Essential oils have long been used to treat various health complaints, and there’s growing evidence to support their effectiveness.
An essential oil is the essence of a plant. It’s extracted from the leaves, bark, stem, root, or flowers of a plant by a distillation process. The oil plays an important role within a plant and it also brings us some useful benefits.
Insects have pollinated flowers for hundreds of millions of years. Insects are attracted to plants for a few reasons; their aroma, their colour, or their structure. Scent is the biggest attractor, and because the oil gives plants their unique scent, it attracts insects and aids pollination.
They help plants win their evolutionary ‘competition’
Oils in plants help them to release chemicals that prevent competing plants or vegetation from growing around them. Plants will compete for soil nutrients and the ideal position to get light from the sun.
They help to protect them from insects and other animals
Plants need to protect themselves from predators, just like animals do. Plants use chemical compounds to deter insects and other animals from coming close to them. Many of these chemicals are natural insect repellents. The oils are useful in helping the plants to survive in a harsh environment.
To protect the plant from other organisms that may harm it
Plants release chemicals and other resins which have antimicrobial and antifungal properties. This helps to kill off any organisms which may threaten the plant’s survival. The oils do a similar job, and many oils have antifungal and antimicrobial properties.
How do you use an essential oil?
You can use essential oil as a:
Simply dilute it with a carrier oil such as jojoba oil or sweet almond oil. It is better to dilute oils as they are very concentrated. Essential oils are easily absorbed into the skin and provide systemic or local benefits. They can be used in aromatherapy massage to ease stress and anxiety, treat headaches and migraines, to treat insomnia, pain, and muscle tension, and to boost immunity.
Facial cream, body lotion, or oil
You can add essential oils to your favourite face creams or body lotion to create a skin treatment with plenty of health benefits. Certain oils can reduce the appearance of scars and stretch marks, reduce the signs of ageing, acne, they can improve skin tone and texture, and hydrate the skin.
An addition to your bath
Add some essential oil to your bath and stir well to disperse the oil. Be careful to rinse your bath afterwards though, as the oils can make your bath slippery. Adding oil to your bath can help to reduce stress, get rid of muscle aches, reduce fatigue, boost circulation, and detox the body.
They can be used in steam inhalation
Place 3-7 drops of essential oil into some boiling water. Beneficial oils to use in steam inhalation are eucalyptus, lemon, and tea tree oil. Cover your head with a towel and inhale the vapour. Keep your eyes closed. This method is great for treating congestion from colds and flu, and boosting respiratory function.
You can use them as a spray
Mix 10-15 drops of essential oil with water and add it to a spray bottle. The spray makes a good room freshener and body spray, and it makes for a very good household cleaner.
They can be added to a diffuser
The oil can be added to a diffuser to be dispersed through a room to reduce stress and anxiety, boost mood, and to promote a good sleep.
They can be directly inhaled
You can add some oil to a handkerchief or a cotton wool ball and directly inhale it or you can apply some to the palms of your hands and do the same. This can be used for respiratory and sinus problems, and to produce effects on the nervous system, for calming or relaxing you, for example. You can also inhale an oil straight from the bottle. Inhalation is very effective for affecting the mood, as the smell receptors in the nose are linked with a part of the brain which governs emotion. Some essential oils have been proven to be effective for mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Essential oil safety
Keep all essential oils out of reach of children and pets.
Be careful with some oils, especially citrus-based ones, as they can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Do not sunbathe for 24 hours after you apply those types of oils. These oils can cause sensitivity too, so check for a reaction by doing a patch test on the skin of your upper arm.
Avoid prolonged use of the same types of essential oils.
Always dilute an oil with a carrier oil like sweet almond oil or coconut oil before using it on your skin.
Always follow the instructions on usage and suggested doses.
Always seek advice before using an oil if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. This also applies if you are taking any medication or if you have an existing medical condition.
Keep oils away from the eyes and ears, and any areas of sensitive or inflamed skin.
Cancer is a disease where cells in a specific part of the body grow and reproduce uncontrollably. The cancerous cells can then invade and destroy healthy tissue, including organs.
Cancer sometimes begins in one part of the body, then spreads to other areas, which is known as metastasis.
More than one in three people will get a form of cancer in their lifetime. The most common cancers are breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, and bowel cancer.
Breast cancer is the most common type of female cancer. Most women diagnosed with breast cancer are over 50, but younger women can also get the disease.
About one in eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives, but there’s a good chance of recovery if it’s detected in its early stages.
This is why it is essential that women check their breasts regularly for any changes and report these changes to their doctor.
