A few weeks ago, my computer went on the fritz. Yup, the hard drive blew and along with it, all the essential oil references for my book! So, this week I have the distinct pleasure of going through all my files and re-organizing all my sources. This is actually a good thing. How, you may ask? It allows me to review and dig in a little more on the biochemistry of essential oils.
Remember, essential oils are plant secondary metabolites. Photosynthesis produces primary metabolites (proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, and chlorophyll) in plants. These allow the plants to live and grow. However, for the plants to remain healthy and survive, their production of secondary metabolites is essential. Just as these “survival constituents” in essential oils, which include polyphenols, phenylproponoids, and terpenoids, contribute to plants’ immune defenses, these same compounds have been extensively studied and shown to exhibit wellness benefits for humans as well.
One of my favorite words in essential oil science is sesquiterpenes. They are a class of terpenes that consist of three isoprene units. For the science geeks, one isoprene unit has 5 carbons with hydrogens attached to it, so they have the empirical formula C15H24. I don’t just like the word, though, I love what sesquiterpenes can do.
These compounds are known for their calming properties and they also can be supportive to the immune system in protecting us from harmful microbes, acting as antioxidants, and assisting in cellular repair. Furthermore, there is some evidence that these constituents are able to cross the blood-brain barrier and assist with neurological health. This has many exciting implications. For example, one study reported that elemene, a sesquiterpene found in many plants, may be beneficial in protecting the brain from tumor growth. Elemene has also been studied in various trials for its role in suppressing unwanted cellular growth.
One of the oils with the highest sesquiterpene content is cedarwood. Cedarwood has been shown in some studies to assist with skin issues, hair growth, and support the immune system and respiratory system.
Another favorite oil of mine is myrrh. Myrrh has been shown to have synergistic effects with frankincense. With over 300 secondary metabolites of myrrh, there are a lot of actions of this plant! These include:
- It is potent for modulating immune health and promoting healthy cells.
- It can help heal the belly from unwanted microbes.
- In a rabbit study, it protected against immune, liver, and oxidative stress from lead.
- It promotes healthy skin and belly healing.
- Support for healthy lipid levels and as an antioxidant.
SO this holiday season, make sure you impress your friends by using “sesquiterpene” in a sentence. Unfortunately, it’s too long for a scrabble word, but don’t let that take away from its fun and powerful effects!
If you want to learn more about essential oils, you can sign up for my essential oils blog here.
This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents.
There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin.
This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
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