Essential Oils Research Summary
Are essential oils different than synthetically produced compounds ?
Structurally compounds may be recreated in a lab, as opposed to being distracted from the plant. However, there is ongoing “debate between odor psychologists and biochemists” as to if the “natural or vital energy” remains the same (1). As vague as a claim for the importance of “vital energy” may sound, there may actually be a huge difference between the geometrical structure of natural versus synthetic compounds.
Optional chemistry information:When a compound is created in a lab, it’s easy to replicate the chemical formula, but difficult to produce the same shape, due to the chemistry concept of isomerization. Isomers have the same molecular formula, but vary in the way that they are structurally put together. It can be compared to the idea the idea of an anagram where a given set of letters may produce the different words depending on the order they’re arranged in.
Click here to read an in depth explanation about this concept as it applies to essential oils ( also note that this site is linked to funding by a company that manufactures essential oils)
How are essential oils applied to the body?
Essential oils may be applied topically, ingested or inhaled. Inhalation of essential oils is referred to as aromatherapy. Aromatherapy is the most wildly researched segment of use, likely because it is known to be the safest. These oils are not regulated by the FDA so any form of ingestion is not medically approved and topical use may cause skin irritation when the oils are applied directly without proper dilution. Concentrated oils should never be applied directly to the skin.
The power of scent
Smell is known to be the most powerful human sense linked to both memory and emotion. It is known to have a strong influence on human behavior and sense of perception (2). Chemical receptors in the nose are directly linked to the limbic system. Unlike other forms of sensory input, there is little processing done before the signals directly enter the central nervous system. Numerous studies have shown how smell effects the brain. Specific scents alters brain wave patterns in repeatable ways, while others cause regions of the brain to increase in activity (5,6). A chart in the research summary, Influence of Fragrances on Human Psychophysiological Activity lists dozens of scents and the scientifically messured response listed ( see Figure 2).
Along with these studies of scent, various scientific journals do suggests that essential oils are especially important for disorders of the central nervous system (1), which makes sense since the linkage between scent and brain activity has been thoroughly investigated. This could mean essential oils truly have the potential to improve common co-morbid conditions of EDS related to the autonomic nervous system, like POTS and dysautonomia. The big question, which no one seems to be able to answer is whether essential oils themselves have special therapeutic benefits beyond a duplicated fragrance compound.
EDS Symptom Relief
“Studies of aromatherapy have shown mixed results. There have been some reports of improved mood, anxiety, sleep, nausea, and pain. Other studies reported that aromatherapy showed no change in symptoms (6).” Many EDS symptoms overlap with the potential benefits of essential oils, so they may be worth giving a try. The problem is that as of right now there isn’t a go to list for how to medically use the oils. The closest article I found is, Essential oils used in aromatherapy: A systemic review.
EDS Symptom Aggravation
Essential oils are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration which means that the ingredients don’t have to be listed or monitored, which could be a huge danger for anyone with potential for anaphylaxis or mast cell reactions. Aside from the lack of ingredient regulation, the oils are already known for their potential to trigger skin reactions in healthy individuals when not properly diluted. Because of all these unknowns, it seems that it would be a good idea for EDSers to trial a minimal amount of oil to test for allergic response before using anything near the recommended amount.
If you’re concerned about any possible adverse health effects and the safety of essential oils, check out this patient summary, “PDQ Integrative, Alternative, and Complementary Therapies Editorial Board” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0032518/
(there’s also a more in depth summary for health professionals available)
What does the research conclude?
Overall essential oils seem to work mode moderately for improving a specific set of physical and emotional problems. As described by Medical News Today, they have “various degrees of antimicrobial activity and are believed to have antiviral, nematicidal, antifungal, insecticidal, and antioxidant properties (4).” However, they don’t seem to be as effected as pharmaceutical options used to treat the same conditions. Still, the huge bonus to using essential oils is that unless you’re allergic, they lack any dangerous or even notable side effects. According to the scientific reports summarized in Essential oils used in aromatherapy: A systemic review.
“we can conclude that aromatherapy is natural and noninvasive gift of nature for humans. It’s not only the disease symptoms which are eradicated but the whole body is rejuvenated by the use of aroma. Aromatherapy regulates the physiological, spiritual and psychological upliftment for the new phase of life. This therapy is not only preventive but also can be used in the acute and chronic stages of disease. (1)”
Their role in regulation of emotions and mood seems to have even greater potential than improving physical symptoms. The research states that it’s harder to objectively quantify psychological roles of the oils. Hopefully, science will continue to explore natural medicine with an open mind and continue to provide quantifiable data for doctor and patient use.
