This blog post is the second in a series of four examining how aromatherapy supports the health and well-being of body, mind, emotions, and spirit. In May, we explored aromatherapy and emotions by examining how aromas directly connect with the nervous system and its implications to memory, emotional health, and stress. This month, we take a look at aromatherapy and the body by examining how essential oils support physical health and comfort.
There is a lot we could cover when looking at aromatherapy and its effects on the body, so I chose just a couple of ways it benefits physical health. First, I’ll examine how aromatherapy supports respiratory health and helps the body fight off pathogens. Then, I’ll explore how aromatherapy helps reduce musculoskeletal pain and inflammation. Even for just these two concerns, there is extensive scientific research covering the naturally occurring chemical components found in plant extracts. So, I chose to discuss just a few components with examples of how I have used them in my practice.
To support respiratory health and the immune system, some of the chemical components I consider are d-limonene, α-pinene, and 1,8-cineole. Scientific studies have shown that d-limonene supports the immune system by increasing total white blood cell count, increasing the number of alveolar macrophages, and through antimicrobial actions.6, 10, 14 White blood cells are part of the immune system and fight invading pathogens and alveolar macrophages are immune cells that clear debris and invaders from the lungs. Both are very helpful when fighting the cold or flu! Studies show that α-pinene exhibits antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral activity, including being active against acute and chronic bronchitis.1, 15, 17 Research suggests that 1,8-cineole is antiviral, reduces mucus, and calms coughing. It also reduces airway inflammation, improving overall lung function and health, and has been effective against sinus infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and bronchitis.4, 9, 16
When Charlotte was pregnant, she came down with a bad cold. She felt completely run down with a sore throat and sinus congestion. For about a week, it continued to get worse and she couldn’t find any effective medicine that was safe to use during pregnancy. I created a steam blend that included pregnancy-safe essential oils such as Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus), high in 1,8-cineole, Lemon (Citrus limon), high in d-limonene, and Siberian Fir (Abies sibirica), with α-pinene. To use it, she warmed up water in a ceramic bowl and added one or two drops of the blend. Then, she covered her head with a towel and placed her head over the bowl, keeping eyes and mouth closed. As she inhaled through her nose, she said that her sinuses cleared out almost immediately and that it was very calming. Charlotte used the steam blend twice a day for a total of four days, continuing to use it even after she felt better.
To fully address musculoskeletal pain and inflammation, there are a number of factors to consider—whether it effects muscles, tendons, or joints; whether it feels tense or swollen; and whether it feels hot or cold. These considerations help narrow down which chemical components and essential oils to select.
Just a few of the many components to consider for pain and inflammation include linalool, linalyl acetate, and menthol. In scientific studies of both chronic and acute pain treatment, linalool was found to reduce pain and inflammation without causing a tolerance to the dosage.2, 13 There are a few essential oils that contain both linalool and linalyl acetate (which is sometimes created in plants from linalool), and studies find that they reduce inflammation and were helpful in providing relief from pain and spasms of dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation).11, 12 Many scientific studies provide evidence that menthol reduces pain and inflammation and has local anesthetic effects comparable to the pain relief of lidocaine.5, 7, 8
Jamie got a headache after her workout one day. In the weeks following, her neck tightened and she got a tension headache whenever she felt stress or started to exercise. These headaches were frequent and interfered with her enjoyment of life. I created a massage blend for her that included Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), high in linalool and linalyl acetate, Spike Lavender (Lavandula latifolia), high in linalool, and Peppermint (Mentha x piperita), high in menthol, at a skin safe dilution. Jamie applied the blend whenever she started feeling any tension and she noticed the pain decreased and her muscles relax. When I followed up with her she told me, “I put the blend on a couple of hours ago and now the pain isn’t there anymore.”
One interesting thing to consider is that studies done on essential oils suggests they actually have a greater beneficial effect than studies of isolated components suggest. This may occur because they consist of many, even hundreds, of chemical components and this chemical complexity creates a synergy within the essential oil that lends to multiple therapeutic actions with less side effects than using the isolated component alone.3 Another synergy is found between essential oils when they are combined and a blend often has a greater benefit than just using a single oil. So, the complete blends used to address each concern contain an even greater complexity and synergy than that of a single essential oil.
