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CentraCare Health – Monticello

  • Ask the Doctor - December 2016

Ask the Doctor

Glenn Nemec, MD, Family Medicine

Stellis Health - Monticello Clinic

Benefits of Essential Oils

Question: I have been looking for options to complement my health care routine and I have been reading about essential oils. Are these oils essential to our health and how do they work to support wellness?

Answer: OK, spoiler alert; essential oils are not – essential.  At least not in the biological sense of the word essential.  In the human body however, there are certain essential nutrients.  You may have heard of essential amino acids or essential fatty acids from way back in high school biology. 

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and fatty acids are the building blocks of fats, both of which are required for human life.  Your body can actually manufacture most of the amino acids and fatty acids it needs from food that you eat. However, there is a small group of each that the body cannot manufacture.  These you must take in through the food you eat or you will die.  They are the essential ones.   Fortunately, they are very common in food so that is rarely an issue. 


Essential Oils contain nothing your body can’t live without or manufacture for itself. Essential oils do put out an essence, usually a scent, and from that comes their name and their potential wellness benefit.


The big question is do these oils actually work?  The answer is yes and no.  There is not a way to measure any significant biological changes from the use of essential oils making it difficult to demonstrate that that they work biologically. However, keep in mind that there are not many scientifically well-done studies on the topic so the amount of information used to reach this “no” conclusion is small and subject to change as we learn more.  However, the answer is “yes” when we turn to more subjective measurements.  Essential oils can make you feel better.  It turns out that the olfactory lobes of your brain, where smell is processed, feed directly to your limbic system, which is the part of the brain that remembers and produces emotional feelings.  Scents are one of the most powerful memory producing stimuli we humans have.  We have all had these experiences.  If your favorite grandma always made you hot chocolate with cinnamon when you came over, later in life when you smell chocolate and cinnamon, you get a warm fuzzy feeling because your grandma loved you and you loved her.  Store owners have taken advantage of this by using spice oils to scent their stores.  Christmas spices generally evoke positive feelings and shoppers are more likely to buy when they have a warm fuzzy feeling. So, there is evidence that essential oils can help to support an emotional feeling of being well or calm or relaxed.


Essential Oils are not going to cure rheumatism, cancer, and gout like Dr. McGillicudy’s Snake Oil claimed, but they probably can be useful for de-stressing after a hard day, if you are willing to pay a premium price for that.  Or you could toss a cinnamon stick in your hot chocolate, snuggle up with your favorite blanket by the fireplace, and have a very merry and blessed holiday season, almost for free.

CentraCare Health - Monticello

1013 Hart Boulevard, Suite 1
Monticello, MN 55362
Phone: 763-295-2945
Business Office: 800-835-6618
Monticello Medical Group: 763-271-2200
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