5 Great Reasons to Use Essential Oils for Relaxation and Mental Health
The use of aromas to achieve altered states of consciousness is a scientifically-proven approach to the improvement of one’s mental health. This is because aromas result from air-borne molecules entering one’s nasal passages. The molecules don’t stop there: they are absorbed into the bloodstream, circulated around the body, and finally cross the blood-brain barrier where they have various effects on the brain. But we have to choose our aromas carefully to ensure we achieve the right outcome. Each type of essential oil will cause a different effect because each oil is made of different types of molecules with unique properties.
As an example, leading retail outlets in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, commonly sell the two essential oils jasmine and lavender, where they sit on the shelf side by side like salt and pepper shakers. One must take care to buy them together because of their complementary relationship (like yin and yang), where too much of one will make you too stimulated to sleep whilst the other might make you lethargic. It is common for the tourist to buy one and later return for the other after discovering this effect purely by accident. Too much jasmine will overstimulate you, whereas too much lavender will make you unproductive.
The term ‘essential oil’ is derived from the Latin expression ‘quinta essentia’ which translates into English as ‘the fifth element’. Hence, according to alchemy, an essential oil is the spirit or life force of the plant, captured and stored in a bottle. Similar to alcoholic spirits, they are produced by distillation and have properties that have captured the imagination of people for nearly a thousand years since the technology was developed in the 13th century by Arab pioneers.
When purchasing essential oils to be used in aromatherapy, either with massage or another form of therapy, one must take care to ensure that the oil is authentic. Strictly avoid cheap products, because it is impossible for them to be marketed below a certain price. Cheap products are mixed with carrier oils, or even worse, they can be mixed with undesirable by-products of industry, making them potentially bad for one’s health. Thus, ensure you purchase from a reputable supplier before putting them onto, or into, your body.
- Five great reasons to use essential oils for relaxation
- Essential oils are scientifically proven to be as good as pharmaceuticals in reducing stress
- A better sleep makes you feel refreshed and improves your coping skills
- Essential oils can help to reduce anxiety and depression
- Long-term use of essential oils improves the immune system
- Essential oils may help reduce your risk of disease
- Concluding remarks
Five great reasons to use essential oils for relaxation
Although they confer innumerable pharmacological effects in people, essential oils are best known for their ability to alter mood and improve one’s mental wellbeing. Because we live in a busy world under the pressure of profit-driven corporations and are expected to perform at an unrealistic rate of delivery, a common side-effect is stress. Hence, we turn to aromatherapy for relaxation. This initiative is highly recommended since there are aspects of your health that require attention in the long-term, and it is better to adopt a healthier lifestyle which includes natural ingredients than to become a chronic user of pharmaceutical drugs.
Here are five reasons to use essential oils for relaxation:
1) Essential oils are scientifically proven to be as good as pharmaceuticals in reducing stress,
2) A better sleep makes you feel refreshed and improves your coping skills,
3) Essential oils can help to reduce anxiety and depression,
4) Long-term use of essential oils improves the immune system, and
5) Essential oils may help reduce your risk of disease.
Essential oils are scientifically proven to be as good as pharmaceuticals in reducing stress
Scientific studies have examined the mood-altering effects of essential oils against placebos and confirmed that, even when the users are prevented from smelling them by covering their noses while massaging them into the user’s skin, they experience improvements in their anxiety levels and rate themselves as being more relaxed.
For most people, it is difficult to imagine that essential oils can actually cross the skin and be absorbed into the bloodstream, then circulate around the body and cross the blood-brain barrier where they exert their mood-altering effects. However, several studies have demonstrated this to be true. In fact, by taking blood samples from people who have applied essential oils topically and then chemically analysing the blood samples, the components of the essential oil are detected. What this means is that components of the essential oil absorb into the oil-loving part of the skin where they are captured in blood albumin, and the rest is history.
The most common essential oil that is used for relaxation is lavender, as mentioned earlier. Lavender essential oil is rich in the therapeutic molecules linalool and linalyl acetate, which can be used to achieve analgesic or antinociceptive effects. Because linalool and linalyl acetate are also present in bergamot and basil, they can be used for the same therapeutic applications. In studies where lavender essential oil is applied to the user’s belly, both linalool and linalyl acetate are detected in the blood serum within 20 mins of application. These molecules confer an analgesic effect, as previously mentioned, that is partly due to their affinity for the opioid receptor. It is conceivable that the same outcome would manifest if basil or bergamot were applied.
