Essential oils are valuable contributors to alternative medicine and the pharmaceutical, food, and cosmetic industries. There is a growing body of evidence that essential oils exert positive effects on human health.
Essential oils often have a strong odor and possess a complex composition, containing dozens to several hundred unique components. The vast majority of substances identified in essential oils include terpenes, modified terpenes(terpenoids), and combination polyphenol terpenoids (phenylpropanoids). Examples are:
- Limonene (present in citrus fruits)
- Myrcene (present in hops)
- Linanlol (present in lavender)
- Pinene (present in pine trees)
- Thymol (present in thyme, oregano)
- Carnosic acid (present in rosemary)
- Eugenol (present in cloves)
In Nature, essential oils play vital roles in:
- Attraction of insects to promote the dispersion of pollens and seeds.
- Act as anti-bacterials, anti-virals, anti-fungals, insecticides, herbicides
- Deter herbivores by reducing their appetite for such plants and attracting their predators
Essential Oils Musculoskeletal Health Benefits
Essential oils demonstrate potent antioxidant and ant-inflammatory properties.
Free radicals are unstable, high energy substances that attack DNA, proteins, and essential fats. Oxidative stress is a situation in which free radicals attack healthy cells, healthy proteins, and healthy fats. Many musculoskeletal diseases have been linked to oxidative stress and excessive free radical production. Examples include osteoporosis (weak bones), arthritis (joint disease), sarcopenia(muscle loss and weakness).
An antioxidant is any substance that helps protect the body against damage inflicted by free radicals. Essential oils have been shown to:
- Stop the formation of free radicals
- Transforms free radicals into less dangerous substances
- Scavenge and completely neutralizes free radicals
Healthy inflammation is important for the body’s natural defense against invaders (bacteria, viruses, etc), removal of unhealthy cells, and facilitating recovery form injury.
However, chronic unhealthy inflammation creates a scenario in which the body’s immune system unnecessarily attacks and destroy healthy tissue and normal cells. Chronic inflammation has been linked to osteoporosis (weak bones), arthritis (joint disease), sarcopenia(muscle loss and weakness), and tendinopathy (chronic tendon injury).
An anti-inflammatory is any substance that disrupts the inflammatory process. Essential oil components have been shown to target and neutralize multiple steps in the inflammatory pathway. For instance, research suggests essential oils:
- Decrease synthesis of pro-inflammatory signaling molecules (cytokines IL1-β, TNF-α, IL-6)
- Decrease production of enzymes that generate pain, swelling, and redness (↓COX-2, iNOS)
- Disrupt pro-inflammatory cellular communication pathways (↓NF-kB, MAPK)
1. Essential Oils Boost Bone Health
Researchers at the University of Bern in Switzerland examined the effect of pine oil on a rat model of osteoporosis. The investigators found, pine oil and pine oil components(borneol, thymol, and camphor) inhibited osteoclast(bone resorbing cell) function. Osteoporosis can be considered a disease of osteoclast hyperactivity.(Mühlbauer RC et al.Common herbs, essential oils, and monoterpenes potently modulate bone metabolism.Bone. 2003 Apr;32(4):372-80.)
2. Essential Oils Promote Tendon Health
Brazilian researchers examined the effects of the essential oil of Alpinia zerumbet on a rat model of tendon injury. The investigators found that Alpinia zerumbet oil increased in the number of fibroblasts and a higher percentage of type I collagen fibers (78%) compared with control collagen fibers (55%). The authors concluded that Alpinia zerumbet oil stimulated the process of tendon maturation, organization and tissue repair which gave it greater resistance and strength.(Santos-Júnior L et al. Effects of the essential oil of Alpinia zerumbet (Pers.) B.L. Burtt & R.M. Sm. on healing and tissue repair after partial Achilles tenotomy in rats. Acta Cir Bras. 2017 Jun;32(6):449-458.)
3. Essential Oils Enhance Joint Health
Iranian investigators examined the effects of aromatherapy massage with lavender essential oil on pain in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. The authors found that pain severity of the patients in the intervention group was significantly different immediately and 1 week after the intervention compared with their initial status and that of the control group.(Nasiri A et al. Effect of aromatherapy massage with lavender essential oil on pain in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee: A randomized controlled clinical trial. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2016 Nov;25:75-80.)
4. Essential Oils Support Muscle Health
Brazilian researchers examined the effects of essential oil of tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) on a rat model of muscle injury. The investigators found that tea tree oil significantly decreased inflammatory infiltrates into the zone of injury.(Morsoleto FM. Administration of essential oil of tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) in experimental muscle injury by phonoforesis. Microsc Microanal. 2015 Aug;21 Suppl 5:79-80.)
Essential oils generally recognized as safe when used externally and when ingested at recommended doses. As with any consideration of any form of supplementation consult your healthcare provide prior to use if you are pregnant, nursing, taking any medications or have any medical conditions. Discontinue use and consult your doctor is any adverse reactions occur.
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