The essential oil market has turned into a geyser, globally with sales growing at almost 9 percent every year. It'll hit $13 billion by 2024. But what are these oils? And are they really miracle-working?
Essential oils are extracted from plants and are called "essential" because they supposedly represent the "essence" of odor and flavor. Records of the oils date back to ancient India, Persia and Egypt. Also, Greece and Rome conducted trade in odoriferous oils and ointments, reaching deep into history. Today, essential oils are found in four markets: food and beverage, spa and relaxation, cleaning and home, and medical. The medical market has drawn a lot of attention — some of it controversial.
There are some extraordinary claims about the benefits of essential oils: less anxiety, more memory, no acne, better sleep, increased energy, reduced inflammation, even reduction of autism symptoms. The FDA says that without independent testing, essential oil companies can't declare oils "prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure disease."
Aromatherapy is believed to work by stimulating receptors in the nose, which then send messages to the nervous system. Hospitals and clinics sometimes use oils for stress relief, although research shows a patient's "expectations" of the effect can influence the outcome.
The results of a lot of independent research on the effectiveness is mixed at best, and much of it says more research is needed. Some examples: Clinical research found a possible link between lavender and tea tree oils and the development of breast tissue in prepubescent boys. A review of research on the effectiveness in treating hypertension, depression, anxiety, pain relief and dementia found no convincing evidence.
Research into aromatherapy using lavender and lemon did not show show any improvement in immune status, wound healing or pain control. However, mood assessment tests show that lemon can have a positive effect, regardless of expectations. Plus, rosemary has been found (in one study) to improve memory in school-age children.
Also keep in mind possible side effects, including:
● It's generally not a good idea to swallow essential oils. They can cause an allergic reaction.
● Eucalyptus and peppermint can irritate some respiratory systems, especially in babies.
The Mayo Clinic also notes that more research is needed to determine how essential oils might affect children or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Does this mean essential oils should be avoided at all cost? No.
Might you feel better when using them? Perhaps.
But talking with a doctor is usually the best advice before adding an oil to your health regimen.