Listen to this blog in less than 10 minutes below.
Listen to my blog on Healing, Health, & Wellness on “The Multi-Factorial Epigenetic Effects of Essential Oils for Supporting Immunity, Cellular Vitality, and Aging” in less than 6 minutes below.
The Multifaceted, Cellular Upgrading Effect of Essential Oils
Essential oils are holistic, multifaceted healing tools that support immune and body health in comprehensive and multi-dimensional ways. These secondary metabolites have been shown to inhibit unwanted microbes, support the microbiome, modulate cellular support and repair, and influence emotional, biological, and physiological responses.
In Part I, I discussed some specific ways essential oils were able to influence and alter our cellular functions at the DNA level. I also highlighted a few reviews that explored the immunoregulatory effects of these secondary metabolites on various cellular pathways. Furthermore, essential oils can also address causative factors as well as prevent triggers contributing to autoimmunity. In this way, they act as epigenetic modulators.
On my Healing, Health, and Wellness blog, I provided a very simple analogy to better understand epigenetics. I also used this analogy to explain how essential oils can “upgrade and update” our cellular machinery to optimize its function.
Now, I will review some more research that explores how essential oils impact our cellular processes in many versatile ways from several current studies. For those who want more scientific explanations, I’ve included excerpts on mechanisms in italics.
Essential Oils In Vitro Effects on Genetic Pathways
1. Effect of Essential Oils on Genes and Signaling Pathways of Human Skin Cells
In this study, researchers analyzed the effect of essential oils on 21,224 genes associated with inflammation and tissue remodeling in a pre-inflamed culture model. The oils investigated were rosemary, wild orange, and a blend (wintergreen, camphor, peppermint, blue tansy, German chamomile, Helichrysum, and Osmanthu). They reported that the essential oils all “diversely modulated” global gene expression. They reported the following details:
Ingenuity Pathway Analysis showed that the oils affected numerous critical genes and signaling pathways.
Specifically, rosemary oil influenced processes involved in cancer signaling and metabolism; orange oil affected processes related to cancer signaling, immunomodulation, and metabolism; the blend influenced inflammation, immunomodulation, and wound healing.
These findings are largely consistent with the existing literature, supporting the beneficial biological activities of these essential oils. Our study provides the first evidence indicating how these essential oils affect genome-wide gene expression in human skin cells and establishes a basis for further research into their biological mechanisms of action.
Source: Essential oils diversely modulate genome-wide gene expression in human dermal fibroblasts. Cogent Medicine. February 2017; 4(1).
2. Evaluation of Essential Oils on Human Cells on mRNA Expression via Human Liver Cancer Cells
In this study, researchers evaluated 31 different essential oils on gene expression changes using RNA-seq. (RNA-seq is a pretty sweet method to determine how gene expression is modulated.) They found that several transcription factors (proteins that turn genes “on” and “off”) were differently regulated by exposure to essential oils. The authors concluded:
Importantly, genes and pathways identified through this study suggest that essential oils induce pathways that have the potential to promote cell growth and self-defense, or induce cell death, depending on the context. Follow-up experiments further validating and verifying the biological activity of essential oils in multiple cell types need to be performed.
Some highlights mentioned in the research article included:
Citrus oils were found to induce metallothioneins, proteins which bind metals and influence oxidative stress. This could mean they could affect our cellular cleansing and health processes.
Lemongrass uniquely up-regulated 61 genes. These included effecting several histone subunits (protein components in which DNA winds and regulates genetic expression) and heat shock proteins (“chaperones” of cellular proteins that help with cellular stress).
Source: Effects of Essential Oils on Transcriptional Regulation in Human Cells. Medicinal and Aromatic Plants. January 2015.
Essential Oils in Living Things and Human Trials
3. Aromatherapy Impact on the Central Nerve System (CNS) Mechanisms on Associated Genes
A 2013 study on aromatherapy sought to better understand the mechanisms behind the documented psychological effects of essential oils. Although inhalation of essential oils has been shown to stimulate the brain and exert an effect on neurotransmitters (e.g. serotonin, dopamine, etc.), molecular pathways were ambiguous at the time. The authors explored hypotheses and found a possible signaling pathway from the olfactory system to the central nervous system. By effecting signaling pathways, key molecular functions of the cells and organ systems would be modified. The authors stated:
Several hypotheses have been proposed regarding the therapeutic mechanism of depression. These have mainly centered on possible deficiencies in monoamines, neurotrophins, the neuroendocrine system, c-AMP, cation channels as well as neuroimmune interactions and epigenetics, however the precise mechanism or mechanisms related to depression have yet to be elucidated. In the current study, the effectiveness of aromatherapy for alleviating psychiatric disorders was examined using data collected from previously published studies and our unpublished data. A possible signaling pathway from olfactory system to the central nerve system and the associated key molecular elements of aromatherapy are also proposed.
