Do Essential Oils Work? And – Holistic Health Care’s Growing Importance
After a particularly grueling day at work, you dim the lights, silence your phone and spend a few minutes massaging your temples with lavender oil. Or – maybe you get ready in the morning with the scents of bergamot wafting to you from an oil diffuser.
While these practices are undoubtedly pleasant, there must be a recurring thought running through your mind, “Do essential oils work?” If you turned to Google for answers, you’d find a plethora of messy, contradicting opinions originating from medical professionals to consumers.
So – what’s the truth behind essential oils’ efficacy?
To find out, read this article: we take a deep-dive into these oils’ purported health benefits and also explore the growing importance of holistic health.
What are essential oils?
But let’s take a step back; what are essential oils, exactly?
Contrary to popular belief, not everything which emits a pleasant smell is necessary an essential oil. Essential oils are natural oils that exist in plants as minuscule droplets and are what give a plant its unique scent and chemical makeup. You can also think of these oils as concentrated ‘extracts’ that retain the natural flavor and smell (or essence) of their source.
And – what is aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy, a term coined by French perfumer Rene-Maurice Gattefosse in 1937 after witnessing first-hand the benefits of lavender essential oil, is also known as essential oil therapy.
It’s widely considered a form of holistic healing that incorporates the use of essential oils to create emotional, spiritual, psychological, and physical balance. Aromatherapy typically makes use of two delivery options: inhalation and transdermal (application to the skin).
So – do essential oils work?
The quick and dirty answer is that yes, essential oils do work.
But this question is inherently flawed. You see, there are so many essential oils available, with different health benefits. Some essential oils, therefore, work well in some aspects, while others work in other areas.
So, for brevity’s sake, let’s only explore the cases where essential oils have widely shown potentiality in combating specific health issues.
#1 – Improves Mood
According to a study performed in 1999, when individuals were placed in an environment where odors were perceived as unpleasant and off-putting, they reported feelings of illness and annoyance. And in a separate study conducted in 2002, when pleasant-smelling fragrances were used in a workplace, researchers observed increased productivity and improved mood in the subjects!
Therefore, given how pleasant-smelling essential oils are, it makes sense that one of their most well-known benefits would be their ability to influence mood positively.
According to a study conducted in 2003, participants subjected to the aromas of rosemary and lavender essential oils were significantly more contented than those who had not been!
Oils known to affect mood:
# – Enhances Cognitive Functions
Why? Well, that’s because the inhalation of essential oils stimulates your olfactory system – the part of your brain responsible for the sense of smell, including the nose and brain. And when the molecules reach the brain, they activate the limbic system – the part of your brain that plays a role in subconscious activities like behaviors and emotions.
Interestingly, the limbic system is involved in memory formation as well, explaining why familiar smells can trigger vivid memories or emotions. It should, therefore, come as no surprise to you that some essential oils are thought to enhance cognitive functions, such as memory formation and alertness.
Remember the study performed in 2003, involving rosemary and lavender essential oils? Well, here’s what they found out about the essential oils’ cognitive effects:
- Rosemary essential oil
- Enhanced a subject’s short- and long-term memory, and
- Impaired the speed of memory recollection
- Lavender essential oil
- Impaired memory performance; the researchers thought this was because of lavender’s sedative-like properties)
And in another study performed in 2012, researchers demonstrated that rosemary essential oil inhalation could improve subjects’ performance on cognitive tasks as well.
Nevertheless, it is critical to take note that it can be challenging to assess the effects of essential oils on cognitive functions accurately. As unique individuals, we all have different responses to various odors. If you dislike the aroma of rosemary, you may not experience its cognitive-enhancing effects to the same extent as someone who adores its scent.
Oils known to help with memory and focus:
#3 – May Boost Immunity and Fight Infections
There’s been growing in vitro evidence (studies of biological properties done in labware) that many essential oils have antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and anti-fungal properties.
As such, it’s been proposed that they may be a novel treatment that can help to boost your immune system and fight foreign pathogens that can threaten your health more safely and naturally.
For powerful immune-boosting properties, look no further than oregano oil. It contains thymol and carvacrol – two compounds that demonstrate antimicrobial effects and can inhibit the growth and synthesis of several types of bacteria. Recent research even suggests that oregano oil may also be a potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, and anticarcinogenic agent!
And it’s not just oregano oil; even the oils of cinnamon, clove, geranium, lemon, lime, orange, and rosemary have exhibited significant bacterial inhibitory effects. And of all the oils mentioned, cinnamon oil demonstrates the most bactericidal properties – thereby offering prospective value as an antibacterial agent in topical or oral applications.
Oils known to help treat physical issues:
The growing importance of holistic health care
Ultimately, the practice of aromatherapy benefits from being placed within the context of holistic health care as a whole.
Why holistic health care?
Right now, you may be wondering, “Why would people choose alternative solutions when modern medicine is available?”
Part of holistic health care’s growing popularity can be explained by the concerning number of health-related deaths thought to be caused by medical errors. And while there is no hard statistic, you’ll probably agree that even just one death is way too many. As such, many health-conscious individuals have decided to take their health into their own hands by incorporating natural health supplements and alternatives into their lives.
Also, in contrast to conventional medicine, holistic health care is more concerned with the cultivation of an understanding of healthy living and preventive techniques. Rather than providing symptomatic relief when something goes wrong, holistic healing believes in easing the problem at its source, while at the same time building up the body’s natural immunity.
Yes, the term, “Aromatherapy” is relatively new. But the practice itself is based on the principle of taking care of the body, mind, and soul to achieve optimal health – a concept that has been practiced for thousands of years.
Holistic health care is unique to each individual
The best form of treatment, from a holistic point of view, is always a multifaceted one. It is not enough to treat someone solely on a physical or chemical basis. The individual as a whole – with all associated habits, lifestyle, and the environment – needs to be taken into account.
So – to answer the question, “Do essential oils work?” Yes. But for aromatherapy to be effective, it must be carefully customized to each individual, in addition to practicing a healthy lifestyle. As per the holistic health care principle, one cannot rely on aromatherapy to obtain positive results if they disregard either the body, mind, or spirit.
Everything we do to achieve health and wellness works synergistically as a whole, and it is our responsibility to incorporate each piece to make the whole.