Essential oils are admired by celebrities, ubiquitous on social media, and have spawned a growing multi-billion dollar industry. Which begs the question: are they really worth all the hype?

First of all, what exactly are they? Though their name may indicate otherwise, essential oils are not essential to human health in the way that "essential" amino acids and micro-nutrients are. Rather, these oils are purported to be the very "essence" of their respective plant of origin.

Essential oils are usually meant to be inhaled, perhaps with the help of a device called a "diffuser" that can help spread the scent. Oils can also be dabbed on the skin in areas like the wrist, neck, palms, or temple. Some people also enjoy dissolving a few drops of essential oil into their water or tea, or even drink it straight up!

Though essential oils may seem at first to be a fully modern phenomenon, they've actually been long used by ancient cultures across the world for both health and cosmetic purposes, as well as to flavor food.

However, as Western culture is becoming more suspicious of conventional medicine and influencer after influencer pipes in with a moving personal testament to these essential oils' healing powers, these mysterious "potions" have slowly made their way back into the spotlight.

Of course, essential oils do have their naysayers. Controversies have arisen due to the pyramid-scheme-like multi-level marketing structure of leading essential oil companies Young Living and Doterra, unrealistic health claims made by oil distributors, and some disturbing facts that have come to light regarding the background of Young Living founder Donald Young.

Others worry that the over-harvesting of vulnerable plants for their essential oils could lead to the endangerment or even extinction of these plants, or that oils may give users a false sense of security that keeps them from addressing underlying health issues.

On the other hand, the wide-ranging benefits of a plant-based diet suggests that while Mother Nature certainly can't cure everything, she may be able to do quite a lot for our health. So, it's unsurprising that many essential oils have been tentatively associated with certain health benefits.

While we certainly don't have time to examine all the 90+ essential oils that are commonly used for health reasons, you might be fascinated by this round-up of a few oil types that boast some scientific evidence of their potential effects—especially those that could have an impact on your weight loss!

For instance, the scent of lavender has a strong reputation for inducing sleep, which is itself critical for maintaining a healthy weight. Lavender may also reduce anxiety, stabilize mood, relieve pain, and protect your brain.

Holy basil, bergamot, and various other oils may reduce anxiety as well. Some experts think this is more of a sensory/psychological effect than a "biological" one, but anything that brings even a fleeting sense of calmness may be just what you need to ride out that pesky food craving.

If you'd rather amp up than chill out, jasmine, cinnamon, and peppermint scents have all been shown to have stimulating properties. Peppermint oil has also been shown to enhance exercise performance and to suppress appetite, leading sniffers to consume over 1,000 fewer calories a week!

Additionally, grapefruit oil has been shown to reduce appetite and increase fat-burning in rats, while a human study showed that a massage that incorporated grapefruit oil led to more fat loss, smaller weight circumference, and a more-improved body image than did massage alone.

Another rat study showed that inhaling patchouli and fennel oils had no effect on the rats' calorie intake, but it did lead to less of the food consumed by the rats being converted to fat. Meanwhile, cinnamon, cumin, and cardamom oils can fight even drug-resistant bacteria, while chamomile oil and ginger oil may fight inflammation.

Various essential oils have also been shown to help relieve the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease: for example, thyme, oregano carraway and rosemary have all been shown in animal studies to combat colitis.

Before you jump into the essential oil game, we'd also like to point out that not all essential oils are safe to ingest, that topical application of oil has the potential to irritate skin, and that inhaling essential oil can occasionally trigger attacks of asthma or allergies in vulnerable individuals.

Plus, you may well get similar health benefits as described above by simply eating the ingredient in question, at least in the case of edible plants like grapefruit. Other plants commonly used for essential oils can instead be used to make herbal tea or sprinkled on food as tasty spices.

However, as long as they are used moderately and appropriately as an addition to rather than a substitute for a healthy diet and lifestyle, it's unlikely that essential oils will do you much harm—and there's at least a shot they could do you some good!
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