Essential oils are naturally occurring oils that are extracted from certain plant species, and can be found in the roots, stems, leaves, or even flowers. Created through the process of distillation, a single drop of an essential oil can have an incredibly strong aroma. They have an ancient history as being used for various health purposes—due to their antibacterial, detoxifying, antidepressant, and calming properties.
Some of the benefits of essential oils for which I primarily use them for are as follows
Some essential oils—notably geranium, frankincense, clary sage, and lavender—have been shown to help balance the body’s estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, and cortisol levels. For example, a 2017 study revealed the power of geranium and rose essential oils in influencing the salivary concentration of estrogen in women. Frankincense has been proven effective in reducing inflammation through decreasing levels of cortisol, as well as serving to improve thyroid functioning and autoimmune diseases. Lavender too has been shown to decrease stress (the biggest promoter of disease) through reducing cortisol amounts released by the adrenal cortex. My personal favorite use for lavender essential oil is right before I go to sleep, particularly as studies have shown that lavender oil promotes deeper, restorative sleep.
Improve Brain Function
Perhaps one of the most fascinating abilities of essential oils is their neuroprotective effects, particularly for people who suffer from concussions, Alzheimer’s, or other neurodegenerative disorders. Researchers have found that essential oils can reduce inflammation and improve brain function given that they are one of the substances that can cross the blood brain barrier (a semipermeable border that separates blood from the brain and extracellular fluid in the central nervous system) and enter brain tissue. Studies using frankincense and myrrh have proven effective in not only generating apoptosis in brain tumors, but also helping improve focus and concentration. Peppermint essential oils have been shown to have a positive effect on mental alertness and problem-solving skills, while lavender serves to promote calmness and relaxation through putting the nervous system into a parasympathetic rest & digest state.
Assist in Emotional Well-Being
Given that essential oils help to reduce levels of cortisol in the body, they are often able to help with feelings of angst, anxiety, and depression. For example, a study published in the Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice found that the use of essential oils helped to reduce anxiety and depression scales in postpartum women, while another 2017 study revealed that after four weeks of essential oil use, a significant reduction in negative emotions including anxiety, stress, & depression were observed in the intervention group. The most commonly used essential oils that promote emotional well-being are lavender, orange, rose, and frankincense.
Although they possess many great benefits, it is important to recognize that the quality and purity of the essential oil plays a significant role in its therapeutic value and safety. For example, several ways in which the quality of the essential oil can be compromised is from the growing conditions of the plants, distillation and manufacturing processes, distribution, and even storage.
Furthermore, because quality control of essential oils do not currently exist in the U.S., it is important to keep a few considerations in mind when selecting a good brand:
The essential oil comes from high-quality organic plants (as the quality of the oils can be negatively impacted by pesticide use, other chemicals, and soil conditions)
The essential oil is pure (as some oils have been diluted with vegetable oil)
The essential oil is sold in dark amber or glue glass bottles (which will prevent unfiltered light in entering and spoiling the oil)
The essential oil is priced right (pricing practices suggest that oils can be of low quality—the price of an oil is based on how much of the raw material is needed to create it)
How do you use them?
My personal favorite brands are Rocky Mountain Oils, doTERRA and Young Living. Essential oils enter the body through being either inhaled, ingested, or applied topically. You can place a few drops in a diffuser, add some to a bowl of steaming water, or apply it topically to the skin. However, when directly applied to the skin, due to its high concentration, essential oils should first be diluted with a carrier substance, such as coconut or almond oil. The recommended ratio is 1-2 drops of essential oil per 1 tsp of carrier substance. I often apply a few drops directly to my wrists, underneath my ears, and oftentimes the base of the brain stem.
I encourage you to start exploring essential oils today, and use them as simply another way to help foster a healthy mind-body connection.