Are essential oils helpful or just pleasant smelling hype?

Essential oils (EOs) are everywhere. We use them in infusers to make our homes smell nice and some people take a whiff of peppermint or orange EO for a boost of energy, while others use lavender to promote calm and sleep. But can EOs be used for health issues, like the aches and pains resulting from arthritis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia?

Science Says…

Studies and reviews in publications such as the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine and Advances in Pharmacological Sciences show promise for relief of inflammation and pain. EOs such as clove, ginger, rosemary, German chamomile, red pepper, lavender, turmeric, and peppermint are just a few of the leaders in pain relief. Participants in one study found EOs just as effective as Ibuprofen in some cases. Personally, I’m a fan of EOs, as I have found relief from arthritis pain in my hand from using a product called HeelAid. It’s a blend of EOs that I brush on a couple of times a day. It was created by Brian Burke, MD, MS, who has studied EOs for more than 15 years. Even though it was created for plantar fasciitis, it works to block my arthritis pain and according to the on-going clinical studies it works for 90% of those people who use it for plantar fasciitis.

How Do They Work?

You’re probably familiar with pain creams like menthol and camphor. Those strong smelling creams are validated by the Gate Theory of peripheral pain reception. The same is true for EOs. They act as counter-irritants and cause a tingling or warm sensation on the skin which kicks the sensory nerve endings and those impulses flood the sensory gate in the spinal cord and temporarily block the pain impulses to the brain.

EOs That Make the Grade

You definitely don’t want to use the same lavender EO in your room infuser as you would on your skin for pain relief. Those kind of EOs are usually “Aromatherapy Grade” and “Fragrance Grade” and not 100 percent pure essential oil. The bottle could contain carrier oils or synthetic components of the natural oil. “Therapeutic oil” must be completely free of any and all chemicals and be processed in such a way that it slowly extracted using methods that keep the original compounds in its natural state. A quality EO will also have its Latin name listed on the bottle. For example, Matricaria chamomilla is Latin for German Chamomile and Anthemis nobilis is Latin for Roman Chamomile. If you pick up a bottle of EO and it only states “Chamomile,” you can assume its a mixture of the chamomile’s available. Finally, make sure the EO is in a glass cobalt blue or amber brown bottle as EOs are light sensitive and will break down over time if exposed to light. Never buy EOs in plastic bottles. EOs and plastic don’t play nice together and the EO will break down the plastic. Always store the bottles in a cool, dry place.

Who Can Use EOs?

It’s important to remember that while EOs are natural, they are potent. If you have a heart condition or on blood pressure meds, check with your doctor before taking a sniff or applying to your skin. Always do a skin patch test first to see if you have any adverse reactions to it. You can create your own blends but be sure to use a carrier oil to dilute the EO. Coconut, almond, olive, and jojoba oils are good choices. Generally, a teaspoon of carrier oil with two to three drops of EO is a good combo. Generally, you’ll rub the EO blend on your skin twice a day for relief of pain and inflammation.

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