The immune system is incredibly complex. And though there is a wide variety of information out there on how to boost the immune system, what exactly does that mean? Are we increasing the number of neutrophils? Boosting the productivity of cytokines? More often than not, the specifics are incredibly vague.
So, when it is said that essential oils boost immune system function, they are working on other systems of the body which results in an immune boost. Many essential oils are antiviral, antifungal, or antibacterial. Each of these properties helps the immune system function properly by helping eradicate harmful pathogens that can make people sick.
However, there are plenty of other ways that we can indirectly build the immune system by using essential oils. Sleep, stress, and the amount of physical activity all affect the immune system, whether positively or negatively. Luckily, there are essential oils that can help to reduce stress and anxiety, promote a proper night of sleep, and boost energy.
Depending on your own particular needs, there are also a wide variety of ways to use essential oils. You can sniff them directly from the bottle, diffuse them throughout your home, add them to a warm bath, use them in relaxing massage oil, inhale them through steam inhalation, mix them into homemade cleaning or beauty products … the list goes on and on.
However, the most important thing to remember is that there is no magic cure-all. Because of this, it's important to make essential oils a consistent part of your daily routine. While diffusing lavender oil once throughout your home won’t eradicate stress from your life indefinitely, using it consistently can help keep you more relaxed.
By understanding how essential oils affect the body’s systems and the different properties each oil has, you can construct a daily routine that can help you be the healthiest you can be, especially as cold and flu season approaches.
Stress, Anxiety, and the Immune System
Many studies have been conducted about how stress affects the immune system. While a couple of days of stress won’t cause you to contract the flu or the common cold, chronic stress can weaken the immune system over time.
To sum up the results of over 300 different studies, it has been found that small amounts of cortisol (the stress hormone) can help boost the immune system, but too much of it can actually weaken the immune system. 1
Stress and anxiety awaken the fight or flight response in the body, during which cortisol attempts to reduce inflammation by weakening some of the antibodies that typically increase inflammation.
Reducing the immune system’s effectiveness like this for short periods of time is usually fine. However, when individuals are constantly stressed, the body constantly releases cortisol. This continues to suppress the immune system, which can weaken it over time.
Modern humans live in a stressful day and age, and many individuals don’t have time to set aside each day to actively try to reduce levels of stress and anxiety. Luckily, essential oils make it easy to relax without having to put in a lot of effort.
All it takes is a few minutes each day—ideally 10-15 minutes in both the morning and evening—to focus on yourself and just breathe.
If you have a bit more time, diffuse your favorite essential oil throughout your home and practice mindful breathing. If you can spare an evening, add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to a warm bath and just relax.
Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender essential oil is often the first oil that comes to mind when people think of relaxation. Lavender can alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety, improve mental clarity, and assist in maintaining a healthy sleep schedule.
In a 2016 study, the effect of lavender essential oil was tested on postpartum women. Women were split up into two groups—the control group and the aromatherapy group— and their levels of stress and anxiety were recorded over the course of four weeks. The results showed that women in the aromatherapy group reported significantly lower levels of stress and anxiety than those in the control group. 2
To help ease the mind, diffuse lavender essential oil throughout your home. You can also add it to a massage oil, use it in a warm bath, or simply sniff it straight from the bottle whenever you begin to feel anxious.
Frankincense Essential Oil
Frankincense essential oil was traditionally reserved for use in religious services. Today, it is often used during yoga classes or meditation retreats. When used aromatically, frankincense essential oil has been known to reduce heart rate and high blood pressure, which can alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety.
This particular essential oil is great to diffuse throughout the home when you need to clear your mind and prepare for a meditation session.
To use frankincense essential oil, diffuse throughout the home, add to a homemade candle, or dab a small amount behind your ears (diluted in a carrier oil) to keep the scent close to you.
Sweet Orange Essential Oil
Sweet orange essential oil may not be the first one that comes to mind when you think of relaxation, but this particular oil is known to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety while increasing energy.
Additionally, the high limonene content in this oil makes it a powerful antioxidant, the diuretic properties assist in removing toxins from the body, and its use as a tonic helps this oil strengthen all systems of the body.
