For thousands of years, humans have been utilizing essential oils and reaping the benefits that they bring to the table. They have been, and presently still are, a staple of importance in cultures around the world - recently becoming more popular in western lifestyles as people look for homeopathic ways to heal themselves. With thousands of uses and multiple ways to use them, essential oils are a part of mainstream culture. But, do they really work? And how can they benefit you?
A Brief History
Aromatherapy as we know it now was actually born in ancient Egypt thousands of years ago. The ancient Egyptians would cultivate plants specifically for their ‘essence,’ and would use the oil for religious practices, cosmetics, and even a variety of medicinal purposes. Resins and essences were even used for the embalming process!
Around the same time the Egypt, China, and India began utilizing plants for essential oils. The Indian Ayurvedic Medical System still uses essential oils to this day.
Using essential oils medicinally fell away for a while but became reintroduced during the Renaissance era. Since then, they really haven’t gone away. In 1937, a man in France by the name of Rene Maurice Gattefosse coined the terms ‘essential oil’. The perfumer and chemist burned his hand in his lab and the only thing he had readily available to treat it was lavender oil.
He treated his burn, and to his surprise, there was no sign of infection and the pain decreased immensely. His findings later went on to treat injured soldiers during Word War II.
Natural medicine began booming in the late 70’s and 80’s and have continued to grow in popularity since then - both used medicinally and for practical beauty uses. Although essential oils are heavily trending right now, they are not new to the world. They have been used around the world for centuries!
How Do Essential Oils Work?
Essential oils are compounds found within plants, and they work in many ways depending on how you choose to use them. Chemicals within the essential oils interact with the body by being applied to the skin (not directly from the essential oil bottles) or inhaled.
They primarily stimulate the limbic system - a part of your brain that plays a role in sense of smell, behaviors, long term memory, and emotions. Some oils physically affect your body according to claims. To better explain why, this is because the limbic system has the ability to control physiological functions like heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. It’s also very productive when it comes to helping form memories, which is partly why certain smells can make you remember familiar people or places.
Though science has not fully backed up these claims, there have been many studies that test positively for the benefits of essential oils and show that they may even have medicinal properties when inhaled or applied to the skin.
The Most Popular Essential Oils
Even if you don’t know much about essential oils, you can probably name a few off the top of your head. There are roughly 100 popular essential oils, but the 10 most frequently spoken about and used are:
- Tea Tree
Each essential oil has its own set of uses and potential treatments and are used daily by millions of people around the world. Let’s take a look at the top 10 benefits essential oils give to us.
Top 10 Benefits
Though each type of essential oil carries its own familiar properties, as a whole, they can do some pretty incredible things.
- Help with Digestion
Digestion issues can make any day terrible but luckily, there are certain oils geared towards aiding indigestion, bloating gas, and aches/pains. Just like there are fruits and veggies that help with these problems and aid in digestion - ginger, peppermint, and geranium are oils that help with the uncomfortable symptoms as well.
Essential oils do wondrous things for the gastrointestinal tract such as ease an upset stomach, alleviate nausea, work as a laxative, alleviate occasional constipation and gas, and soothes muscle spasms. Research has shown that peppermint oil can even relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) based on a group study - 40% of the patients had reduced IBS symptoms after only 4 weeks.
- Improve Cognitive Function
Essential oils have become very popular when it comes to stimulating the brain. Recent studies have even shown that multiple types of essential oils can suppress agitation and aggression when it comes to patients receiving memory care.
Not only can it reduce symptoms of any memory disorders, but aromatherapy can even improve cognitive performance. Essential oils stimulate olfactory receptors which trigger the emotional center of a person’s brain.
- Boost Energy
Say goodbye to energy and the chemicals inside of them, because certain essential oils have been proven with research to increase energy and aid in reducing fatigue.
Oils that have been backed by science to boost energy include peppermint, rosemary, sweet orange, lemon, and spearmint. These oils work by increasing oxygen levels in your brain, which in turn helps you feel awake and refreshed.
- Help Enhance Immune System & Fight Infections
Did you know that your favorite scents can actually help boost your immune system and prevent/heal infections? Essential oils contain chemical substances such as ketones, terpenes, and phenolics which all help to fight pathogens. Oils such as lemon, ginger, eucalyptus, and cinnamon have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Scientists have discovered that tea tree oil and other plant extracts have the potential to prevent millions of infections every single year. This is because plants produce organic molecules and antimicrobial agents that fight harmful microorganisms.
- Create Hormonal Balance
Nothing is worse than having constantly fluctuating hormones - it causes irritation, mood swings, restlessness, and so many more uncomfortable symptoms. Essential oils can potentially balance testosterone, thyroid, estrogen, cortisol, and progesterone levels.
Research has shown that oils can balance these levels and improve symptoms associated with PCOS, menopause, and infertility. Rose and geranium essential oils used in one study showed that salivary estrogen concentration was induced by exposure and relieved perimenopausal symptoms. Ten essential oils were used in this study including lavender, geranium, clary sage, ylang ylang, and rose otto. Balanced testosterone can even improve libido in men.