So the next question is, how does analgesia lead to relaxation or reduced stress? Aside from the obvious, which is that a mild numbing effect reduces physical discomfort, the truth is that analgesia is not the only mechanism. Both linalool and linalyl acetate are known to exert anti-inflammatory effects, and because stress is interlinked with chronic systemic micro-inflammation, the anti-inflammatory effects of linalool and linalyl acetate reduce the symptoms of stress and anxiety. Furthermore, systemic micro-inflammation reinforces stress and discomfort, which creates a positive feedback loop that makes it hard to return to a relaxed state. Thus, anti-inflammatory essential oils end the vicious cycle and enable the individual to start a new cycle of restfulness.
A better sleep makes you feel refreshed and improves your coping skills
Essential oils can be used to restore sleep. The most famous essential oil that is used for this application is chamomile. While chamomile tea (from the flower heads of Matricaria chamomilla L.) is the most obvious beverage to improve sleep, the essential oil from the same plant can also be used to this end. Chamomile leaves are rich in a sesquiterpene called matricin, which induces restfulness. Matricin works best when ingested into the stomach so that it rapidly absorbs into the body.
Matricin is known to act as an antihistamine, and this in turn reduces the histamine secreted from a region in the hypothalamus of the brain. Because brain histamines promote wakefulness, then it is logical that antihistamines do the opposite, promoting restfulness. The net effect is a long and restful sleep, but it is important to use matricin-containing chamomile only when a sleep of 6 hours or more is the intended outcome, as the effect won’t wear off after a short nap.
When an essential oil is produced from chamomile, the process of hydrodistillation causes the matricin to be converted into a blue-coloured compound called chamazulene. Fortunately, chamazulene has similar properties to matricin. It will also confer an effect that is consistent with an antihistamine. Thus, the blue essential oil from chamazulene can be topically applied (to the skin) to achieve a significant improvement to one’s sleep. However, beware that the effect takes several hours to kick in. It is recommended to wait until the next day before you decide if the effect was strong enough; do not take more, as you may overdo it and be stuck in a drowsy state.
It is well known that a better sleep makes you feel refreshed and improves your coping skills. Restfulness reduces the level of cortisol in your body, which helps your muscles relax, reduces the amount of inflammation in your system, improves your skin’s complexion, and clears the mind so that it can perform creative tasks that enhance the quality of one’s work.
Essential oils can help to reduce anxiety and depression
There are several essential oil components that have the power to help deal with anxiety and depression. These psychotropic components need to be taken in moderation to avoid negative effects to one’s psyche, and also to one’s liver. Thus, when using psychotropic essential oil components for depression and anxiety, it is important to be strict with quantities and to be informed about the consequences of taking too much.
Two well-known essential oils that can help with anxiety and depression include nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) and black pepper (Piper nigrum). The oil of nutmeg is dominated by phenylpropanoids, and the most important one in this context is elemicin. Care must be taken with the use of nutmeg since too much elemicin can make a person dysfunctional or even sick and non-responsive. Thus, as a general guideline, one or two teaspoons of dried nutmeg powder from the supermarket is in the sweet spot, if mixed with a milkshake or dessert and eaten. If whole nutmeg is used, use half the amount (half to one teaspoon), because when it is freshly crushed it is stronger. In this case, the difference of consistency is obvious - freshly crushed nutmeg is sticky or clumpy, which is caused by the high oil content, but when it is provided as a dry powder in the supermarket, the consistency is that of a powder, meaning the oil content was reduced during the processing step, making it less potent. Nevertheless, elemicin is a known psychotropic molecule that easily passes the blood-brain barrier, enters the grey matter and reduces anxiety, slows the mind down and promotes restfulness.
