The belief that scents have a powerful effect on our overall well-being dates back to thousands of years ago. In fact, they were even used by famous ancient physicians, such as Hippocrates, Galen, and Crito. Over the years, essential oils have been used by various cultures around the world to help improve both mental and physical health. Today, researchers are taking a closer look at their effectiveness and learning even more about their powerful therapeutic benefits. Some of them might surprise you!
What Are Essential Oils?
If you’ve ever walked through your local health food store, you may have noticed an aisle filled with tiny bottles that pack a large aroma. Look a little closer and you’ll find each bottle has a name written on it, such as lavender, tea tree, jasmine, peppermint, etc. Those are essential oils.
Inside the tiny essential oil bottles are highly concentrated compounds that were extracted from either plants, flowers, roots, bark, wood, or seeds. The aromatic compounds are extracted in one of two ways: through distillation or cold pressing. In the end, the oils capture a strong scent and flavor.
Before you use these popular oils, there are a few things you should know:
- While essential oils can occasionally be ingested, it’s not recommended. Rather, you should rub the oil on your skin, put a few drops into a relaxing detox bath, or add the oils to a diffuser.
- Before you apply essential oils to your body, make sure to dilute them with a carrier oil (like almond oil) or water. They should never be applied to your skin without diluting first or they could cause a reaction or irritation.
- Only use pure, therapeutic grade essential oils that are derived from plants or natural ingredients. You want to avoid oils that are made from synthetic fragrance oils. Synthetic oils are often toxic and typically contain allergenic compounds. I’ll talk more about how to choose the best grade of essential oils below.
Top Essential Oil Health Benefits
There are upwards of 100 different essential oils and each one has its own unique health benefits. Some of the most popular oils, such as lavender oil, offer a wide range of benefits.
Relieves Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting nearly 40 million adults and one in eight children. That’s according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Additionally, many people who suffer from anxiety also suffer from depression. While it can be hard to pick yourself back up, there are a number of natural ways a person can beat dark times. For example, studies show the smell of certain essential oils can offer relief. This is referred to as aromatherapy.
In one study, researchers had 40 men inhale a couple drops of either orange essential oil, tea tree essential oil, or water. Then, the men were exposed to a stressful test to see if they experienced signs of anxiety. Researchers found the men who had inhaled the essential oils had less of a reaction.
Another study that involved 88 hospital staff members showed similar results. Participants were given an “SOS stress roll-on” that contained 12 essential oils. The roll-on was applied at least 3 times a day for one month on the pulse zones on the wrists. At the end of the study, participants saw a remarkable reduction in their stress level.
According to the National Cancer Institute’s PDQ online database:
“The effects of aromatherapy are theorized to result from the binding of chemical components in the essential oil to receptors in the olfactory bulb, impacting the brain’s emotional center, the limbic system.”
Some essential oils that have been known to effectively ease stress, anxiety, and depression include:
- Ylang Ylang
- Wild Orange
Eases Headaches and Migraine
We’ve all experienced the intense throbbing pain of a headache. You may have also experienced that nauseous feeling you get when a migraine strikes (someone turn off the lights, please!). If you suffer from frequent headaches and don’t like turning to pain medicine then try essential oils.
Essential oils are considered a safe alternative to medicine because they don’t have the same dangerous side effects (like liver and kidney damage) and they get to the root of the problem. For example, many people suffer from stress headaches. As you just read, essential oils can help you beat stress. Unbearable headaches can also be caused by hormone imbalance, allergies, and sinus pressure. Essential oils can help with all of these issues.
Studies have shown applying a mixture of peppermint oil and ethanol onto the forehead and temples can help relieve headaches. Some other oils that are commonly used to treat head pain include:
- Green Apple
Early pregnancy, motion sickness, digestive problems, migraines, anxiety, and viral infections are all reasons someone could be nauseous. It’s a common condition that starts with a queasy feeling in the pit of the stomach. Not fun. To help relieve nausea and vomiting, some researchers recommend aromatherapy.
In one study that looked at 100 pregnant women who were experiencing nausea and vomiting, researchers found those who inhaled lemon essential oil experienced a “significant” improvement. There have been other similar studies that reached the same conclusion.
Along with lemon, some other essential oils that have been shown effective at relieving nausea include:
- Clary Sage
Promotes a Better Night’s Sleep
We should all be getting between 7-9 hours of sleep every night. Getting a good, quality sleep can help balance hormones, reduce stress, improve immunity, support heart health, and improve productivity level. Let’s be real, though, most people are getting way less than 7-9 hours of sleep every night. If you aren’t catching enough zzzz’s because you struggle to fall asleep then start incorporating essential oils into your nightly routine.
In one review that examined 15 different studies on essential oils and sleep, reviewers found the majority of the studies suggested a positive effect. Lavender essential oil was the most frequently studied essential oil and has been shown to have the best sleep-aid effect.
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