Essential oils have been used by various civilizations and cultures for thousands of years, but it’s not until quite recently that their popularity has skyrocketed in the Western world. Why the sudden resurgence in popularity, considering essential oils have been an integral part of humanity for millennia?
Essential oils offer holistic, natural, effective solutions to common health problems and even diseases, often without the nasty side effects associated with common over-the-counter and prescription drugs. This, and the wonderful aroma contained in every bottle of essential oil, makes them a favorite solution for those people looking to improve their health without compromise.
Unfortunately, however, there’s a lot of hearsay surrounding the essential oil industry. In my role as a health researcher, I continue to stumble upon article after article that claiming a certain essential oil is a “cure-all” for all of life’s ailments, including every disease under the sun. It’s frustrating to see, as it’s unfounded claims like these that work to undermine the credibility of essential oils. Their abilities are amazing, but there are limitations!
With this in mind, I set out to track down some cold, hard evidence to prove once and for all that essential oils are the real deal. Here’s how essential oils can treat cancer, and so much more.
Essential oils and cancer
If there’s one area where there’s an abundance of studies concerning essential oils, it’s in the realm of cancer research. Certain oils contain powerful biological compounds that can trigger cancer cell apoptosis (death), acting directly to prevent tumor growth and in some cases actually reversing the spread of cancer with the body. All that, without the devastating side effects that come from conventional cancer treatments? It sounds almost too good to be true.
But after doing the research, I’m very much a believer. Take frankincense essential oil for example. Researchers think that the anticarcinogenic effects of frankincense are due to boswellic acids, which suppress cellular network formation and disrupt development of cancer cells before they can even develop into a tumor. Other studies have produced similarly impressive results, with this 2013 study showing that both frankincense and myrrh had strong anticancer effects… turns out the Bible was onto something! A 2012 study demonstrated frankincense essential oils’ ability to trigger pancreatic cancer cell death, while a 2014 study showed that both frankincense and sandalwood exhibited anticarcinogenic effects against bladder cancer cells.
Essential oils and immunity
The role of essential oils in immune function is another area of the research realm that’s virtually bursting with information — almost all of it good.
Frankincense essential oil is once again at the forefront, with a study published this year demonstrating frankincense’s ability to prevent the proliferation of harmful organisms and improve innate immune response. Another study showed that frankincense essential oil is an effective treatment for allergic asthma.
But it’s not all about frankincense. A 2008 study stated “Eucalyptus oil extract is able to implement the innate cell-mediated immune response,” and that eucalyptus essential oil “might drive development of a possible new family of immunoregulatory agents, useful as adjuvant in immuno-suppressive pathologies, in infectious disease and after tumor chemotherapy.”
Clove essential oil also gets a mention, proving surprisingly effective in wiping out the spread of Salmonella species.
Essential oils and diabetes
While the research is relatively thin on the ground regarding the role of certain essential oils in treating diabetes, what studies have been completed are very promising indeed. A 2010 study found that lemon balm essential oil (which incidentally smells amazing!) was “an efficient hypoglycaemic agent, probably due to enhanced glucose uptake and metabolism in the liver and adipose tissue and the inhibition of gluconeogenesis in the liver.” In essence, this makes lemon balm essential oil a viable treatment for people suffering from type 2 diabetes.
In other research, the ridiculously hard to pronounce oil of Satureja khuzestanica has repeatedly been shown to lower fasting blood glucose and triglyceride levels and prevent progression of diabetic nephropathy, a common precursor to renal disease.
Essential oils and anxiety
Perhaps the most well-known use of essential oils is in the treatment of anxiety — traditionally through aromatherapy. This practice, which has been used for thousands of years, diffuses a fine vapor of a given essential oil into the air, the scent of which has a calming effect on whoever breathes it in.
And there’s no greater anti-anxiety essential oil than lavender. A 2009 study sought to determine whether lavender essential oil would be an effective way to alleviate anxiety leading up to surgery — arguably one of the most stressful moments in anyone’s life! And they came up trumps: “the lavandin group had significantly lower anxiety… suggesting that lavandin is a simple, low-risk, cost-effective intervention with the potential to improve preoperative outcomes and increase patient satisfaction.”
Studies in mice show a similar effect from the essential oil of Citrus aurantium, with mice demonstrating a lower propensity for both anxious and obsessive-compulsive behavior following treatment with the essential oil.
Ultimately, this is only a very brief foray into the wonderful world of essential oils. I encourage you to do your own research and seek out those oils which best suit your needs!
— Liivi Hess