Essential oils have been used for thousands of years to treat various health complaints, and there’s a growing body of evidence to support their effectiveness in treating everything from infections to skin complaints.
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 steam distillation process. The oil plays an important role within a plant and it offers us many benefits too. Essential oils have been used widely for many years for their medicinal compounds and unique properties. They are particularly attractive as a gentler way of treating health problems than conventional medications.
What they do for plants
Assist with pollination
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. The scent is the biggest attractor by far for insects, and because the oil gives plants their unique scent, it attracts them 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. Compounds in the oils can help to ensure the plant’s survival ahead of other species.
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 harsh environments where there can be any number of threats to their survival. This is important for protecting biodiversity.
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 to stop any diseases in their tracks.
How do you use an essential oil?
You can use essential oil as a:
You need to dilute it with a carrier oil such as jojoba oil or sweet almond oil before use. It is better to dilute oils as they are very concentrated. Essential oils are easily absorbed into the skin and can 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 personalised skin treatment with plenty of health benefits. Certain oils can reduce the appearance of scars and stretch marks, reduce the signs of ageing, improve skin tone and texture, treat acne, 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 treatments
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 throughout. 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, linen spray, and body spray. Mixing some oils with water in this way can make for a very effective household cleaner for worktops, showers, and toilets.
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, memory, and mood. This is why essential oils are used to such good effect in aromatherapy.
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 general sensitivity too, so check for a reaction by doing a patch test on your upper arm.
Avoid prolonged use of the same types of essential oils as sensitivity can develop over time.
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. Just because oils are natural, it doesn’t mean that they are safe.
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, inflamed, or broken skin.
Gout is a form of arthritis in which small crystals form inside and around the joints. This causes sudden episodes of severe pain and swelling. The condition mainly affects men over 30 and postmenopausal women.
Symptoms of gout
Any joint can be affected by gout, but it usually affects the joints at the ends of the limbs, such as the toes, ankles, knees, and fingers. If you have gout, you will experience these symptoms:
severe pain in one or more joints, often the big toe
tenderness in the joint
the joint will feel hot to the touch
swelling in and around the affected joint
red, shiny skin over the affected joint
peeling, itchy, and flaky skin
Symptoms develop quickly within a few hours and an episode can last from 3 to 10 days. After this, the pain usually disappears and the joint returns to normal.
The pain can be so intense that even covering the affected joint with a light blanket can be very uncomfortable.
Which joints can be affected?
Gout can affect any joint and it can occur in more than one joint at the same time.
The joints that are affected the most often are:
the toes, especially the big toe
If gout is not treated, it’s likely to affect even more joints over time, and it may come back every few months or years.
When to see your doctor
See your doctor if you have:
severe, worsening joint pain and swelling
a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above
This could indicate an infection inside the joint.
If you’ve already been diagnosed with gout and you have an episode, see your doctor if the medication you’ve been prescribed doesn’t start taking effect within a couple of days.
What causes gout?
Gout is caused by a build-up of a substance called uric acid in the blood.
If your body produces too much uric acid or your kidneys don’t filter enough of it out, it can build up and cause tiny sharp crystals to form in and around the joints. The crystals can cause the joints to become inflamed and very painful.
Things that may increase your risk of getting gout include:
obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes
having a family history of gout
eating foods that cause a build-up of uric acid, such as red meat, offal, and seafood
drinking too much beer or spirits
Some medications can increase the uric acid levels in your body and your risk of developing gout. These include:
diuretics, which are used to treat high blood pressure or water retention in the body
beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors, which are used to treat high blood pressure
aspirin, which is used to reduce the risk of blood clots
niacin which is used to treat high cholesterol
ciclosporin which is used to treat skin conditions such as psoriasis
some chemotherapy medications
Uric acid is created when the body breaks down chemicals called purines. Eating foods that contain high levels of purines can increase your risk of developing gout.
Foods which are naturally high in purines include:
red meat, such as beef, lamb, and pork
seafood, such as shellfish and oily fish
offal, such as liver
Alcoholic drinks can raise the level of uric acid in the blood.
Beer, fortified wines like port, and spirits raise levels more than drinks like wine.
Research has found that drinking sugary soft drinks and drinks with high levels of fructose (the natural sugar found in fruit) increases the risk of gout.
Studies have shown that gout often runs in families. Around 1 in every 5 people with gout have a close family member with the condition.
Treatments for gout
If you have gout, treatment is available from your doctor, which is designed to:
relieve the symptoms during an episode. You can do this by using ice packs and by taking medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or corticosteroids
prevent further episodes. You can try changing your lifestyle. Losing weight can help and so can changing your diet.
