One of the fastest-growing areas of alternative medicine is "essential oils."
Essential oils are at least something real; it's one step better than homeopathy, for example, which is charging money for water and/or sugar pills from which all biologically active compounds have been removed by serial dilution. These oils are concentrated extracts of plants containing aromatic compounds, which the plants themselves make for a variety of reasons, including discouraging insects from eating the leaves, attracting pollinators, or encouraging animals to eat the fruits and disperse the seeds.
The claim is that these oils have positive health effects of all sorts, but when you start looking deeper, you find that a lot of times, what the essential oil companies have to say is pretty vague. Here's one typical example, and a few representative quotes from the website:
- What are essential oils good for? Since long ago, people have used essential oils and plant parts to improve their lives. We’ve continued to explore their benefits today, finding that essential oils can be integrated into daily life for a plethora of purposes.
- What makes essential oils effective?... The variety of essential oils allows you to naturally and effectively address your specific concerns. With so many essential oils available, you can tailor them to your specific wants and needs rather than be forced to settle for a generic solution. This makes essential oils a popular choice for those looking for the best natural solutions in the modern era. The verstaility [sic] of essential oils is part of what has made them so popular in recent years. People love that they can use essential oils for a variety of tasks, without having to buy multiple products.
- How do you use essential oils effectively? Rest assured that you don’t have to be an expert to enjoy the wide array of benefits that essential oils offer. All you really need is a basic understanding of how to apply essential oils safely and simply as part of your daily routine.
- It’s thought that certain application methods can improve absorption, such as applying with heat or to different areas of the body. However, research in this area is lacking.
- [S]ome people claim that essential oils can exert a physical effect on your body. However, this has yet to be confirmed in studies.
- Despite their widespread use, little is known about the ability of essential oils to treat certain health conditions.
- [D]ue to the scents of the compounds, it’s hard to conduct blinded studies and rule out biases. Thus, many reviews on the stress- and anxiety-relieving effects of essential oils have been inconclusive.
[P]atients at four South Indian hospitals who had a seizure were evaluated for the use of camphor and eucalyptus essential oils. Analyzing 350 seizure cases that spanned a four-year period, researchers found that 15.7%, or the seizures of 55 of the patients, may have been induced by the inhalation, ingestion, or topical use of essential oils.
The patients were asked to stop their exposure to these essential oils and the products that contained them. The researchers then followed up with the patients for a period of 1-3 years to monitor any recurrence of seizures. All of the non-epileptic patients had been treated with anti-seizure medication, but for only two to four weeks following their first seizure, and none of them had a recurrence of seizures in the entire 1-3 year monitoring period after stopping their exposure to essential oils. And 94% of the epileptic patients also remained seizure-free during the follow-up period.