Are essential oils effective health remedies?
- Essential oils are plant extracts “made by steaming or pressing various parts of a plant (flowers, bark, leaves, or fruit) to capture the compounds that produce fragrance. It can take several pounds of a plant to produce a single bottle of essential oil.”
- Statista reports that the US market for essential oils was $4 billion in 2020.
- A 2019 INSIDER poll revealed that 34% of adults in the US “believe in the health benefits of essential oils.”
- The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy reports that some of the most commonly used essential oils are: eucalyptus, lavender, lemon, peppermint, and rose.
The underlying issue with most claims about the healing qualities of essentials oils is that there just haven’t been enough studies done to prove their purported benefits. Essential oils haven’t undergone large-scale, peer-reviewed studies in humans and also haven’t been put through rigorous FDA testing and approval processes. And therefore, there is no real evidence that these compounds have physical or psychological positive effects.
And while most essential oils are touted to have a laundry list of health benefits, it should also be acknowledged that these oils can often do more harm than good. Many people who use essential oils as an alternative treatment seem to assume that they are completely safe because they happen to be naturally-derived. But as many reports have shown, frequent use of these compounds can cause serious adverse effects. Essential oils are notorious for causing rashes, asthma attacks, headaches, allergic reactions— and they have also been associated with one case of death.
Many doctors also recommend not using essential oils because of their potential to act as endocrine disruptors, meaning they can cause certain glands to produce too much or too little of a hormone, leading to disruptions in development, reproductive changes, and even interference with the immune system. In particular, lavender and tea tree oil have also been linked to abnormal breast tissue growth (prepubertal gynecomastia) in boys.
The effectiveness of essential oils as health remedies is, hence, most often exaggerated. For most health conditions that are serious, patients would likely be better off sticking to conventional treatments.
Essential oils have withstood the test of time for good reason. Discovered in 3,500 BC, they played a significant role in Ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Ancient Greek medicine. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, chronicled their use for contagious diseases and the plague.
A growing body of modern research further confirms essential oils' ability to combat both physical and mental health issues. Several studies have proven the benefits of essential oils for insomnia, stress, and dementia. Scientists have even explored their use in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.
While most studies are yet to evolve to full-fledged clinical trials, essential oils have been given a nod of approval by health care providers.
Aromatherapy is being used as a complementary and integrative health approach across surgical wards to improve pain management, sleep, and overall patient satisfaction. Moreover, educational modules are consistently being developed to increase healthcare providers' knowledge of essential oils, their safety, and contraindications.
All this may come as a surprise, especially considering how the side effects associated with essential oils are often publicized. However, even individuals who have struggled with them still recommend their use. Their advice is for others to learn how to use them safely and only follow the recommendations of a licensed aromatherapist.
That said, the rate of bad reactions following the misuse of essential oils is less than 1%. A renowned essential oils provider claims only 0.0072% of its users have reported any side effects.
With so much support from health providers in the past and present, essential oils can be considered effective health remedies.