When we’re tired, most of us reach for a cup of coffee for an energy boost. And that’s not bad – coffee has a lot of health benefits! We all have our favorite ways to try and summon energy. Some of them work, and some of them tend to wear off, after a while. When it comes to trying to support the body, there’s a lot of talk about essential oils. Whether that’s for energy, digestion, or pain relief, most of us have at least heard of “essential oils.” Maybe it’s from a friend who sells them, influencers on social media, or the debate that inherently comes with “alternative therapies.” Essential oils come up frequently these days. But what are essential oils, how do they work, and are any proven to work for boosting energy?
What are Essential Oils, and how do They Work?
According to a German journal of biosciences, essential oils are chemical compounds that protect the plant against predators, pathogens, UV light, and water loss. They also may attract pollinators – and people, due to their alluring scent! The “essential” part of the name refers to the fact that these compounds give plants their characteristic scent – not that they are essential to the plant’s survival.  Cleveland Clinic explains that essential oils are powerful botanic medicine. It takes massive amounts of plant material to make the oils. In fact, it takes 250 pounds of lavender to create just 1 pound of lavender essential oil. 
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (a branch of the NIH), explains that each oil has a unique composition of chemicals, which dictates the absorption rate, health effects, and aroma. These chemicals vary from species to species and plant to plant, depending largely on the environment in which they are grown. 
When you inhale essential oils, the scent molecules hit receptors that send signals to the olfactory bulb in your limbic system. The amount absorbed varies, but it enters and impacts the limbic system. What does the limbic system do? It has a wide range of effects, impacting emotions and memory, sexual stimulation, learning, behavior, motivation, long-term memory, and the sense of smell. The limbic system is also linked to the endocrine and autonomic nervous systems and certain survivalist behaviors. It also impacts heart rate, blood pressure, feelings of anxiety, and circadian rhythm.   
Not All Oils Are Made Equal
Because essential oils aren’t part of a regulated industry, what you get from one bottle can differ dramatically from what you get from another bottle.  This is an important consideration when selecting essential oils, and it contributes to the ongoing debate surrounding their effects. Not only are some oils synthetic, but their chemical makeup can also differ. Therefore, it is crucial to exercise caution and choose essential oils carefully.
So how do you ensure the oil you’re getting is good?
- Check for purity. You don’t want an oil labeled “essence of xyz.” Instead, look for one that bears the plant’s Latin name. Also, avoid any additional or added “fragrance oils.”
- Check for quality. Make sure that the oils you’re getting are chemical-free. The best oils are ones acquired through either distillation or mechanical cold pressing. Johns Hopkins also points out that because the plant oils are so concentrated, they can eat away at plastic, mixing the plastic toxins with the oils. That’s why it’s best to get oils that are contained in dark glass bottles.
- Research the company. It’s best to buy from companies that are well-known and reputable. Opting for established companies that have been in the industry for several years is a good practice.
- Research prices. Like other products, the prices of essential oils can vary significantly. Look at the median average price range of the oils you’re interested in. If the cost of a particular bottle falls considerably below that range, it’s likely an indication of lower quality.
What are Some Essential Oils that May Help with Energy?
We’ve all heard what seem like extravagant claims about the effectiveness of this or that essential oil working for this or that ailment. It’s natural to feel skeptical about such assertions and wonder if they are exaggerated or unrealistic. That said, certain essential oils have shown promising results in studies related to boosting energy levels and impacting other areas that influence energy. Some of these oils follow. Although most people who use essential oils don’t have negative reactions, it’s probably a good idea to avoid those derived from your food allergies. In other words, if you have an allergy to lemons, you might want to think twice about using lemon oil.
Most people know about this one. A study published via PubMed points out that mint is one of the most famous natural herbs used for exercise performance. The researchers go on to say that peppermint oil added to mineral water had positive effects on delaying fatigue, improving endurance, and increasing brain oxygen concentration.  Cleveland Clinic also credits peppermint with lifting moods, fighting fatigue, improving digestion, and reducing headaches.  Addressing these issues can improve energy levels and support better sleep.
Things to watch out for with peppermint oil: The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) says not to use peppermint oil for children under 30 months old (about two and a half years). It also shouldn’t be applied to the feet of children under 12. Those with gallbladder disease, severe liver damage, gallstones, and chronic heartburn should avoid taking peppermint oil except in a highly diluted form under professional guidance. If taking peppermint orally or using it topically, always make sure it’s diluted with a carrier oil, like olive, coconut, or avocado oil. 
Rosemary has a stimulating effect on the autonomic nervous system, increasing blood pressure and respiratory rates. Participants in a 2013 study also reported feeling more active, fresher, and less drowsy.  The Alexandria Journal of Medicine also found lavender and rosemary essential oils supported short-term memory.  When you give your mind a break from intense mental exertion, it alleviates mental stress and frees up energy for other pursuits. Rosemary also has demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce the burden of inflammation on the body. By addressing inflammation, the body can direct more energy to other essential functions and activities.
