Essential oils have long been claimed to relax those who use them, but new research is helping maximize that effect.

You may have heard a free-spirit or two in your time mention the ‘power of essential oils’. This is usually met with either an eyeroll or a spark of curiosity.

You may have even dabbled with a few oils of your own, but up until now there just hasn’t been a lot of research to back it up.

How much should you use? What fragrances? Does it actually have an effect on the body or is it a placebo?

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Science has donned its red cape and is on the way to helping us better understand essential oils, and hopefully provide an inexpensive but effective way to improve our moods.

New research out of Monash University suggests that certain oils can indeed benefit the mood – they actually just published the study in the journal Neurochemistry International.

Extracted from plants, essential oils are mixtures of volatile compounds. They can be released into the air and inhaled at room temperature, and are readily taken up to the brain.

The study focused on understanding how the oils affected the brain, and how we can better use this quick pathway for therapeutic aromatherapy.

“Achieving benefits requires understanding which types are best and what dose is required,” said Professor Louise Bennett, the study’s lead author from the Monash University School of Chemistry.

“We believe the interaction of essential oils with the naturally high levels of ascorbate (e.g. Vitamin C) in the brain can produce either anti-oxidant or pro-oxidant effects. It is the anti-oxidant, but not the pro-oxidant effects, that lead to the mood benefit.”

The study was measuring the ‘anxiolytic’ effects of these oils on the body, which refers to a medication or other intervention which reduces anxiety.

Lavender in particular has been consistently shown to relax and improve mood, and now researchers believe it is due to the strong anti-oxidant effect in the brain. The same goes for rosemary.

On the other hand, oils that drive pro-oxidant effects, such as Juniper berry, are better used for potential anti-microbial reasons – rather than for anxiety or mood.

“For the first time, this work paves the way to select and classify EOs according to their mechanistic properties and to potentially develop inexpensive but effective therapies for the brain,” Professor Bennett said.

“We are working towards developing EOs for a range of applications including: treating depression and anxiety, infection, inflammation and potentially even cancer,” Professor Bennett said.

Researchers are continuing to delve deeper into the science behind essential oils, and hope to pinpoint dosage as well as which oils should be used for what purposes – so stay tuned.

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