Essential oils are nothing new, and they have been around for many years. Numerous recent studies have shown them to be helpful in improving overall health and treating different illnesses. The United States Handbook of Essential Oils considers them to be a critical component of alternative and complementary medicine. According to the latest research findings, essential oils can also have a positive impact on the sports performance for athletes. Essential oils are proven to help with anxiety and depression and help stimulate the enhancement of neurological functions. Studies also indicate that using peppermint oil before an event can help athletes improve their lung function significantly. These findings have inspired additional research activities on spearmint and citrus essential oils to understand their impact on athletic performance.
What are Essential Oils?
Essential oils have been defined by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) as products developed via a mechanical distillation process that uses steam or water and natural plant materials. Natural oils rich in enzymes get separated from the water phase during the distilling process. Eucalyptus, lavender, peppermint, and tea tree are some of the most popular essential oils. Interestingly, the therapeutic and medicinal properties of different essential oils tend to vary significantly. For example, peppermint is a proven natural energy booster whereas lavender is known to be extremely useful for anxiety and relaxation.
How do Essential Oils Work?
Essential oils enter the human body through inhalation (aromatherapy), ingestion, or skin application. When these oils are applied to the skin, they get absorbed and their active ingredients help the body with specific therapeutic treatments. For example, the application of essential oil blended with ginger is effective in increasing flexibility and reducing arthritis pain.
Please note that the ingestion of essential oils is not recommended without the direct supervision of a physician. Experts suggest that this may lead to several adverse health effects, including gastric upset, toxicity to the liver and kidneys, and contraindications while using other medications.
Also known as aromatherapy, inhalation through the nose or mouth is the most popular way for essential oils to enter the body. This method has a positive effect on the body’s olfactory and limbic systems. Also known as our emotional brain, the limbic system affects our blood pressure, heart rate, stress levels, memory, breathing, and hormones. On the other hand, the olfactory system refers to all organs involved in our sense of smell. When inhaled, the active ingredients present in some essential oils can improve the functioning of the respiratory system by traveling to the lungs.
As a result of their therapeutic properties, there has been growing interest amongst athletes to use essential oils for improving their performance. An experimental study was conducted recently, involving 20 physical education students divided into two groups. The study design was based on a before and after use model for each group. Essential orange and spearmint oil was administered to the participants through aromatherapy. Essential orange oil is an antimicrobial that helps with digestion and upset stomach. On the other hand, spearmint oil is a decongestant, antispasmodic, and diuretic.
Each of the participants was nebulized for five minutes with either essential spearmint oil or orange oil mixed with a saline solution just before the testing cycle of a 1500-meter run. Using a spirometer, lung function tests for each participant were conducted pre and post essential oil inhalation.
Enhanced lung function was observed with all participants nebulized with either oil. Those nebulized with essential spearmint oil showed a 10% better result as per the spirometer test. Those using essential orange oil experienced an even greater increase in lung status, with a 30% improvement. Significant improvement in athletic performance was observed with both groups, with decreased running times.
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