Supporting respiratory and immune health and reducing pain and discomfort are just a couple of ways aromatherapy benefits the physical body. If you are interested in a blog post that addresses another physical concern or you are interested in how I can support you, please let me know!
- Astani, A et al. “Comparative study on the antiviral activity of selected monoterpenes derived from essential oils.” Phytotherapy Research, vol. 24, no.5, 673-9. May 2010. PubMed, doi: 10.1002/ptr.2955.
- Batista, P A et al. “The antinociceptive effect of (-)-linalool in models of chronic and neuropathic hypersensitivity in mice.” The Journal of Pain, vol. 11, no. 11, 1222-9. November 2011. PubMed, doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2010.02.022.
- Battaglia, Salvatore. The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, 2nd edition. Brisbane, Australia: The International Centre of Holistic Aromatherapy, 2003.
- Fischer, J and U Dethlefsen. “Efficacy of cineole in patients suffering from acute bronchitis: a placebo-controlled double-blind trial.” Cough, vol. 9, no. 1. November 2013. PubMed, doi: 10.1186/1745-9974-9-25.
- Galeotti, N et al. “Local anesthetic activity of (+)- and (-)-menthol.” Planta Medica, vol. 67, no. 2, 174-6. March 2001. PubMed, doi: 10.1055/s-2001-11515.
- Hamada, M. et al. “Distribution and immune response resulting from oral administration of d-limonene in rats.” Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology, vol. 48, no. 2, 155-60. April 2002. PubMed, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12171437.
- Juergens, U R et al. “The anti-inflammatory activity of L-menthol compared to mint oil in human monocytes in vitro: a novel perspective for its therapeutic use in inflammatory diseases.” European Journal of Medical Research, vol. 3, no. 12, 539-45. PubMed, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9889172.
- Kawasaki, H et al. “Inhibition by menthol and its related chemicals of compound action potentials in frog sciatic nerves.” Life Sciences, vol 92, no. 6, 359-67. March 2013. PubMed, doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2013.01.012.
- Kehrl, W et al. “Therapy for acute non purulent rhino sinusitis with console: results of a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial.” Laryngoscope, vol. 114, no. 4, 738-42. April 2004. PubMed, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15064633.
- Oliveira, S. A. et al. “The antimicrobial effects of Citrus limonum and Citrust aurantium essential oils on multi-species biofilms.” Brazilian Oral Reseach, vol. 28, 22-7. 2014. PubMed, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25000605.
- Ou, M C et al. “Pain relief assessment by aromatic essential oil massage on outpatients with primary dysmennorrhea, a randomized, double-blind clinical trial.” The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology Research, vol. 38, no. 5, 817-22. May 2012. PubMed, doi: 10.1111/j.1447-0756.2011.01802.x.
- Peana, A T et al. “Anti-inflammatory activity of linalool and linalyl acetate constituents of essential oils.” Phytomedicine: International journal of Phytotherapy and Phytopharmacology, vol. 9, no. 8, 721-6. December 2002. PubMed, doi: 10.1078/094471102321621322.
- Peana, A T et al. “Effects of (-)-linalool in the acute hyperalgesia induced by carrageenan, L-glutamate and prostaglandin E2.” European Journal of Pharmacology, vol. 497, no. 3, 279-84. August 2004. PubMed, doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2004.06.006.
- Raphael, T. J. and G. Kuttan. “Immunomodulatory activity of naturally occurring monoterpenes carvone, limonene, and periodic acid.” Immunopharmacology and Immunotoxicology, vol. 25, no. 2, 285-94. May 2003. PubMed, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12784919.
- Rivas da Silva, AC, et al. “Biological activities of α-pinene and β-pinene enantiomers.” Molecules, vol. 17, no. 6, 6305-16. May 2012. PubMed, doi: 10/3390/molecules17066305.
- Worth, H et al. “Concomitant therapy with Cineole (Eucalyptole) reduces exacerbations in COPD: a placebo-controlled double-blind trial.” Respiratory Research, vol. 10. July 2009. PubMed, doi: 10.1186/1465-9921-10-69.
- Yang, Z et al. “Comparative anti-infectious bronchitis virus (IBV) activity of (-)-pinene: effect on nucleocapsid (N) protein.” Molecules, vol. 16, no. 2, 1044-54. January 2011. PubMed, doi: 10.3390/molecules16021044.