I had the pleasure several weeks ago to listen to two friends do a presentation on essential oils. The fact that hooked me was that one of the women used essential oils to help someone who did not have a sense of smell. I have never looked into essential oils because I thought it was all about aromatherapy and for as long as I remember I have had a very diminished sense of smell. Most likely this is hyposmia, a diminished sense of smell. I do not have anosmia, no sense of smell, or dysosmia, distorted sense of smell. Then I learned in addition to their aroma some essential oils could be ingested (taken internally) and used topically.
Of course, the scientist in me started to wonder how essential oils could be used therapeutically. I know lavender can be calming. I have seen people use lavender sprays and lavender oil capsules to quell anxiety. So I began to listen more to the presentation and started to research afterward. This is what I learned.
Essential oils are extracts from different plant species. Usually the bark, sap, leaves, seeds and rinds have the most essential oils. And one of the purposes of the oils is that the compounds in the oils protect the plant from environmental threats like microorganisms. There are several different processes for extracting the oils. There is steam distillation, cold press and solvent extraction. Different processes are used for different species in order to obtain the purest forms of the oils.
The oils are a mixture of many different volatile aromatic compounds. The word ‘volatile’ is used to convey that the compounds convert from the liquid state to the gas state at room temperature. Then the physical and chemical properties of these compounds in the gas state quickly move through the air and interact with your sense of smell in your nose. Hence the aroma. But those compounds enter your entire body including your brain this way. Of course, if you ingest them or use them topically they enter your body that way.
Each oil can be made up of 1 to 1000 different compounds. Each plant species has its own unique composition of various constituents. These individual constituents interact with various parts of the cell. They can interact with receptors on the cell membrane. They can pass through the cell membrane and interact with various intracellular parts. These interactions are responsible for the (hopefully therapeutic) effects of the oils.
I’d love to know your experience with essential oils. Have you used them for aromatherapy? How have they worked? Have you ingested them or used them topically? And what positive or negative effects have they had?
Are Essential Oils Essential?
Essential Oils are called ‘essential’ because they are the essence of a plant. They are the extract or the source of the flavor and aroma of the plant. During the Middle Ages, it was thought that these oils were essential for life.
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Dr. Laurie Goldman is a medical doctor, psychiatrist, and functional medicine practitioner who’s been in private practice since 1999. She founded Clear Path Wellness to help her patients reach their maximum state of mental and physical health using a personalized, comprehensive approach powered by the principles of functional medicine, which treats the whole person, not just symptoms.