- Reduce Anxiety and Boost Mood
One of the most popular uses for essential oils tends to be for people who suffer from chronic anxiety. The nervous system is an extremely complex system that is easily triggered. Anxiety and mood disorders have many uncomfortable symptoms - nausea, trembles, body aches/pains, agitation, dizziness, heart palpitations, and much more.
The oil that has been studied the most to help sufferers is lavender oil - and the results are shocking! Studies on animals have shown sedative, neuroprotective, anticonvulsive, analgesic, and anxiolytic properties of lavender. Neuronal tissues continue to be studied, and human studies using lavender have shown effectiveness in both psychological and neurological disorders.
The oil was used primarily in aromatherapy, massage, and oral administration, and clinical studies revealed highly positive effects when inhaled. This is due to compounds absorbed through the limbic system, causing a steady and sedating effect on the central nervous system.
- Aids in Sleep And Relaxation
Lavender, again, is one of the most studied essential oils. When you think of sleep and relaxation, it’s probably the first essence you think of. And of course, research has backed up claims of lavender improving sleep. A total of 14 quantitative studies including 11 random controlled trials examined essential oil inhalation and the hypnotic effects it has on the human body.
A large sum of the findings showed positive effects of lavender and other essential oils in aiding with sleep and preventing mild sleep disturbances. Using the oils also had zero adverse reactions reported.
For these reasons, you will see that many products you purchase for sleep will say something like “infused with lavender essential oils to promote restful sleep”. You’ll see this on everything from lotion to vitamins and even food products!
- Takes Care of Hair And Skin
Essential oils have been used for thousands of years in beauty treatments and regimes to help hair grow and make skin smooth, amongst many other positive effects. Like previously mentioned, essential oils such as tea tree oil and lavender can prevent infections, so naturally, these oils can calm irritated and inflamed skin, reduce acne, and even prevent and treat signs of aging.
These are not the only oils used, in fact, treating your skin and hair can be used in over 1,500 combinations of roughly 90 different types of essential oils!
Based on studies, menthol (found in peppermint oil), is an outstanding agent and has shown to work as a natural antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and is even loaded with antioxidants. Clinical trials using peppermint oil have shown positive effects in not only treating gastrointestinal issues such as IBS, but it helps promote hair growth and improve skin conditions as well.
- Reduces Muscle Tension and Migraines
Body aches and pains as well as migraines are a common annoyance that millions of people suffer with every day. People who suffer from migraines experience many terrible symptoms including severe pain, muscle stiffness, vertigo, nausea, and fatigue. These symptoms can last up to a week in severe cases.
Can aromatherapy with essential oils really help with body pain and migraines? The short answer is yes. Though they might not help with severe migraine cases, they can help with acute migraines. For example, known to help reduce anxiety, essential oils can help treat tension migraines and associated symptoms. Peppermint oil contains menthol which is used for treating migraines, and studies show that the best form of application is directly to the temples with a carrier oil.
As for pain and body aches, peppermint and lavender oils are used as an analgesic and rubbed on to areas of tenderness to reduce pain and inflammation. A study using aromatherapy and massage on elderly patients suffering from chronic pain showed that a majority of these patients marked a difference in their overall wellbeing.
- Detox Your Body
As if the last nine benefits weren’t enough to get you to start using essential oils, studies show that they even have the ability to detox your body of heavy metals and other harmful chemicals and pathogens. If you’ve ever wondered why you’re feeling so sluggish and overall ‘blah’, you may be suffering from the constant toxicity you’re surrounded by.
Unfortunately, there are thousands of toxins that your body is trying to fight off on a daily basis - from the air you’re breathing to the food your ingesting and even what’s absorbed through your skin from everything you touch on a daily basis.
Essential oils can help your body flush out these toxins and the most commonly used oils for this process include lemongrass, ginger, grapefruit, orange, peppermint, and parsley. These oils work by aiding in digestion which help push these toxins out of your body, even ones that have spent some time building up.
If you have ever considered buying an essential oil diffuser, now is the time. Not only can essential oils clean your body of toxins, but they can also remove harmful toxins from your home as well.
Using essential oils in the form of aromatherapy, massage, and various other forms is globally huge, as people reach out for more natural ways of healing themselves. Over the past 2-3 decades, research and studies have gone all out to prove that essential oils need to make headway in the form of treatment for multiple types of ailments.
You can buy essential oils nearly everywhere these days, from online to your favorite grocery stores. They can be used in carrier oils such as coconut oil or shea butter as a massage oil, inhaled as aromatherapy, diffused in an oil diffuser (also easily found online) and even ingested in vitamin form.
If used appropriately, essential oils do have the potential to treat common issues and symptoms associated with them. Though not the cure to severe issues, they have shown numerous times and continuously to help people who are suffering from pain, fatigue, anxiety, sleep disorders, and unruly hair and skin.
You should always and only use essential oils as the directions explain, and you should always contact your doctor if you are thinking about beginning a holistic approach to healing your body.