Essential oils are loaded with potent bioactive compounds that combat inflammation and infection, according to a recent review published in the Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research.
Researchers Tanu Bansal and Kaur Harpeet from the Lovely Professional University in India examined the medicinal uses of essential oils for the prevention and treatment of various ailments including chronic pain, diabetes, epilepsy and cancer.
What are essential oils?
Essential oils are the concentrated oil extracts of naturally aromatic plants, such as lavender, rosemary, peppermint and sage, that are obtained through distillation or cold-pressing.
Essential oils are primarily used in aromatherapy to induce relaxation, regulate mood and ease fatigue. Currently, there are more than 90 essential oils available. Some of the most common oils include chamomile, jasmine, lavender and eucalyptus.
But essential oils can also be used for medicinal purposes. Bansal and Harpeet outlined the use of essential oils as natural antiviral, antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic agents. For instance, tree wormwood oil extract is known to possess antiviral properties that can fight off herpes type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes type 2 (HSV-2).
Meanwhile, oregano oil extract is a potent antibacterial agent against pathogenic strains, such as Escherichia coli and Salmonella enterica. The essential oils of plants like basil, nutmeg and oregano also possess antioxidants that can reduce inflammation and prevent cellular damage caused by free radicals.
Bansal and Harpeet also found evidence to suggest that the oral administration of essential oils like cumin, fennel and cinnamon can lower blood sugar levels and regulate insulin production in diabetic individuals. Moreover, essential oils that contain the citrus compound D-limonene have also been found to possess anti-carcinogenic properties that can inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
Medicinal uses of essential oils
The following are some essential oils with known medicinal benefits.
Tea tree oil
A 2006 review published in the Clinical Microbiology Reviews showed that numerous components of tea tree oil have antimicrobial, antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties. Experiments conducted to explore the potency of tea tree oil against infections revealed that it inhibited the growth of Gram-positive bacteria including Micrococcus and Enterococcus faecalis. Tea tree oil also altered the permeability of Candida albicans, a type of pathogenic yeast.
Eucalyptus essential oil is a popular ingredient in lip balms, massage oils and personal hygiene products due to its ability to provide a cooling sensation. As a cooling agent, eucalyptus essential oil is also known to relieve coughs and clogged sinuses. Moreover, eucalyptus has anti-inflammatory effects against muscle strains thanks to the plant compounds called tannins.
A recent study published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine also demonstrated that the essential oil of eucalyptus leaves has antimicrobial activity against Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria including Staphylococcus aureus and E. coli.
Thyme oil extract is commonly used to enhance the flavor of foods, beverages and confectionery products. Like many essential oils, it is also used to create fragrances, soaps and body lotions.
According to a 2006 study published in the Sultan Qaboos University Medical Journal, the antimicrobial and antiviral potentials of thyme are due to its numerous plant compounds, such as flavonoids, thymol, eugenol, aliphatic phenol, saponin, luteolin and tetramethoxylated flavones.
The study revealed that thyme oil extract was able to stop the growth of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a Gram-negative pathogen that causes urinary tract infection. Similarly, thyme oil extract also inhibited the growth of C. albicans. (Related: Evaluating the safety and efficacy of Zataria multiflora (Shirazi thyme) as cough medicine.)
Many herbs possess antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-viral properties that neutralize disease-causing pathogens. Extracting essential oils of medicinal herbs can yield potent remedies for infections. However, some commercially available essential oils may be diluted with alcohol and chemical components that affect their efficacy, so be sure to look for 100 percent natural essential oils.