In rare cases, men can also be diagnosed with breast cancer.
Symptoms of breast cancer
Breast cancer can have a number of symptoms, but the first symptom people tend to notice is usually a lump or area of thickened breast tissue.
Most breast lumps aren’t cancerous, but it’s always best to ask your doctor to examine them.
See your doctor if you notice any of the following:
a change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
discharge from either of your nipples, which may contain blood
a lump or swelling in either of your armpits
dimpling of the skin on your breasts
a rash on or around your nipple
a change in the appearance of your nipple, such as it poking inwards
Causes of breast cancer
What causes breast cancer isn’t fully understood, but some things are known to increase your risk including:
Increasing age, there is more risk as you get older
a family history of breast cancer
a previous diagnosis of breast cancer
a previous benign breast lump
being tall, overweight, or obese
excessive consumption of alcohol
Lung cancer is one of the most common and deadly types of cancer. Lung cancer mainly affects older people. It’s very rare in people younger than 40, and is most often diagnosed between the ages of 70-74. While people who have never smoked can develop lung cancer, smoking is the main cause of the disease, and it’s responsible for 85% of cases.
There are often no symptoms in the early stages of lung cancer, but as the condition develops, you may notice:
a persistent cough
coughing up blood
unexplained tiredness and weight loss
an ache or pain when breathing or coughing
see your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.
Types of lung cancer
There are two main types of primary lung cancer.
non-small-cell lung cancer, which is the most common type and it accounts for more than 80% of cases.
small-cell lung cancer is a less common type which usually spreads faster.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men and over 40,000 new cases are diagnosed every year. Prostate cancer usually develops slowly, so there may be no signs and you can have it for many years without knowing.
The prostate is a small gland in the pelvis found only in men. It is about the size of a satsuma and it’s located between the bladder and the penis.
The main function of the prostate is to help produce semen.
The causes of prostate cancer are unknown, though certain things can increase your risk of getting the disease:
Being 50 or older
Being of African-Caribbean or African descent
If you have a very close male relative who has had the disease
Symptoms often only become noticeable when your prostate is large enough to affect the urethra, which is the tube that connects the bladder to the penis.
When this happens, you may notice an increased need to urinate, that you strain while urinating and you feel that your bladder has not fully emptied.
Bowel cancer is cancer that begins in the large bowel. Most people diagnosed with it are over the age of 60.
The main symptoms of bowel cancer are:
persistent blood in the stools or a change in bowel habits
persistent lower abdominal pain, bloating or discomfort that’s caused by eating and may be accompanied by loss of appetite or considerable unintentional weight loss
These symptoms can occur for reasons other than cancer but it’s still important to get them checked out.
Cancer symptoms to look out for
There are more than 200 different types of cancer, but many types produce the same symptoms in the body. It’s important to be aware of any changes to your body, such as the sudden appearance of a lump, blood in your urine, or a change in bowel habits.
These symptoms can be caused by other illnesses, but it’s important to see your doctor to make sure.
Look out for these symptoms:
Lump in your breast or elsewhere on the body
Coughing, chest pain and breathlessness
Changes in bowel habits
blood in your stools
diarrhoea or constipation for no obvious reason
a feeling of not having fully emptied your bowels after going to the toilet
blood in your urine
bleeding between periods
bleeding from your bottom
blood when you cough
blood in your vomit
a large irregular shaped mole on your skin which is crusty or that bleeds
unexplained weight loss
Reducing your risk of cancer
Making some changes to your lifestyle can reduce your risk of developing cancer. Eating healthily, taking regular exercise, and not smoking can all reduce your risk.
Surgery is the first line of treatment for most types of cancer, as solid tumours can usually be surgically removed.
Two other treatments are also very common, and they are:
Chemotherapy, which is potent cancer-killing medication
Radiotherapy, which is the use of x-rays to kill cancer cells. the controlled use of high-energy X-rays
There are many different types of chemotherapy medications, but they all work in a similar way. They stop cancer cells reproducing, which prevents them from growing into tumours and spreading in the body. Chemotherapy might be used if a cancer has spread or there’s a risk it will spread.
try to cure the cancer
be combined with radiotherapy to make a more effective treatment
reduce the risk of the cancer coming back after radiotherapy or surgery
relieve symptoms if a cure isn’t possible
Types of chemotherapy
Chemotherapy can be given in a few different ways.