The best guide I found for general use is listed in Medical News Today, were you can also find several related articles on essential oils.
Until more information can be provided, my personal conclusion is that essentials oils are safe for everything other than allergies and your budget. The oils are likely to have a mild to moderate effect on managing a subset of EDS symptoms, especially conditions related to mood and the central nervous system, likely due to the effect scent has on the limbic system.
I’ve tried using essential oils to manage pain, nausea, and energy levels. In terms of managing pain, I found the relief equivalent to any type of over the counter product that produces sensation on the skin. In my experience, any type of tingly, cold, or soothing sensation equally distracts me from mild-moderate pains. The distraction from the essential oils was no more effective or long lasting than my favorite joint cream, tiger balm, which is much less expensive so I be sticking to that.
As for improving nausea and vomiting, I personally had almost no luck. However, I do think that have some effect and would useful for situations when less urgent symptom management is needed. At the times when I need symptom relief, my digestive distress can barely be managed by multiple strong pharmaceuticals, so I’m probably just not the right candidate to them on.
I’ve had the most success using the oils to help regulate mood and energy levels. This recent rediscovery is what prompted the writing of this article. I began using essential oils as part of a mindset regulation/ enhancement course (which I’ll be explaining in more detail in a future post). The basic premiss I’ve been working with is to link as many senses as possible to several sought after mindsets. When I want to bring about more of a certain mindset, I think of a certain set of predetermined senses and emotions associated with that state of mind. I linked a few essential oils to various mindsets just to give them another try. I learned they actually seem to be the most effective way to get me to quickly shift mindsets for purposes of this exercise.
So the smelling of the oils definitely did seem to help trigger my mind to enter a certain type of state. But then again, this is an extremely biased way to report any type of meaningful claim. The states I chose were predetermined and linked to scents. I linked peppermint with an energized state and lavandar with a peaceful state. Since I already knew these scents were supposed to induce certain types of feelings and was regularly practicing a ritualistic visualization process along with using the oils, the results I experienced could have just as well been linked to other aspects of the process.
For all that essential oils are debated about, I do think there’s some very real and important science going on underlying layers of undocumented and exaggerated health claims. In my opinion, the next research steps would be to determine the difference if there is any between essential oil and compounds replicated in the lab. Possibly of even more importance, I think there needs to be further research on the how basic scent effects other systems of the body beyond the central nervous system, as well as long term studies which go beyond the current focus of momentary changes in brain activity.
What do you guys think? Have you had any experiences with essential oils and Ehlers- Danlos syndrome? Have you received any related information or suggestions from your healthcare providers?
Please share below or send a private message to firstname.lastname@example.org
*Disclaimer: always consult a doctor before altering any medical treatment*
Ali, Babar; Al-Wabel, Ali Naser; Ali; Shams, Saiba; Ahamad, Aftab; Alam Khan, Shah; Anwar, Firoz, Essential oils used in aromatherapy: A systemic review, Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine, Vol 5.7, 601-611, August 2015
Lally, Robin, “The Human Sense of Smell: It’s Stronger than We Think.” Rutgers Today, May 11, 2017
Vaughters, Angela, “Why Therapeutic Essential Oils Cannot be Made in a Lab.” July 1, 2013
*note this is not a scientific source, but a good explanation and the link is provided in this article*
Sullivan Debra, (medical review team – https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/reviewers) “Aromatherapy, or essential oil therapy, refers to a range of traditional, alternative or complementary therapies that use essential oils and other aromatic plant compounds.” Medical News Today, Newsletter, 20 March 2017
Sayorwan, Winai & Siripornpanich, Vorasith & Piriyapunyaporn, Teerut & Hongratanaworakit, Tapanee & Kotchabhakdi, Naiphinich & Ruangrungsi, Nijsiri. (2012). “The Effects of Lavender Oil Inhalation on Emotional States, Autonomic Nervous System, and Brain Electrical Activity.” Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand = Chotmaihet thangphaet. 95. 598-606.
Sowndhararajan, Kandhasamy, and Songmun Kim. “Influence of Fragrances on Human Psychophysiological Activity: With Special Reference to Human Electroencephalographic Response.” Ed. Helmut Viernstein. Scientia Pharmaceutica 84.4 (2016): 724–752. PMC. Web. 29 Aug. 2018.
PDQ Integrative, Alternative, and Complementary Therapies Editorial Board. “PDQ Integrative, Alternative, and Complementary Therapies Editorial Board.” March 9, 2007