Immune Support through Essential Oils and Aromatherapy

By: Michael J. Anderson

Those of us in the wellness industry have always known of the health benefits of our natural products and services, from massage and skin care to essential oils and herbal supplements.  Finally, the scientific world is catching on.

Over the past 5+ years we have seen exponential grown in the number of research studies being done, to confirm and give credibility to the health claims of the natural products and holistic wellness industries.  Due to COVID-19, and the fact that the immune system plays a key role in a person contracting, and/or successfully defeating the virus, this paper will focus on boosting the immune system through essential oils and administered y direct inhalation and/or aromatherapy massage.

Essential oils (EO) and aromatherapy have been shown to boost the immune system since certain plants possess immunomodulatory properties which have an effect on various parts of the immune system on both cellular and molecular levels.  The adaptive immune response involves the immunoglobulin (Ig)/antibody-producing and secreting B cells as plasma cells, and T cells including CD4+ T helper cells and CD8+ cytotoxic T cells.

Studies examining the effects of EOs on the immune functions of healthy human subjects are scarce.  However Komori et al. [1] explored the effects of citrus fragrance on immune function. They found that a blend lemon oil, orange oil and bergamot oil affected CD4/CD8 T cell values and NK cell activity (NK cells work to control viral infection), which returned to almost the normal range suggesting a restoring effect of the fragrance on immune function.

In another study conducted by Chen et al. [2], 24 healthy pregnant women received 70 min of whole body aromatherapy massage with 2% lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) EO blended with almond oil every other week between 16 and 36 weeks gestational age, 10 times in total.  ​Secretory Immunoglobulin A (SIgA) is a subclass of Immunoglobulin A (IgA), an antibody that plays a critical role in mucosal immunity.  SIgA is the main immunoglobulin found in mucous secretions from tear glands, salivary glands, mammary glands, the respiratory system, the genito-urinary tract, and the gastrointestinal tract.  SIgA was used as an indicator of immune function in the study, and levels were measured before and after each aromatherapy session. The pregnant women in the massage group had significantly higher IgA levels immediately after the aromatherapy massage compared to the control group (28 pregnant women who received only routine prenatal care). Regarding the longitudinal effects, the SIgA levels before the massage at 32 and 36 gestational weeks were significantly higher than the IgA before the massage at 16 weeks (baseline).  The author’s interpretation of the findings, are that aromatherapy massage could significantly enhance immune function in pregnant women.

In a similar study it was found that SIgA concentrations increased significantly after 45 min of aromatherapy massage with an essential oil blend of Citrus sinensis, Lavandula angustifolia, Origanum majorana in a carrier oil.

In other studies, we have found that a blend of lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), and sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana) used during an aromatherapy massage produced significant increase in the numbers of peripheral blood lymphocytes, CD8+ T cells, and CD16+ (NK) cells.

The above studies were all done as an aromatherapy massage application, and we support this method wholeheartedly.  However, in our own trials, in dealing with post-partum depression, we achieved very positive results when the patients used the direct inhalation method.  In a supporting study, done in accordance with the Helsinki protocol utilizing the inhalation method, it showed that lavender essential oil reduced stress by acting on the immune and autonomic nervous systems in healthy volunteers.  This study also showed marked improvements in the SIgA levels of the lavender group verses a control group.

The studies referenced in this paper was but a small sampling as to not overwhelm you with the vast amount of data that has now been published.  It is wonderful to see that science is finally taking a look at, and the results clearly support, the health benefits of essential oil and aromatherapy massage.  We have known this for many years having watched our clients/patients recover faster from illness, and for those for whom get regular aromatherapy massage work, simply not getting sick very often at all.

References

  1. Komori T., Fujiwara R., Tanida M., Nomura J., Yokoyama M.M. Effects of citrus fragrance on immune function and depressive states. Neuroimmunomodulation. 1995;2:174–180. doi: 10.1159/000096889.
  1. Chen P.-J., Chou C.-C., Yang L., Tsai Y.-L., Chang Y.-C., Liaw J.-J. Effects of Aromatherapy Massage on Pregnant Women’s Stress and Immune Function: A Longitudinal, Prospective, Randomized Controlled Trial. J. Altern. Complement. Med. 2017;23:778–786. doi: 10.1089/acm.2016.0426.