Things to watch out for with rosemary oil: Be careful not to take in large amounts of rosemary oil, as it could lead to vomiting, sun sensitivity, and skin redness. Medicinal amounts of rosemary taken orally could also potentially lead to a miscarriage, and there isn’t enough reliable information to say whether topical use is safe during pregnancy. Remember, whatever the mother takes in while breastfeeding can potentially make its way into her milk, so it’s also best to avoid medicinal amounts of rosemary while nursing. Those with bleeding and seizure disorders should also avoid rosemary in amounts beyond what’s typically in foods, as it may make them worse. 
Citrus Essential Oils
A precautionary note: Citrus oils can increase the chances of sunburn, so avoid applying topically before going outside.
A study done in 2008 showed that lemon reliably enhances positive mood.  It’s also known for reducing feelings of anxiety, depression, and pain.  Another study, done in 2009, showed significant improvements in Alzheimer’s patients’ cognitive function when given aromatherapy for 28 days (about 4 weeks), with lemon being one of the four scents they were exposed to. 
As stated above, when your mind can function with ease and clarity, your body can allocate energy to other areas, resulting in reduced mental stress. Conversely, mental stress also depletes energy reserves. Therefore, by minimizing mental stress, you can preserve and redirect valuable energy to other aspects of your life.
Lemon is also believed to help with headaches, digestion, circulation, and lymphatic flow. When those last three are sluggish, they add physical stress to the body and can result in low energy. When cleared up, more energy can be an indirect effect.
Things to watch out for with lemon oil: unlike the oils mentioned above, there has been no recorded danger to infants, children, or pregnant women.  The only things to watch out for are, as always, allergies, and the fact that, as a citrus oil, it can lead to far quicker sunburns.
A study in 2016 showed improvement in exercise performance and respiratory function in a small-scale test group after inhaling sweet orange essential oils.  Orange essential oils have also been shown to decrease anxiety and stress, improve lymphatic flow, and soothe the nervous system. Improving lymphatic flow helps relieve physical stress and improves nutrient delivery and detoxification.
Things to watch out for with orange oil: as always, don’t eat a food or use an oil you’re allergic to.
Unlike the above, Bergamot has not been shown in tests to help improve energy. Bergamot is, however, a citrus and helps with stress and pain.
How to use Essential oils
Everyone has their favorite way of using essential oils. Here are a few ideas on how to get started.
Aromatherapy is the most common way people use essential oils, and it’s also the simplest. Whether you take a direct whiff from the bottle or use a diffuser, aromatherapy offers easy and effective ways to experience the benefits of essential oils. Here are a few additional ways to use essential oils:
- Cotton Ball Inhalation: Apply a few drops of essential oil onto a cotton ball and inhale the aroma as it evaporates.
- Diffuser Jewelry: Wear jewelry specifically designed to hold and release the scent of essential oils throughout the day.
- Steam Inhalation: Add a few drops of essential oil to a bowl of hot water, then lean over the bowl, covering your head and the bowl with a towel to capture the steam and essential oil vapors.
- Perfume/Cologne: Create your own personalized scent by combining essential oils with a carrier oil and applying it as a natural perfume or cologne.
- Aroma Stick: Use an aroma stick or inhaler tube designed for essential oils by adding your preferred oils and inhaling the aroma directly from the stick.
Ensure that any essential oil you use topically is diluted with a carrier oil like coconut oil or another one you’re not allergic to. You can apply it using a rollerball bottle or by adding it to your next massage. As a side note, if you stimulate the area before applying the oil, it helps the body absorb the oil better.
Ingesting the Oils
You can ingest certain oils, like peppermint, as mentioned before, but only if they are processed correctly, without additives and chemicals. Depending on the oil and purity, some oils can be ingested in teas, supplements, and recipes. If you’re using these oils in recipes, be sure you know the amount to use. And, unless you know what you’re doing – or you know someone who does – it’s safest not to ingest essential oils.
Although essential oils can be beneficial and serve as a natural means of supporting the body, they aren’t the sole solution for all health concerns. While natural substances may be preferable to pharmaceutical drugs, relying solely on them is akin to having a limited perspective. Getting tested is the best way to know how to help your body. For comprehensive testing and personalized guidance, reach out to a Wellness Way clinic today!
- 11 Essential Oils: Their Benefits and How To Use Them: Cleveland Clinic
- Essential oils – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Essential Oils: NIH
- Limbic System: What to Know: WebMD
- The limbic system: NIH
- Effects of essential oils on central nervous system: Focus on mental health: NIH
- Study of quantitative and qualitative variations in essential oils of Sicilian Rosmarinus officinalis L: NIH
- The effects of peppermint on exercise performance: NIH
- NAHA Safety Note for Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) Essential Oil: National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy
- Effects of Inhaled Rosemary Oil on Subjective Feelings and Activities of the Nervous System: NIH
- The effect of the essential oils of lavender and rosemary on the human short-term memory: Alexandria Journey of Medicine
- Rosemary – Uses, Side Effects, and More: WebMD
- Olfactory influences on mood and autonomic, endocrine, and immune function: NIH
- Effect of aromatherapy on patients with Alzheimer’s disease: NIH
- Lemon Oil: Health Benefits and How to Use It: WebMD
- The effect of inhalation of Citrus sinensis flowers and Mentha spicata leave essential oils on lung function and exercise performance: a quasi-experimental uncontrolled before-and-after study: NIH