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A Little History & Benefits of Essential Oils

Essential oils have been around for thousands of years. They’re not a fad or a trend. In 3500 B.C., Egyptians used plant extracts for health, cosmetic and religious purposes. Around 460 B.C., Hippocrates, the father of modern health, used plants to heal his patients. And all Christians know that the baby Jesus was given frankincense and myrrh.

Essential oils have many therapeutic benefits, both physical and emotional. Decades of clinical studies in the United States and other countries have proven their efficacy. Vanderbilt Hospital uses essential oils in its’ emergency room and many other clinics and doctors around the country include them in their treatment plans. Individuals are using them too, as more people seek natural alternatives for health and wellness, from essential oils to yoga to acupuncture.

Even the U.S. government is exploring and investing in ways to manage pain without drugs. The Department of Heath and Human Services, the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration recently partnered on an $81 million research project to identify effective, natural pain-management strategies for military members and veterans. Among the approaches being studied are mindfulness and meditation, exercise such as tai chi and yoga, manual therapies such as massage and acupuncture, cognitive behavioral therapy, and various combinations of these approaches.

In announcing the research, Francis S. Collins, M.D., director of the National Institutes of Health, said it could have broad applications. “Bringing science to bear through these real-world research projects will accelerate the search for pain management strategies for all Americans, especially as they work to address the nation’s opioid crisis.”

A Natural Alternative

Essential oils—natural aromatic compounds extracted and distilled from plants (trees, bark, flowers)—are another alternative to over-the-counter and prescription medicine. The oils contain hundreds of different compounds, giving them complex and versatile abilities to combat threats to health without building up resistance. They work with the body to address symptoms and their root causes on a cellular level.

There are three grades of essential oils: synthetic, used in chemical fragrances; food grade, used in cooking extracts and flavorings; and therapeutic, used for health purposes. Please note that the therapeutic designation is not a government-regulated standard, and so some “therapeutic-grade” oils have misleading label claims, compromised quality and marginal health benefits. So when you use or purchase essential oils, be sure to learn where they are grown, whether they are pure and organic, how they are distilled, and how they are tested for efficacy and safety. The quality oil you use will determine its chemistry, potency and efficacy.

Essential oils can be used aromatically, by diffusing it; topically, by applying it to the skin; or internally, by dropping it into water, placing it under the tongue or taking it as a gel capsule, to support mouth, throat, digestive and overall health.

Aromatic Oils

Smell is the fastest way to affect mood. Aromatic molecules have direct access to the limbic area, the emotional seat of the brain. Here are some examples:

  • Peppermint helps with mental support and focus, settles an upset stomach, keeps you cool, relieves tension, invigorates before or after a workout, and promotes healthy respiratory function and digestive health. Peppermint oil can be used internally, topically or aromatically. It’s also great as a breath freshener and in shakes.

  • Frankincense supports healthy cellular function, lifts mood and awareness, eases stress and tension, promotes feelings of relaxation and soothes cuts and bites, among other uses. Use topically, internally or aromatically.

  • Lavender is known for its ability to promote relaxation and relieve anxiety. It also helps with burns, jet lag, dry lips, menopause and mental stress; acts as a mosquito repellant; supports bodies fighting diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and Parkinson’s; balances the body systems; and eases migraines and skin conditions. It is found in a plethora of health remedies.

  • Ylang-ylang, a well-known aphrodisiac with a unique fragrance, is beneficial for anxiety and fear, colic, diabetes, high blood pressure, and stress and tension. It also has been known to help with emotional balance and support the cardiovascular and hormonal systems.

Many essential oils enhance both the physical and emotional health, and so they can be especially helpful during the holidays, when we’re typically under stress and exposed to more viruses. Some people find citrus oils (wild orange, lemon) very uplifting, while others prefer more earthy scents, such as Siberian fir, spikenard or spearmint.

This article was originally published in Natural Awakenings magazine, Chattanooga, TN, in the November issue.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this post is not meant to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or condition. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. If you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication or have a medical condition, please consult your primary care provider before using these products. They are based on personal usage, testimonies and some scientific studies by independent third party labs.

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