Essential Oils: How “essential” are they?

From the Hilbert College Wellness Center
By Kirsten Falcone, RN

You may have heard of the trend toward using alternative medicine, such as essential oils, chlorophyll, wheatgrass, crystals and other “natural remedies.” Is there any solid footing here, or is it just quackery? As a registered nurse, educated with an “evidence-based” mindset, I am skeptical. So I set out to perform a little unscientific research of my own.

If you attended the recent Hilbert College Wellness Fair, you probably met Jill Chiacchia, of the “beHealthy Institute,” in Hamburg, New York. According to Jill, there is much testimonial and anecdotal evidence to the benefits of essential oils, in particular. “Whether essential oils are used for household cleaning, aromatherapy or reviving a stuffy nose,” says Jill, “most would agree that using something derived from nature is preferred over using some of the synthetic, environmentally unfriendly products currently available on the market.” Jill came in to the Hilbert Wellness Center to demonstrate to me some of the essential oils she has in inventory at her store. One of the benefits she mentioned was the effect on the human nervous system. I took a whiff, and my first observation was, yes, some of the smells were calming, some stimulating, and a lot in between. I have a sensitive nose, so my second observation was, a little goes a long way!

Research supporting the idea that essential oils should be part of a medical regimen is sparse. Therefore, I am inclined to rest on the notion that much of the current fervor is based on the placebo effect. The placebo effect is the idea that if you believe it will work, then it is more likely to work for you. And, that is a valid approach with some people. Many outcomes in life are affected that way.

Considering more closely, though, there may be some scientific reasons that some people find relief with essential oils and other natural remedies.

Conquering Dehydration. You can supplement water with certain essential oils, according to Jill. We all know that drinking water is good for you. Water is essential in just about every chemical reaction in the human body. If you are dehydrated, adding flavor to your water may help you drink more water, thereby keeping you hydrated. This is also true for drinking chlorophyll and wheatgrass shots. They are both loaded with water. Maybe that is why they are also touted as a hangover remedy. Good idea!

Smells are very closely associated with memories. You might have noticed this already. Somebody in your past may have worn a perfume that, if you sensed it now, you would remember a great deal about that person. For example, the scent of lilacs always brings me back memories of my grandmother, and the smell of balsam makes me long for family Christmases. The sense of smell is closely linked in the brain with memory and emotions, more so than any other sense. Smelling something that brings back positive memories, for instance, would probably help lift your mood.

Smells can help you remember. This is a good point for students to know. Studying with a particular scent, perhaps on your sleeve, may help improve your recall on tests. Also, test scores have been shown to improve when you study in the same environment as the one in which you will take your test. So, if you want to do well on your test, it might help to pick an essential oil fragrance you like, apply it to your sleeve, and go study in the room in which you will take your test (or one similar to it). Then use that scent on test day, and voile’! Jill recommends using peppermint oil to keep you perky.

Smells can help you relax. Is an upcoming project or test stressing you out? Are you losing sleep because of it? Many smells, including those offered with essential oils, can be soothing. Lavender has traditionally been recommended for this.

Alternative to taking medicine. All medications have side effects. It does not matter which one you are taking. If a natural remedy helps you avoid caffeine (a stimulant), assists you in attaining sleep without sleeping pills, clears your sinuses during a cold, or improves your mood without expensive depression medication, then those are benefits! However, even essential oils can have side effects. Be sure you do your research, and test just a small amount before you plunge in head first.

Even though essential oils and other natural remedies hold a great deal of possibilities, as a registered nurse, I am still inclined to recommend proper nutrition, adequate sleep, enough hydration, exercise and fresh air, socialization, and other lifestyle changes before I recommend using essential oils.

Both Jill and I agree there could be a good deal of untapped potential in the “natural” and “alternative medicine” world. We need more studies done. In the meantime, you can do your own unscientific “study” and try out some products on your own. The beHealthy Institute (located only three miles away from Hilbert College, at 40 Main Street, Hamburg, New York) offers goods and services ranging from fitness and cooking classes, living well seminars and clinics, to essential oils and nutritional supplements. The beHealthy Institute will honor Hilbert College students with a 10 percent discount on any class. Try your first class FREE, up to a $15 value. For questions, please contact Jill Chiacchia at this link: www.beHealthyInstitute.com.

 

For additional information on essential oils, visit these Web sites:

beHealthy Institute, Hamburg, New York:
www.beHealthyInstitute.com

WebMD, Dos and Don’ts of Essential Oils:
https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/ss/slideshow-essential-oils

Easy Health Options, 8 Essential Oils for Health and Wellness:
https://easyhealthoptions.com/8-essential-oils-health-wellness/

National Institutes of Health, “Essential Oils: New Perspectives in Human Health and Wellness”:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4090492/

Los Angeles Times, What are essential oils good for?
http://beta.latimes.com/health/la-he-essential-oils-20160116-story.html

How Stuff Works, Smells and the Brain:
https://health.howstuffworks.com/mental-health/human-nature/perception/smell3.htm

Brainscape, How smells might help recall on tests:
https://brainscape.com/blog/2011/06/smells-study-efficiency/

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