Can Essential Oils Boost My Immune System?
In short, yes! So keep reading. But really, there has been an influx of research concerning essential oils in general in recent years, and their effect on our immune system has been a popular topic. But before we get there, let's take a little refresher on what our immune system is, and why it is so detrimental to us when not functioning properly!
What is Our Immune System?
Our immune system is our only hope to defend us against the millions of microbes that, unfortunately, our bodies are a very attractive home for. We tend to be a desirable environment for unwelcome pathogens. This is why it is imperative that our immune system is supplied with whatever it needs to be effective and fast acting.
Like the nervous system, our immune system is not concentrated in just one area of our body, but distributed throughout its entirety. It is a very complex system of organs, tissues, and different cell types that detect and destroy foreign invaders. Anything that triggers your immune system to react is labeled an antigen. This antigen could be a virus, bacteria, someone else's tissue (think transplant), or a multitude of other substances that our body does not recognize as “self.” Antigens all have markers on them that aid our body in identifying them as unwelcome guests. The immune system will remember these markers for the rest of our lives, so once they see a new intruder, the memory is locked in.
Structure of Immune System
The intricacies of the immune system are much too labyrinthine to be covered here completely, but we can outline the basic structure so you can better understand how it works.
The organs of the immune system are called lymphoid organs. The name was given simply because lymphocytes are present on the organs. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that are an integral part of the immune system. All blood cells, red and white, originate in our bone marrow, a soft tissue that is in most of our bones. The three main types of lymphocytes are B cells, T cells, and Natural Killer cells (NKs).
- B cells turn into plasma cells, which are responsible for releasing antibodies into the bloodstream and lymphatic system. Antibodies are a blood protein that is specific to a particular antigen.
- T cells mature in the thymus (lymphoid organ) and they then migrate to other tissues where they might be needed. They confront infected cells directly, killing them and the pathogens inside, eliminating the ability for reproduction.
- NK cells can mature in a few different lymphoid organs and then will enter into circulation. They are cytotoxic (toxic to living cells) cells that seek to kill virally infected or tumorigenic (capable of becoming a tumor) cells in your body.
Innate immunity vs. Adaptive Immunity
Something that is important to understand about your own immune system is the difference between innate immunity and adaptive immunity. Your innate immunity is the body’s first line of defense and consists of physical and chemical barriers. Coughing, the production of mucus, and your skin are all examples of the innate immune system. It is non-specific in nature and less aggressive than the adaptive immune system which will kick in for more severe problems.
The adaptive immune system is much more specific than the innate immune system. The adaptive system is the reason why if you’ve ever had measles or chickenpox, you will never catch them again. Unlike the innate immune system, adaptive immunity is more about destroying invaders and not so much about physical barriers. Being that this is the case, the cells involved in this response must be sure they are killing the right cells. There are mechanisms in place to ensure this, but our healthy cells do end up dying as a result of our own immune system sometimes. The result of this phenomenon could be potentially fatal autoimmune diseases. All three types of lymphocytes we mentioned earlier are a part of the adaptive immune system, and are the main weapons that help to destroy these antigens that sneak inside our bodies.
What shape is My Immune System in?
A healthy, strong immune system is one that will react quickly to dangerous pathogens, despite being exposed to them frequently. Check and see if your immune system is doing ok by referring to these common compromised immune system symptoms:
- Extended periods of stress- Undergoing stress for weeks or months can lower the number of lymphocytes. We already have learned how important these cells are, so any decrease in their numbers will inhibit the body’s ability to fight off infections.
- Feeling sick too often- The average person might experience two to three colds per year, and these can each take seven to ten days to get over. If you are experiencing more than this, and not recovering from them as quickly as you should be, this could be a sign of a compromised immune system
- Constant stomach problems- This 2012 study demonstrates that almost seventy percent of the human immune system is located in your digestive system. The good bacteria in your gut are paramount to limiting the amount of bad bacteria while also assisting in digestion. Keep track of how often you have gas, constipation, and diarrhea as this might be a sign of low gut bacteria, and therefore lowered immunity.
- Slow healing wounds- Blood that is rich in nutrients needs to get to the point of injury quickly if your skin is to rebuild and guard against intruders. If left open as a result of a dysfunctional immune system, harmful bacteria can easily enter your body.
The reason your immune system is not functioning properly will vary greatly from person to person. Making sure you are getting enough quality sleep (which we all know is easier said than done) is a good way to cross a huge reason for lowered immunity off the list. There is so much research on the correlation between sleep and immunity, and this should give you even more motivation to make it a priority!
How Essential Oils Can Help Immune Defense
Although the exact mechanisms for how essential oils manage to improve immune function are still relatively unknown, the evidence we have so far suggests certain oils definitely do have a positive impact.
One interesting study examined the effect of an inhaled citrus essential oil mixture (lemon, orange, and bergamot) on immune function in 12 clinically depressed individuals. The researchers found that they could successfully reduce the amount of antidepressants the subjects were on, and saw increased NK cell activity along with an increase in T cells.
Another study looked at the effect of a vaporized cypress stem essential oil on twelve healthy males. It was found that the activity of NK cells and the amount of NK cells both increased significantly.
An aromatherapy massage study focused on pregnant women found a significant increase in IgA (Immunoglobulin A, antibody blood protein that fights off sickness) compared to the control group. The group received ten massages over a twenty week period and lavender essential oil was used.
All of this research is very exciting for us at Moxe! We want to learn and share all we can about essential oils and to have some hard evidence to back up what people have been saying for hundreds of years is really comforting.
Which Essential Oils are the Most Effective?
The specific essential oils that have shown promise in promoting immunity are probably not the only ones that do. But we will stick with the more evidence-based oils for right now:
Bergamot and lime are both a part of our Peace blend, Lavender is in Dream blend, and more bergamot is our Energy blend! All three of these blends are available as inhalers for some olfactory stimulation.
But you can also get them in a 15ml bottle for diffusing or combining with an oil of your choice for a massage experience that might keep you from catching the next cold!
How You can Maximize Immunity
In addition to trying out the immune boosting properties of these oils, there are some lifestyle changes that have been proven effective at building a defence against pathogens.
-Getting enough sleep
-Food rich in antioxidants like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds
-Eat more or take Omega-3 fatty acids
-Fermented foods (yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi), or take a probiotic supplement
-Exercise! If this is new to you talk to your doctor first
-Limit unnecessary stress
-Vitamin D, get some sun! If none is available, talk to your doctor and/or pharmacist before supplementing with anything to make sure it is right for you.
Wow, so much information! Hope we didn't throw too much at you. We learned that our immune system is crazy complicated, it is everywhere in our body, and we want it to work all the time! Especially right now with a global pandemic still not out of sight in the least. The good news is, we have the power to enhance our immunity by giving our body the tools it needs to fight off the bad bacteria, viruses, and other microscopic critters that want to live inside us.
Getting plenty of sun, feeding our body the proper nutrients, and moving around a few days a week are a few simple things to start off your journey to stronger immunity. While trying to incorporate these things, try some essential oil therapy to speed up the process! We have plenty of products to choose from that will surely get you as excited about essential oils as we are.