With proper treatment, many people are able to reduce the uric acid levels in their bodies enough to dissolve the crystals that cause gout, and they may have no further episodes. Some people need lifelong treatment however.
An episode of gout can be very painful. While there are drugs that can help reduce the pain, inflammation, and uric acid levels in your blood, you could also try using essential oils on top of your conventional treatment. Certain oils have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties which can help to treat and prevent episodes of gout. Here are the best oils for gout.
Frankincense Essential Oil
Frankincense is extracted from the resin of the Boswellia tree. It has been used in perfume and incense for thousands of years, and it also has many therapeutic uses.
In studies carried out on rats, researchers tested the effects of boswellic acid extracted from frankincense on inflammation in the animals, and they found that it had an anti-inflammatory effect. This makes it helpful for reducing the pain of inflammation caused by the uric acid crystals, and in reducing inflammation in other types of arthritis too.
Rosemary Essential Oil
Mostly known for its culinary uses, rosemary also has a long history of being used as an arthritis cure. Research has found that the oil has anti-inflammatory and pain killing properties. It can block pain signal from your brain.
Basil Essential Oil
Basil has been used for thousands of years as a medicinal herb. It is often used in cooking too. It belongs to the mint family, and provides many known health benefits. Research has shown that basil has anti-inflammatory properties which can help relieve the inflammation and swelling associated with a flare up of gout.
Thyme Essential Oil
Thyme is a herb that has been used for thousands of years in cooking for its flavour and it also has an impressive record as a medicine. It has several compounds that have anti-inflammatory properties and flavonoids that act as antioxidants. Thyme extracts have also shown in studies to inhibit nitric oxide, which is a substance that can increase inflammation in the body.
Geranium Essential Oil
Geranium is often used to makes soaps, lotions, and perfumes because it is very aromatic. The oil also has medicinal properties which makes it handy if you are suffering from gout. A study found that it has anti-inflammatory properties which can reduce the pain and inflammation of an episode of gout.
Ginger Essential Oil
Ginger has been used in traditional Indian and Chinese medicine for centuries. In Ayurveda, ginger is used to detox the body as part of the treatment for curing rheumatoid arthritis and many other ills. Ginger is also commonly used as a food flavour enhancer in Indian cuisine. In one study, researchers prescribed ginger to patients with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, and 75% of those patients said they experienced relief from joint pain and swelling.
Wintergreen Essential Oil
Tea made with wintergreen leaves was used in native American medicine as a cure for rheumatic problems. In 2014, a study looked at why this might have been effective for joint problems and they found that the oil contained phenolic compounds which reduced inflammation in the body.
Chamomile Essential Oil
Chamomile has been used as a medicine for thousands of years by the ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks to treat a variety of health complaints. Research on chamomile extracts has shown that it has many antioxidant compounds like Apigenin, quercetin and luteolin that have anti-inflammatory effects in the body. Some studies have also found chamomile to be an effective pain reliever, which makes it ideal to take alongside your conventional gout treatment.
Fennel Essential Oil
Fennel has long been used to cure digestive, endocrine, reproductive, and respiratory problems. This is down to it active compounds that include flavonoids, phenolic compounds, fatty acids, and amino acids. Research has shown that these compounds give fennel antimicrobial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties.
Turmeric Essential Oil
Turmeric has been widely researched for its health benefits. It was popular in ayurvedic medicine and recorded uses include skin disorders, inflammation, anaemia, wounds, and ulcers. Studies have found that it has anti-inflammatory properties which can help to treat gout. It also has analgesic properties.
How to use essential oils for gout
Essential oils are very concentrated compounds that are extracted from plants usually through a process of steam distillation. Because they are so potent, you should always dilute them with a carrier oil, like olive oil, sweet almond oil, jojoba oil, and coconut oil. Here are the most popular ways to use them.
This is the simplest of applying an essential oil. All will need the essential oil of your choice and a bottle of carrier oil. Use a ceramic or glass bowl to mix 4-6 drops of essential oil with 1 tablespoon of your chosen carrier oil. Blend the oils and apply to the affected joint. Gently massage the oils into the skin. Do this 2-3 times each day.
Hot Towel Compress
This works well if you have gout in your toe joint. Soak your feet in a basin filled with cold water for 15 minutes. Pat them dry with a clean towel. Mix 3-6 drops of essential oil with 1 tablespoon of a suitable carrier oil and massage it over the affected joint. Wrap a soaked hot towel over the joint and keep it in place for 2 minutes. Repeat this 2-3 times daily.