Does Using Essential Oils For Depression Work?
Updated December 13, 2018
Reviewer Lauren Guilbeault
Essential oils are gaining popularity as remedies for some conditions, including depression. While at first the idea of using essential oils for depression was based on hearsay and folk medicine, it has gained enough popularity to attract a growing number of scientists. These researchers study both the chemical composition of these oils and the reported effects that they have on individuals to answer the question, "Does use essential oils for depression work?"
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils have existed for well over a thousand years. They have been used throughout Eurasia for fragrance, cleaning, and preserving food, and are still used to these ends throughout the world today. There is also a growing interested in studying the efficacy of essential oils in medicinal roles to treat everything from respiratory disorders to mood disorders.
The oils themselves are concentrated extracts of different kinds of plants, including fruits, different kinds of grasses, and even some kinds of wood. Different parts of the plants can yield oil, including seeds, fruit peels, leaves, and blossoms. In some cases, different parts of the same plant will yield essential oils that are chemically different from one another.
Oils can be extracted from the plant in many different ways, usually using different temperatures and pressures or various solvents to extract the oils. Oils are then used in aromatherapy, in massage therapy, or ingested.
Because essential oils can be extracted from different parts of the plant, and are extremely potent, you should not assume that an essential oil shares properties that you associate with the plant that the oil came from. You may not want to ingest an essential oil that was extracted from a plant that you would eat.
Further, it is important to use essential oils as intended, or with the guidance of an expert. When used correctly, essential oils are not dangerous. However, most of them need to be diluted in water or oil for most purposes to avoid skin irritation or other kinds of reaction. You should also make sure that you are not allergic to the essential oils that you are using. For example, if you are allergic to nuts, it is best to avoid essential almond oil. You may not be allergic to the extract, but it is best to be safe. If you aren't aware of allergies, you can safely check for most allergies with "the patch test." Apply a small amount of diluted essential oil to a small area of your skin to see if there is a reaction. Most essential oils are not taken from plants that cause lived threatening allergic reactions, except almond.
Finally, it is important not to confuse essential oils with fragrance oils or massage oils. These cheaper products may or may not contain essential oils and often contain artificial scents.
Research On Essential Oils
As mentioned in the introduction, the recent popularity of essential oils has to lead to a large body of research on the efficacy of essential oils.
The largest issue with this research is that it is difficult and expensive to measure a person's emotional state objectively. As a result, the impact of essential oils on depression is largely determined through surveys which can be influenced by placebo effects and biases.
Furthermore, as mentioned above, essential oils come from a wide variety of plants, a wide variety of plant parts, and from a wide variety of extraction methods. They can also be diluted to different degrees and in different media. This huge range of possibilities makes a scientific consensus on the efficacy of essential oils very difficult.
Things get more complicated when one considers that the modes of using essential oils are otherwise pleasant. For example, are the essential oils making people feel better, or is the pleasant smell? Are the essential oils making people feel better, or is the massage? Some studies do more to address these areas of confusion than others.
One study, for example, recorded how forty participants rated their feelings compared to a control group but also recorded biological metrics like pulse rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, and temperature. Further, this study involved a transdermal application rather than massage therapy. This means that the essential oils were absorbed through the skin, but the application did not involve massage.
This study did find that a blend of bergamot and lavender essential oils both made participants report feeling more relaxed and resulted in decreased blood pressure, pulse, and breath rate suggesting that the essential oils helped the participants. Unfortunately, the participants in this study did not have depression, leaving room for one to wonder whether someone with diagnosed depression would have reacted in the same way.
Bergamot was also used in a trial of over fifty individuals in the waiting room of a mental health clinic in Utah. While these individuals may have been more accurately representative of the kinds of people who could most benefit from using essential oils for depression, the study did not use any objective metrics to measure their emotions before during or after exposure to the essential oils. The study did find, however, that participants did report their moods improving.
Lavender was also one of the essential oils considered by another team of researchers who also looked at other oils including lemon and sage. This article does things a little differently, however, and looks at the chemical components of the essential oils rather than running tests with the oils themselves. It does find, however, that chemical compounds in these essential oils are known to provide relief for people with depression.
Another study looking at the use of damask rose essential oils didn't use patients with diagnosed depression, but used patients undergoing dialysis and were, therefore, more likely than the average individual to be experiencing situational depression. This study also found aromatherapy to be beneficial for those who practiced it compared to a control group who didn't. Unfortunately, this study relied entirely on the participants' descriptions of their feelings, not on biological markers like a pulse.
Similarly, one study looked at the effects of bergamot and almond essential oils on the family members of individuals in intensive care. This study didn't find a statistically significant decrease in depression. It is particularly interesting to note that this study used bergamot essential oil, which other studies had found to lower symptoms of depression, but this study didn't - possibly because this study also used almond oil. If I'd exactly this kind of result that helps us to understand exactly how much we still have to learn about essential oils.
While researchers still have different opinions of essential oils, no study has found that they do any harm. While much of the good of essential oils may come from the pleasant smell, or from the pleasures of massage, or from placebo, the general trend is that essential oils to help people with depression. As a result, many healthcare providers advocate for the use of essential oils for depression even though the scientific community has yet to make up their minds.
Essential Oils And Depression
Just as there are different kinds of essential oils, there are different kinds of depression. While some doctors use essential oils to treat some patients of depression, not all doctors recommend it in all cases - at least, not on its own.
Depression can range from mild to severe. It can also be caused by some different things, ranging from traumatic experiences to chemical imbalances. Some doctors recommend essential oils for mild or situational depression; they usually recommend more conventional therapies for more severe cases of depression.
Usually, treatment for depression includes a combination of prescription medication and talk-therapy. Most doctors don't advise against essential oils provided it is done along with, not in place of, these other treatments. Some essential oils may interact with some medications, so be sure to let your doctor know if you plan on using essential oils while on medication.
Essential oils typically used in the treatment of depression include lemon and other citrus fruits, bergamot, and lavender. When used for the treatment of depression, these oils tend to be used in aromatherapy or massage therapy rather than ingested.
Depression is a very difficult condition to live with. This is especially true for people who experience depression but have not yet been diagnosed due to the strict requirements for diagnosis. Whether or not you have been diagnosed, sometimes it seems like nothing makes it better, but you would be willing to try anything.
While it hasn't been definitively proven that essential oils help with depression, many people find that it works for them, and the scientific community is beginning to agree.
You should consider trying essential oils for your depression, but you shouldn't let them be your only means of managing your symptoms. The treatment of depression usually involves a combination of prescription medication and talk-therapy. While you need to be diagnosed with depression to get a prescription, you can always talk to a therapist or counselor.
For information on how you can benefit from talking to a therapist or counselor about your depression online, visit https://www.betterhelp.com/start.