What Are Essential Oils?
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Health professionals are using essential oils for their therapeutic effects and medicinal value. Aromatherapy, an increasingly popular form of alternative health treatment, is the use of essential oils for treating various diseases and health issues.
Although essential oils are claimed to help improve the overall mind and body wellness, their effectiveness is often disputed.
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are the distilled and concentrated extracts of plants, extracted from their various parts, including the roots, leaves, flowers, fruits or seeds. These extracts are the natural aromatic compounds found within the plant that give it its unique smell and other distinguishing characteristics. They are, in fact, the very essence of the plant and therefore contain a powerful aroma and flavor of the flower from which they are produced. Once extracted, essential oils have to be mixed with a ‘carrier’ oil to dilute them.
Essential oils can be produced by several methods. The most common of these is by distillation or by cold pressing. The method of extraction is crucial to the effectiveness of the oil as it affects quality. Essential oils produced through chemical extraction, are believed to be less effective as the chemicals can leave their traces, thereby contaminating the essential oil.
How Are Essential Oils Used?
Since essential oils are highly aromatic, they are widely used in perfumes, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics. Their most popular use, recently, has been in aromatherapy.
Essential oils can be inhaled directly or applied to the skin by mixing with carrier oils. They can also be added to bathwater or used in aromatherapy massage. You can use specific methods to ensure better absorption of the oils, making them more effective. For example, certain areas of the body are known to be pulse points on which essential oils should be applied. Heat can also enhance absorption.
Essential oils can also be inhaled by putting a few drops in your aroma diffuser or by adding them to hot water and inhaling the steam. Essential oils should not, however, be ingested on their own as they are too potent.
Once inhaled or applied, the oils react with your nerves and trigger specific responses in your body, which can be used to achieve desired results like inducing sleep, relaxation, pain relief, mood elevation, and healing. Aromatherapy essential oils interact with the body’s natural chemicals to produce changes in the body’s functions like blood pressure and heart rate. They are recognized to interact with the brain and influence its functioning and control over both conscious and unconscious psychological capacities. These functions include our behaviors and emotions, memories, breathing, and pulse rate.
Types of Essential Oils
There are hundreds of types of essential oils, each with its benefits and properties. Following are some of the most popular ones for aromatherapy:
- Lavender essential oil: Used for stress relief, relaxation, and inducing sleep.
- Rose essential oil: Helps with anxiety. It also has antioxidant properties.
- Peppermint essential oil: Helps relieve indigestion and headaches. It has a cooling effect, which helps in pain relief and itchy skin.
- Lemongrass essential oil: Full of antioxidants, helps with nausea and boosts energy.
- Jasmine essential oil: This highly aromatic oil helps with depression and exhaustion.
- Tea Tree essential oil: Helps with acne and insect bites. It also boosts immunity.
- Bergamot essential oil: Helps with depression and stress. It is also helpful for skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
- Sandalwood essential oil: Used to reduce stress and depression.
- Ylang Ylang essential oil: Used to treat anxiety, stress, and hypertension.
Health Benefits of Essential Oils
Despite the increasing popularity of all essential oils and their medicinal properties, their use in the health industry is still limited. Not a lot of research is available on the benefits of aromatherapy in treating specific health issues and diseases. With a better understanding and studies of the chemistry of these oils, they can be exploited as a valuable and less harmful alternative to mainstream pharmaceuticals, which come with some severe side effects.
Following are some of the health benefits of pure essential oils:
- Antibacterial: Oils have antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. They have proven to be effective as repressors of the growth of pathogens causing severe diseases.
- Anti-Inflammatory: Aroma oils have anti-inflammatory properties and can, therefore, be used in the treatment of inflammatory diseases.
- Insect Repellant: Oils also have insecticidal and insect repellant properties and can, therefore, be used for the prevention of insect-borne diseases.
- Cancer Treatment Oils: Have recently been studying the potential of essential oils against cancer. Garlic essential oil, for example, contains sulfur compounds known for their preventive effect against cancer. More research is required in this area.
- Anxiety, Stress & Pain Relief: Aromatherapy is known to be effective in the treatment of stress and anxiety. Aromatherapy oils like Lavender oil and Eucalyptus oil are popular relaxants. They can also help with conditions like migraines. To learn more, read our article on headache relief with essential oils.
Based on the available literature, it can be said that essential oils have many health benefits. Their therapeutic potential cannot be denied. Aromatherapy can be used in the treatment of some health conditions as an alternative to conventional medicine to avoid the use of chemicals and their side effects. However, more comprehensive research is required before aromatherapy can become more mainstream and replace existing medical treatments and allopathy.