Essential Oils: What’s all the Hype?

In Just Science by Cheryl WooodmanLeave a Comment

Essential Oils: What's all the Hype?
A Brief History of Medicine.

Man finds tree. Man takes tree bark. Man makes medicine. Putting more detail into the history, this is how Asprin was first created, from bark of the willow tree. A lot of medicine has it’s history in natural materials. Most of the chemicals we take as medicine, can be found in nature.
So why don’t we just eat what can be found naturally? Well there are many reasons, the main being you would have to eat a hell of a lot of something to get a medicinal strength treatment.
Taking the willow bark as an example, there are many, many materials in the bark, however it was only 1 which was producing a medicinal effect.
This is where ‘modern medicine’ steps in and artificially synthesizes the active chemical to create a concentrated ‘pill’ form.


What are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are a concentrated oil extracted from plants. The oils are referred to as being ‘highly volatile’ meaning they evaporate really quickly. The materials found in essential oils are ‘smelly’, in fact they are really strong smelling.
There are many different parts of a plant which essential oils can be extracted from. Roots, leaves, seeds, flowers, roots, even bark. Cinnamon essential oil is an example of an oil extracted from bark.


Not to be Confused with

Homeopathy. A system for treating disease based on the administration of minute doses of a drug that in massive amounts produces symptoms in healthy persons similar to those of the disease.
Invented by a German doctor in 1700s the art of homeopathy rests on the principle of like treating like. The ‘treatment compounds’ once chosen are then diluted to an infinite extent.
You may not be surprised to hear that there is no scientific evidence that supports a positive effect of homeopathy greater than a placebo.


Research into Essential Oils

Drug companies are constantly investing billions into the next big blockbuster drug. As a business they will focus on areas which will make them enough money to warrant the investment. To guarantee they will make money on a drug, they will protect the new compound, the method of synthesis, unique method of delivery and perhaps even the manufacturing process as their intellectual property.
Protecting this through a patent means that no other drug company can make the same drug until the patent expires (usually this is 25 years).
To patent a discovery it has to be unique. To be unique, there has to be no ‘prior-art’. This means that if lavender oil was proven to improve sleep quality the drug company could not patent this as many already use lavender oil and many for this reason.
Therefore research into essential oils is less attractive to drug companies and then it follows that there are fewer studies conducted into their use.


Some Studies Showing Positive Effects

I wanted to pull a few studies out for you which have shown positive effects of using essential oils.

1) Antiseptic Properties

There are several studies that support the use of tea tree oil as an antiseptic.
The science bit. It is thought that the essential oil disrupts a cells ‘walls’ (membrane), which is like the bacteria’s raincoat to the world outside, without it, its exposed.
So what could you use it for? An antiseptic can be used to help fight against spots. Also as a hand cleanser or sanitizer. It looks like I have saved the obvious for last, also helpful for cuts, grazes and broken skin you might experience say with those pesky ingrown hairs!


2) Alertness and Memory Improvement

Rosemary essential oil has been shown to increase alertness and improve memory.
The science bit. It might be surprising to learn that many of the drugs we use are a happy accident which has been un-wittingly discovered. They have the desired effect and then later on we understand more about how they work. We know essential oils have an impact on the body – brain scans show how different regions of the brain can be stimulated by certain smells. The mechanisms of action are yet to be learnt.
So what could you use it for? A morning pick me up to help wake yourself. Having one of those ‘groggy’ days, try a sniff of rosemary. Try it while studying to see if the boost of alertness helps you.


3) Relaxation

Utter the word relaxation and essential oils in the same sentence and most people would point you in the direction of Lavender.
The science bit. The general conclusion of studies into lavender oil is that it has mild sedative like effects.
So what could you use it for? Interestingly the above study into Rosemary essential oil, used a comparative test group of Lavander. In the lavender group it was shown that participants were significantly less alert i.e. more sleepy. A good oil for the evening, when you want to relax, after you’ve had a hard day at work. A stress reliever.


Do you use essential oils? Do you actively look for them in your skincare? Which are your favorites?

If your interested to know more about essential oils, I have a couple of planned posts up over the next 2 weeks. So remember to follow me on BlogLovin’ or Facebook.