve pain and swelling, and reduce inflammation in different areas of the body. Other essential oils that are associated with anti-inflammation include lavender, chamomile tea, rosemary oil, yarrow oil, evening promise, ginger, turmeric, oregano, thyme and basil among many more.

Like headaches, inflammation can be triggered by various factors. Post-injury inflammation differs from degenerative disease inflammation which differs from autoimmune inflammatory conditions and so on. Essential oils basically aid the alleviation of symptoms associated with inflammation. This includes pain, swelling, muscle soreness, tiredness, joint weakness, sleep issues, and restlessness. Most essential oils are believed to temporarily reduce muscle tension and relieve body stress. By aiding relaxation, soothing the nerves and promoting quality sleep, these oils help to manage undesirable symptoms caused by inflammatory conditions. Nonetheless, they are not an anti-inflammation medication and should only be used to complement existing medical treatment.

e) Essential oils and antibiotic/antibacterial/antimicrobial properties

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Trees and plants are the richest sources of antibiotic and antimicrobial compounds. Many essential oils contain these properties in them and can be used to complement pharmacological treatments offered for bacterial infections. It is worth noting that essential oils alone will not adequately get rid of infections. However, clinical studies indicate that they can significantly improve treatment and recovery when used alongside conventional medicine considering the rise of antibiotic resistance.

There are several essential oils that can be taken to help in the fight against bacterial infections. Test tube studies conducted on the antibiotic and antimicrobial effects of essential oils have proven quite promising. However, how effectively these oils can treat infections in the body is still pending conclusive determination. Nonetheless, many patients have already integrated essential oils in their treatment regimen to speed up healing and recovery. Some of the popular essential oils known to contain antibacterial properties include tea tree oil, grapefruit oil, oregano, citronella, cinnamon, eucalyptus, peppermint, and lavender.

Using essential oils alongside antibiotics gives you a better chance of fighting drug-resistant bacterial infections. However, you should be very careful about ingesting essential oils. Make sure you choose pure quality GRAS essential oils and strictly adhere to the prescriptions of a qualified physician. More importantly, use essential oils to compliment your existing treatment.

When looking for essential oils, it is important to pay special attention to purity and quality before using them. Their composition varies greatly and the industry is unregulated. It is upon you as the buyer to carefully research into your products. Pick reputable brands with great reviews from customers. More importantly, see a doctor determine if you are the ideal candidate for a given essential oil, especially if you have an underlying medical condition.

With regard to health benefits, essential oils show great promise in various areas as mentioned above. Some options have been used for many centuries to compliment contemporary medicine and trigger various benefits. Users also report remarkable improvements and results. However, more research is needed, especially on the mechanism of interaction and long-term potential in disease treatment. That essential oils are healthy additions with the potential to improve various aspects of life is undoubted. Nevertheless, they mostly remain as a complementary treatment. Effective treatment of serious health conditions requires special/proven medical approaches.

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