If you already use essential oils but don’t really understand how they work, then this episode will help you understand why they work.
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Let’s start with explaining essential oils. Essential oils are extracted from plants. Depending on the plant they may use the flowers, leaves, bark or roots.
Essential oils are very concentrated. You can inhale them, or you can mix them with a carrier oil or lotion and apply them to the skin. In the traditional medical community, it’s generally not recommended that you ingest them. But there are many people in the alternative medicine community who recommend ingesting certain oils to treat different ailments.
I’m going to be talking about inhaling them. When you inhale certain essential oils for relaxation, it’s called Aromatherapy.
Now why does this work?
Our senses are how we perceive the world and we have 5 of them: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. All of these senses are important. But some seem more important than others such as sight and sound.
Smell and taste are closely linked. The taste buds of the tongue identify taste, and the nerves in the nose identify smell. You brain takes information from both of these sense organs and interprets them to identify foods. Some basic tastes such as salty, sweet, bitter and sour can be identified with only your tongue. But more complex tastes need input from both your nose and your tongue.
For example: suppose you love cheese pizza. Lets say you were blindfolded and someone held a piece of pizza to your face to eat it. You could smell the cheese and the freshly baked bread. You could then confidently eat the pizza blind folded.
But, let’s say while you were being handed the pizza, someone held feces to you nose. You wouldn’t want to eat the pizza. But I say, “no trust me, it really is pizza – and there’s no feces in it.” If you took a bite, you would probably swear someone put feces in the pizza. Why? Because that’s what you smell! That’s just how powerful your sense of smell is.
Have you noticed that food doesn’t taste as good when you are congested from a cold?
Have you held your nose to eat something that tasted disgusting? It is fairly common in pregnancy to become oversensitive to smells. I remember during my morning sickness phase, certain smells would make me nauseous.
So your sense of smell has a great impact on your perception of things. And this is the basis for using aromas to change your mental state.
Why the connection between smells and emotions? The nerve responsible for smell is the olfactory nerve. This nerve is located near the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that controls memory and emotions.
The fragrance in the oil stimulates this nerve and sends impulses to your hippocampus. Depending on the type of oil, the result may be calming or stimulating.
This is also the concept behind pheromones. Pheromones are chemicals that animals produce that results in a behavioral change in another animal. I grew up in a neighborhood where dogs were able to roam free without leashes or fences. I have a vivid memory of a female dog in heat. My male dog normally played with her in the neighborhood, but when she was in heat, he went from being a sweet little demure thing, to a ravenous beast. We had to lock him in the garage to prevent her from getting to her. He whined and howled the whole time as if he was in pain.
I was young and didn’t understand the concept of “being in heat.” But now I know that she emitted an odor that he could smell that triggered his male instincts to go and mate with her. There’s some debate as to how much this plays into human attraction and behavior. But suffice it to say, odors trigger and emotional memories and emotional responses.
Have I convinced you that what you smell can affect how you feel?
Here’s what you can use and how to use it.
The essential oil that has been the most studied in the medical literature is Lavender oil. In these studies, when people inhaled lavender oil, they showed a decrease in blood pressure and the stress hormone, cortisol.
Vanderbilt emergency department uses essential oils in their ER. They did their own study to see if using the oils could reduce stress in their staff. After all, a busy trauma center can be a stressful place to work. Their results were pretty remarkable showing reductions in the staff’s feeling of stress and overwhelm. They used lemon oil, wild orange, lime, and a specialty blend called Citrus bliss.
How To Use Essential Oils
There are several ways you can use the oil. You can put a few drops into a diffuser. This would make your whole room smell like the oil. This is what Vanderbilt used and I use this in my office.
You could use this method if you wanted everyone in your home to benefit. You could turn on the diffuser when you get home after work. And your whole family could unwind during dinner. You could also use it in the hour before bed to help relax you for bed.
A study from Wesleyan University in 2005 showed that the study subjects who were exposed to lavender experienced an increase in slow wave or deep sleep.
The key is finding a good diffuser. I found that the cheaper ones under $50 don’t always work for the entire room. I use a diffuser in my office, but at home I’ve also used one of those home scent devices that are designed for using candles to scent your home.
The trick with this is that you don’t want the oil to get too hot and it can get really strong fast. So I don’t do it too long when I use this device. The better option for something you can set and let go is a diffuser with a timer.
Another thing you can do is put a few drops of oil in a glass of warm water. This can do a pretty good job of scenting a small room. A drop in your bath water can really turn your bath into a soothing experience.
If you are the only one who wants to smell the oil, you can put a drop on a cotton ball and sniff it. I have experimented with putting a drop on the edge of my pillow case. Remember though, these oils are potent. A little goes a long way.
Another way to use it is topically. You don’t want to put it directly on your skin. You add a few drops to a carrier oil such as jojoba or even olive or canola oil. The carrier oil doesn’t have to be fancy. You would then take this mixture and give yourself a foot massage.
Relaxing Essential Oils
Lavender is the oil used most in the literature, but here are other options:
- Citrus oils such as lemon and orange
There are certain conditions that could be aggravated if you use aromatherapy. If you have any of these conditions, you should consult your doctor before using aromatherapy. These would include:
Pregnancy – should avoid using hyssop oil
Seizures – should avoid using hyssop oil
High blood pressure – should avoid stimulating oils like rosemary and spike lavender
Breast or ovarian cancer – avoid using fennel, aniseed, clary sage or sage because these oils contain compounds similar to estrogen
Essential oils are not cheap and you want to get one that says therapeutic grade or 100% essential oil. But a little goes a long way. You’ll learn that lesson pretty quickly because the good ones are very strong. Believe me, I have used too much and had to open windows because I felt like I was choking on the smell.
You can buy them from most health food stores. You can also get them online. Popular brands are Do Terra and Young Living. These companies are multilevel marketing companies. There are plenty of other reputable brands that are not multilevel marketing.
Whole New Mom did an exhaustive investigation on several brands of essential oils and found one she recommended. I bought one she recommended from Native American Nutritionals. I found that for the lavender, it didn’t smell much different from the one I got off Amazon and it was a lot more expensive. The one I use is call Now essential oils.
So that’s the skinny on aromatherapy for stress and relaxation.
You can use aromatherapy as part of your evening wind down with a relaxing bath or foot or body massage. If you have a stressful work environment, you could also use a diffuser to scent your office while you work or your bedroom while you sleep. You should avoid using certain oils in pregnancy or if you have high blood pressure and consult your doctor before using aromatherapy for certain medical conditions.
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Lewith GT, Godfrey AD, Prescott P. A single-blinded, randomized pilot study evaluating the aroma of Lavandula augustifolia as a treatment for mild insomnia. J Altern Complement Med. 2005;11(4):631–637.
Whole New Mom – Best Essential Oils Analysis