Essential oils are most commonly used in the practice of aromatherapy, where they can be inhaled through various methods. But despite their widespread use, little is known about the ability of essential oils to treat certain health conditions. Here’s a look at some evidence regarding some of the common health problems that essential oils and aromatherapy have been used to treat.
Headaches and Migraines
In the ’90s, two studies found that dabbing a peppermint oil and ethanol mixture on participant’s foreheads and temples relieve headache pain. Recent studies have also observed reduced pain after applying peppermint and lavender oil to the skin.
What’s more, is that it has been suggested that applying a mixture of sesame oil and chamomile to the temples may treat headaches and migraines. This has been practiced for years, as it is a traditional Persian headache remedy. However, more high-quality studies are needed to prove its effectiveness conclusively.
Stress and Anxiety
It’s been estimated that 43% of people who have anxiety and stress use some form of alternative therapy to help relieve their symptoms. Regarding aromatherapy, initial studies have been quite positive. Many have shown that the smell of some essential oils can work alongside traditional therapy to treat anxiety and stress. However, due to scents of the compounds, it’s hard to conduct blind studies and rule out biases. Thus, many reviews regarding the stress and anxiety-relieving effects of essential oils have been inconclusive.
Sleep and Insomnia
Smelling lavender oil has been shown to improve the sleep quality of women after childbirth, as well as patients with heart disease. One review examined 15 studies on essential oils and sleep — the majority of studies showed that smelling oils (mostly lavender oil) had positive effects on sleep habits.
It has been suggested that essential oils may help fight inflammatory conditions. Some test-tube studies show that they have anti-inflammatory effects. A mouse study found that ingesting a mixture of oregano and thyme essential oils helped to induce the remission of colitis. To further support this claim, two rat studies on caraway and rosemary oils found similar results. However, very few human studies have examined the effects of these oils on inflammatory diseases, so their effectiveness and safety aren’t known.
Antibiotic and Antimicrobial
The rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria has rekindled the interest in the search for other compounds that can fight bacterial infections. Test-tube studies have investigated essential oils such as tea tree oil and peppermint oil, extensively for their antimicrobial effects, yielding some positive results. However, while these test-tube study results are impressive, they do not necessarily reflect the effects these oils might have inside the body. Unfortunately, they don’t prove that a particular essential oil could treat bacterial infections in humans.
Even with all the progress of technology in the medical field these days, there still isn’t enough evidence to back up claims that essential oils are useful for more than its aromatic properties. While there is promising potential, nothing has been set in stone yet, so the future of essential oils in medicine is still in a blur. Therefore, there isn’t a definitive answer to the question of how effective essential oils are outside their intended use of aromatherapy.