The essential oil of black pepper contains beta-caryophyllene, which is a cannabinoid that binds to the same receptors as CBD, meaning it is not psychotropic, just calming. Both CBD and beta-caryophyllene have affinity for cannabinoid receptor number 2 (CB2), which is not the same receptor that is targeted by THC, cannabinoid receptor number 1 (CB1). When the essential oil is produced from black pepper, the terpenes are separated from the raw material, leaving behind the other components normally associated with pepper. This means that the heat-inducing effects of pepper are not experienced by using the essential oil. It is recommended to use black pepper essential oil together with CBD oil because of the entourage effect. Although there is beta-caryophyllene in hemp, most of it is lost in processing, so by using black pepper essential oil, the entourage effect is restored. Another essential oil that is rich in beta-caryophyllene is the resin of copaiba (Copaifera officinalis). This natural product has a higher relative amount of beta-caryophyllene and is also less likely to demonstrate variation caused by differences of hydrodistillation time. For example, if black pepper is hydrodistilled for only a short time, the oil is overly rich in monoterpenes and the trans-caryophyllene content is low. So, it may be less risky to get copaiba resin or the hydrodistilled essential oil from the same resin, providing a greater chance of getting a good kick of beta-caryophyllene.
Long-term use of essential oils improves the immune system
Restfulness that comes from improved homeostasis will confer an umbrella of positive effects that include an improved immune system. This contrasts with the effects of psychotropic pharmaceuticals that have single biological targets, because they can sometimes have immunosuppressant effects. For example, benzodiazepines that are used in allopathic medicine to induce sleep are associated with suboptimal immune function. In this case, the use of benzodiazepines increases the risk of contracting pneumonia.
The immune system is strongly dependent on proper functioning of the cardiovascular system. What this means is that chronic systemic micro-inflammation, insulin resistance and reactive oxygen species interfere with innate and acquired immunity and can make the difference between symptomatic and asymptomatic infection by influenza viruses.
Nevertheless, in vitro and in vivo scientific data strongly corroborates the use of essential oils to control insulin resistance, systemic micro-inflammation and reactive oxygen species generation. First and foremost, the previously mentioned anti-inflammatory essential oils, such as lavender, chamomile, black pepper, and copaiba, improve insulin sensitivity as a natural consequence of their anti-inflammatory effect. This is because insulin resistance is caused by an inflammatory state that is triggered by reactive oxygen species by-products of glucose metabolism. Hence, by improving this inflammatory state, the body’s ability to respond to insulin improves.
But how do these essential oils intervene in the inflammatory cascade? Although it is a complex science and there are several mechanisms that can be discussed, one of the most important biological effects is the increased expression of the antioxidant enzymes glutathione peroxidase and glutathione S-transferase. These antioxidant enzymes are produced by the body’s cells to respond to reactive oxygen species. When we consume lots of sugars and carbs from refined sources, the empty carbs fail to switch on genes that make antioxidant proteins. However, by fortifying one’s diet with ‘flavours’ that include phenylpropanoids and terpenes, the expression of antioxidant enzymes increases. In an Egyptian study, the best performer was cumin essential oil, which is rich in simple monoterpenes and their aldehyde derivatives.
Thus, the use of essential oils to induce relaxation and restfulness in the place of pharmaceutical drugs can benefit the immune system rather than negate it, as with common pharmaceutical drugs like benzodiazepine.
Essential oils may help reduce your risk of disease
After the turn of the millennium, many of the millennial scientists wrote seminal works that changed our way of thinking about eating. Ongoing research has given birth to a new paradigm of diet and disease prophylaxis (prevention). Dietary intervention with plant phytochemicals is now seen as a preventative strategy for significant lifestyle diseases, such as cancer and cardiovascular degeneration. It is contended that a net increase of fat-loving phytochemicals over the long-term will reduce incidences of disease later in life. Two of the most important fat-loving phytochemicals are terpenes and phenylpropanoids, both of which comprise, on average, more than 99% of an essential oil.
Thus, by using essential oils for relaxation and mental health in the place of pharmaceuticals, one is doing good work for their long-term health, if they are consistent and follow these measures as a lifestyle. The same essential oils mentioned earlier that promote restfulness and relaxation including lavender, chamomile, black pepper, copaiba and cumin, are the same products that will improve the risk factors for common modern-day diseases including cancer and cardiovascular disease.
By using essential oils instead of pharmaceutical drugs for relaxation and mental health, a plethora of health benefits will be experienced as a bonus. Furthermore, the negative effects of monotherapy drugs will be avoided. Essential oils that confer relaxation and improved mental health benefit the body by improving the metabolism of glucose and reducing systemic micro-inflammation. Therefore, people who use these essential oils in the long-term are likely to experience better health in old age. Essential oils that are good for relaxation and mental health include lavender, chamomile, black pepper, copaiba, and cumin.