The most common kinds are:
chemotherapy given into a vein through a tube in your hand, arm, or chest
chemotherapy tablets which are prescribed and taken at home
Side effects of chemotherapy
As well as killing cancer cells, chemotherapy can damage healthy cells in the body, such as blood cells, skin cells and cells in the stomach lining. This can cause side effects such as:
feeling tired all the time
feeling sick and vomiting
a sore mouth
dry, sore, or itchy skin
diarrhoea or constipation
There are many different ways you can have radiotherapy, but they all work in a similar way. They cause damage to cancer cells and stop them from growing or spreading in the body.
Radiotherapy may be used in the early stages of cancer or after it has started to spread.
It can be used to:
try to cure the cancer
complement other forms of treatment such as chemotherapy
reduce the risk of the cancer coming back
relieve symptoms if a cure isn’t possible
Radiotherapy is one of the most effective cancer treatments after surgery.
Types of radiotherapy
The most common types are:
radiotherapy given by a machine, where beams of radiation are directed at the cancer.
radiotherapy injections, capsules, or drinks, where radioactive liquid is swallowed or injected into the blood.
Treatment is usually given in hospital. You can normally go home after external radiotherapy, but you may need to stay in hospital for a few days if you have radiotherapy injections.
Side effects of radiotherapy
As well as killing cancer cells, radiotherapy can damage some healthy cells in the area being treated.
This can cause some side effects, such as:
sore, red skin
feeling tired all the time
hair loss in the area being treated
losing your appetite
a sore mouth
Some essential oils have been found to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Essential oils should to be used to complement conventional treatments and medical advice should always be followed. Here are some of the best essential oils for cancer.
Thyme essential oil
Thyme is an herb commonly used for cooking and medicine. The ancient Egyptians used it for embalming, and the Greeks used it in baths and for incense.
The herb has been scientifically proven to have some amazing benefits. A 2010 study looked at the effect of a number of oils on breast, lung, and prostate cancer cells. It was found that thyme inhibited all 3 types of cancer cells and was found to kill cancer cells while preserving healthy cells.
Rosemary essential oil
Rosemary is an aromatic herb which is used for flavouring in cooking, controlling garden pests, and fragrancing toiletries. It contains some potent therapeutic compounds.
Rosemary has been found to have antioxidant properties, which help to protect against free radicals which damage cells and DNA.
A number of studies have shown that rosemary extract has powerful anti-tumour properties and one study found that rosemary oil at a concentration of 1% could inhibit more than 90% of ovarian and liver cancer cells.
Oregano essential oil
Oregano is a common herb native which is native to the Mediterranean. It belongs to the mint family and it has a number of chemical compounds which give it its strong flavour and medicinal properties.
University studies have shown that a compound in Oregano called carvacrol can lead cancer cells to ‘commit suicide’ and it is as effective at inhibiting cancer cell growth as turmeric.
Oregano essential oil has been shown to stop the growth of colon cancer cells, and it also demonstrates effective actions on prostate, breast, and skin cancer cells.
Chamomile essential oil
Chamomile is one of the most ancient medicinal herbs known to man. The flower comes in 2 common varieties, German chamomile, and Roman chamomile. The dried flowers of chamomile contain many therapeutic chemical compounds, known as terpenoids and flavonoids.
Chamomile is used for many ailments, including hay fever, inflammation, insomnia, gastrointestinal disorders, and haemorrhoids. The most common form of chamomile people use is a herbal tea. Chamomile essential oil is a more potent version of the herb.
In cancer studies, a compound in chamomile called apigenin has been found to have an inhibiting effect on cancer cells. This effect was tested on skin, prostate, breast, and ovarian cancer.
Another study found that chamomile essential oil was able to inhibit cell mutation by 60–75% so it can play a role in both inhibiting and preventing cancer.
Frankincense essential oil
Frankincense essential oil is made from the resin or sap from the Boswellia tree. There are many different types of these trees in Asia and the Middle East, and each produces a different resin. Frankincense has been used since ancient times as a medicine and in religious rituals. The main active ingredient in the oil, boswellic acid, is a potent anti-inflammatory.
Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine use frankincense to treat many health conditions including cancer. Western studies back this up, and have shown that frankincense essential oil and its extracts have potent antitumor activity. The oil was tested on bladder cancer cells, and the study also showed that the oil acted on the cancerous cells but not the normal healthy ones. Prolonged use of frankincense doesn’t appear to have any side effects either.
As well as inhibiting the growth of cancer cells, essential oils can also help with the side effects of traditional cancer treatment. For example, many brain cancer patients experience brain swelling after having radiotherapy, which is usually treated with strong steroid medications. A study carried out in 2011 showed that frankincense essential oil can is a much safer alternative to this medication. In the study, brain swelling had reduced in 60% of patients who used the oil.