April 13 2017

Essential Oils

It can be challenging to find good scientific studies on essential oils. Some of the reasons for this are that it is difficult to conduct blinded studies using essential oils because they are aromatic with specific scents; also essential oils are not standardized and it can be hard to find funding for these studies. But some good ones exist. This is one of them. This study was looking at at the effects of aromatherapy on symptoms of dysmenorrhea (painful menstrual periods often accompanied with heavy blood flow, a condition from which many women suffer). 

Here are my take home points of the study as well as my thoughts on essential oils:

  • The study was a randomized placebo-controlled trial in which the study investigators explored  the effects of aromatherapy on menstrual cramps and dysmenorrhea symptoms.
  • The study subjects were 67 female healthy college students NOT on any contraceptive medication who rated their menstrual cramps to be greater than 6 on a 10 point pain scale.
  • The above women were randomized to three groups- the experimental group who received aromatherapy (a blend of lavender, clary sage, and rose essential oils mixed in almond oil as a carrier oil), a placebo group that received just the carrier oil (almond oil) and a third group, the control group, that received nothing.
  • The aromatherapy was administered in the form of a topical abdominal massage. The placebo group received this massage also (but only with again, almond oil).
  • The results of the study were that the menstrual cramps and overall severity of dysmenorrhea were significantly lowered in the aromatherapy group compared to the other two groups. This significant decrease occurred during BOTH on the first and second day of menstruation, after treatment, when the pain and dysmenorrhea severity were re-assessed.

Bottom Line

This study, despite its small population size, is a good one, with finding that strongly suggest that aromatherapy using topically applied lavender, rose, and clary sage, is effective in reducing the severity of menstrual cramps and may provide a great non toxic alternative to women who suffer from this condition.

Some personal thoughts on the study:

I love essential oils and have been using them regularly for over 20 years; they play a big part of my health and beauty regimen. I also sometimes recommend them to clients and patients as part of an individualized holistic treatment plan, to help address a number of health issues.

That said, when it comes to using essential oils for treating medical conditions, there are are a few things I think are important to mention which sometimes get left out of the discussion in the (understandably) increasing interest in essential oil use.

  1. It is important to remember the importance of addressing the UNDERLYING issue of one’s health challenge rather than just using essential oils to treat the symptoms. For example, if you suffer from recurring cough and respiratory congestion, rather than just chronically using eucalyptus oil to deal with your symptoms, I highly recommend working with a trusted health professional to identify and address the underlying reason of why you are having the respiratory symptoms in the first place.
  2. It is also extremely important to choose top-quality essential oils. Essential oils, similar to dietary supplements currently, are quite un-regulated and so what you think you are getting might not be at all what is in the bottle. To avoid this issue, I recommend  always choosing organic essential oils. Essential oils are extremely concentrated products and it is vital to avoid topical, inhalation, or internal use of chemical toxin laden products for your health. Choosing organic oils is one way to do so. I also recommend researching the brand of essential oil you are considering—check out the website of the company to look at their Mission Statement and their production notes so that you ensure that the essential oil you are buying is of good quality. To get recommendations of brands, I suggest speaking with holistic health professionals, especially aromatherapists, who use essential oils regularly in their practice.
  3.  If pregnant or breast feeding, it is always a good idea to research the essential oil you are considering using, to make sure it is safe for use. I recommend doing this also if you take any medications, no matter who you are and if pregnant, breast feeding or not, to ensure there are no adverse interactions between your intended essential oil and your medication. Again working with a holistic health professional can be helpful to help with your individual situation. 

So which essential oils should you use?

I think that is really personal and it can change also from season to season and depending on what your health goals are!

To find an essential oil that could be beneficial for you right now, as well as to test and increase your knowledge about some great essential oil options, here is a fun quiz:

Dance Video:

Essential oils can be an important part of one’s self care practice. This piece is a “hybrid” dance/talk I recently on self love.  It is called Renaissance. Please enjoy.

Choreography: Tumi Johnson

Dancer: Tumi Johnson

Music: Jack Kamen

Poem: “Renaissance” by Tumi Johnson

Videography: Zare Manojlovic

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