Sleep and the Immune System
Everyone knows how important it is to get a good night's of sleep, but how many people actually get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night?
A proper circadian rhythm is necessary for proper immune system function, and the circadian rhythm is closely tied to the sleep cycle. When people sleep, the body produces cytokines, which help fight off infection by coordinating white blood cell activity. Chronic sleep deprivation can decrease the number of cytokines that are being produced, which can lead to a weakened immune system. 3
Whether you can’t seem to fall asleep at night or can’t seem to stay asleep once you go to bed, there are essential oils out there that can help. Some of the best sleep-promoting essential oils are lavender, clary sage, and Roman chamomile.
Lavender Essential Oil
Aside from promoting relaxation, lavender has been widely studied for its positive effects on sleep. In a 2005 study, the effects of lavender were tested on the sleep quality of 31 young, healthy sleepers over three nights.
Participants were exposed to either lavender oil or water. The results showed that those who breathed lavender oil reported higher vigor the next morning, suggesting a higher quality of sleep. 4
To use lavender essential oil, diffuse throughout your room approximately 15 minutes before bedtime. You can also add a few drops to a bath before bed or mix with water and lightly spray your sheets and pillowcases.
Clary Sage Essential Oil
Clary sage essential oil is known for its abilities to reduce stress and alleviate feelings of anxiety. Oftentimes a lack of sleep is associated with a number of negative emotions and letting go of these emotions can allow you to get the sleep you need.
In a 2014 study, the effects of clary sage essential oil on depression were tested on 22 women in their 50s. The results showed that clary sage was stress-relieving and can effectively lower cortisol levels while boosting serotonin levels. 5
To use clary sage essential oil, diffuse throughout your room, add to a homemade massage oil, or add a few drops to a relaxing bath before you go to sleep.
Roman Chamomile Essential Oil
Roman chamomile has been used since ancient times for its sleep-promoting and stress-relieving properties. When you think of a traditional nighttime tea, chamomile is often the first ingredient that comes to mind.
Chamomile is widely regarded as a slight sedative and can help individuals who struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep. It is also a wonderful oil to use when you need to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. 6
To benefit from Roman chamomile essential oil, diffuse a few drops throughout your room right before you go to sleep. Roman chamomile is also one of the main essential oils in Sleepy MONQ, which can be kept next to your bed and used aromatically whenever you have trouble sleeping.
Antimicrobial Essential Oils
When people are looking to boost immune system function, it's likely because they are trying to avoid getting sick. For this, there are a variety of essential oils with antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral properties that can help kill off infections that already exist and eradicate harmful pathogens from the home.
When mixed with a carrier oil, antimicrobial essential oils can be gently rubbed onto minor wounds to reduce the chance of infection. These essential oils can also be added to natural disinfecting sprays and diffused throughout the home to disinfect the air.
One of the most powerful antimicrobial essential oils out there is tea tree oil. Other good antimicrobial oils include cinnamon leaf, lemon, eucalyptus, peppermint, clove bud, and rosemary.
Tea Tree Essential Oil
Tea tree essential oil is a powerhouse, boasting antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties. When used as a natural disinfectant, it can kill the viruses that cause influenza and the common cold, bacteria that cause staph infections and fungi that cause athlete’s foot, among many others.
Diffusing tea tree essential oil throughout your home can help eliminate any harmful pathogens that are in the air. Mixing with a carrier oil and adding a drop onto a minor wound can help reduce your chances of infection while adding it to a homemade disinfecting spray can keep surfaces of your home free from harmful viruses and bacteria.
To make your own disinfecting spray, add equal parts water and white vinegar to a spray bottle, and add 10–15 drops of tea tree essential oil. You may also choose to use a mixture of other antimicrobial essential oils. You can then use this spray to clean surfaces in your kitchen and bathroom.
There are a wide variety of ways that essential oils can help boost the immune system, whether directly or indirectly. By adding some of these essential oils to your daily routine, you can support your immune system and stay healthy all year round.
Photo credits: 9nong/shutterstock.com, Narsil/shutterstock.com, Andrey_Popov/shutterstock.com, LianeM/shutterstock.com, AmyLv/shutterstock.com, SergioMontiPhotography/shutterstock.com