Source: Aromatherapy and the central nerve system (CNS): therapeutic mechanism and its associated genes. Curr Drug Targets. July 2013;14(8):872-9.
4. Epigenetic Mechanisms of Integrative Medicine: Aromatherapy
Finally, a recent review sought to validate integrative medicine’s impact on holistic health, which has long been unverified in conventional scientific terms. The authors believed the mechanisms could now be explainable via epigenetics. The article discussed several CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) therapies. An excerpt on the section on aromatherapy is highlighted below:
The use of essences and fragrances harvested from essential oils in treating psychological disorders has recently gained popularity, yet the underlying mechanism remains elusive . This kind of approach for treating psychological disorders is based on the premise that the inhalation of certain fragrances tends to trigger an olfactory response, which in turn results in release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine that can regulate mood and behavior. It is suspected that such effects may have an epigenetic basis . Studies show that aromatherapy massage proves to be more effective than regular massage therapy in relieving menopause-related psychological symptoms in pre- and postapplication intervention groups in Iranian women as compared to controls . While the dynamics of menopause and menopausal symptoms are governed by the epigenetic regulation of certain genes , it is likely that aromatherapy might be targeting the epigenetic signature to relieve menopausal symptoms. In an interesting study, rats stressed from sleep deprivation were exposed to the aroma of roasted coffee beans and it was found that several genes responsive to coffee aroma or stress were differentially expressed compared to controls . Upregulation of genes such as nerve growth factor receptor suggests an antioxidant activity; glucocorticoid-induced receptor gene upregulation suggests anxiolytic effects , and so forth. These results indicate that the stress-relieving properties of coffee aroma may operate through epigenetic mechanisms.
Source: Epigenetic Mechanisms of Integrative Medicine. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2017; 2017: 4365429.
Now, the Coolest Part Saved for Last…
5. They Effect Cellular Processes Based on the Individual’s Needs
In October’s Rally, I presented some evidence that the metabolomics of essential oils were individualized and impacted the biochemical pathways of individuals differently. (The metabolome is the collection of all metabolites from cellular processes in a cell, tissue, organ or organism.) This means, there is scientific proof that essential oils do “what they need to do,” in your body. In fact, in several participants, no effect was found in the particular measurements studied, and there were minimal disturbances and many benefits reported by the subjects. The abstract reads:
Aromatherapy, a form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) that uses essential oils through inhalation, is believed to enhance physical and spiritual conditions. Although clinical studies suggest that the use of essential oils may have therapeutic potential, evidence for the efficacy of aromatherapy in treating medical conditions remains poor, with a particular lack of studies employing rigorous analytical methods that capture its identifiable impact on human biology. Here, we report a comprehensive metabolomics study that reveals metabolic changes in people after exposed to aroma inhalation for 10 continuous days. In this study, the metabolic alterations in urine of 31 females with mild anxiety symptoms exposed to aerial diffusion of aromas were measured by GC-TOF-MS and UPLC-Q-TOF-MS analyses. A significant alteration of metabolic profile in subjects responsive to essential oil was found, which is characterized by the increased levels of arginine, homocysteine, and betaine, as well as decreased levels of alcohols, carbohydrates, and organic acids in urine. Notably, the metabolites from tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle and gut microbial metabolism were significantly altered. This study demonstrates that the metabolomics approach can capture the subtle metabolic changes resulting from exposure to essential oils, which may lead to an improved mechanistic understanding of aromatherapy.
Source: Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2013; (2013), Article ID 356381. You can read this full study for free here.
My database provides further evidence through references and resources on how essential oils modulate our physical, emotional, and biochemical processes. Now with the combination of studying in vitro effects with human effects, we can begin to understand that these powerful secondary metabolites can help to modify our gene expression to influence cellular health and optimize our whole-body wellness.
Applying What Your Reading: NEW SERIES
Later this week, look for my new “Weekend Oily Tips.” These new series will provide quick take-home, take-aways from my weekly blogs from earlier in the week (such as this one) and/or just basic fun-facts and uses I found that I want to share on essential oils. It will take all the science I’m throwing your way and provide you with practical ways to implement it with the essential oils you love! Let me know what you think!
Disclaimer: This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
Thanks So much!
Thank you! 🙂
Love your articles Dr. Sarah. You bring the real truth re health and essential oils. Thank you!
Thank you so much for your kind comment, Dawn. Much appreciated! 🙂 Happy oiling!
Thanks for sifting through the research for us! We trust you!
Thank you Lori!
Excellent info! Thank you for your research, time and attention in posting this!
Thank you, Joann!