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essential oils

  • Ready to be able to get 8–9 hours of solid sleep a night? I can tell you for a fact it is possible to get eight hours of solid sleep a night. And it is amazing how much better you'll feel when you do. This article will focus on new treatments for optimizing sleep—naturally.

    There is an outstanding new mix of essential oils that works well with the other treatments I've recommended for sleep in the past. It contains a combination of Ravensara (Ravensara aromatica), Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), and Mandarin (Citrus reticulata).

    You can find this combination in a product called Terrific ZZZZ. More good news? In addition to being highly effective, like most natural remedies it offers "side benefits" instead of side effects. These include less pain, calming, and better mental clarity.

    Let's take a look at this mix, and other natural remedies that work well in combination with it.

    Natural Sleep Support

    Essential oils add a whole new dimension to natural therapies. When it comes to sleep, these have the benefits of decreasing brain fog and pain, while improving energy and immune function. Let's take a look at four outstanding essential oils that can now be found in combination in Terrific ZZZZ.

    Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), a lemon-scented herb, is both an effective calming agent and mild sedative. Recent research suggests that it optimizes function of the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain, which helps our nervous system calm down.

    These receptors also have the benefit of decreasing pain. Another benefit? In a placebo-controlled study done in England, lemon balm significantly improved both cognitive function and calmness. It also helps the immune system keep viral infections in check.

    Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) long recognized in France for improving people's sense of well-being, lavender flowers were commonly placed in pillows to help promote sleep. Even the smell of lavender is calming. Research suggests that lavender oil is sedating, relieving anxiety and improving deep sleep. The effect? People who use lavender also experience more energy and alertness in the morning. Research also suggests that lavender supports your body's own endorphin molecules. These are the same neurotransmitters that your body stimulates to decrease pain, and which triggers the "runner's high" in athletes. So it is no wonder that this herb is so prized!

    Mandarin (Citrus reticulata). In Traditional Chinese Medicine, this herb has been used to calm the nervous system and induce sleep. In fact, Mandarin oranges get their name from the Chinese Mandarins, who traditionally received this fruit as a gift.

    Ravensara (Ravensara aromatica) is a rainforest tree. Its fragrant leaves, bark, and nuts have a long history of being used by the indigenous population of Madagascar for their powerful effects in supporting sleep, improving mood, and calming anxiety.

    All four of these can be found in combination in an awesome product called Terrific ZZZZ. They are also synergistic with the natural products below, and the sleep medications, which I discuss in my writings. Give it a try and let me know how you like it!

    Other Helpful Natural Sleep Aids

    Here are a couple of my favorites:

    1. The Revitalizing Sleep Formula. This is a mix of six herbs that are excellent for sleep and that I start people with.
    2. Sleep Tonight. This herbal mix helps to settle down adrenal function, so your body can move into sleep mode. It is especially helpful for those of you with adrenal fatigue who are exhausted all day, and then find that your mind is wide awake and racing at bedtime. Take it one hour before sleep if this sounds like you.
    3. AnxioCalm. Amazing herb for anxiety (Take two twice a day and give it six weeks to see the full effect). Also very helpful for sleep.
    4. Melatonin. Although minimally effective for most people, we're seeing good results using a special form called Dual Spectrum 5 Mg Melatonin (available from Walgreens). This combines an immediate and sustained release mix. This works really well when others have not. Clinically, we have also seen that this higher dose helps decrease nighttime acid reflux.
    5. Magnesium. Take 200 mg at bedtime as a natural calming agent and muscle relaxant.
    6. 5 HTP 200–400 mg at bedtime. Give this 6–12 weeks to see the full effect. It also helps decrease pain while improving mood. Keep the dose to 200–300 mg (and get your holistic health practitioner's okay) if you are taking antidepressants or other serotonin raising medications.

    It's time for you to get a good night's sleep!

  • Culinary herbs seldom began their human histories as mere flavorings. Indeed, the kitchen herb and spice rack could reasonably be dubbed the kitchen medicine chest and several useful books have done just that. Oregano is a good example of a culinary herb that leads a double life. In much of the world, this plant continues to be used not just to flavor and preserve food, but also to disinfect surfaces and wounds, to calm the stomach, and much more. For some of these purposes, oregano extracts may still be as good or better than many of the modern alternatives. In other words, the health benefits of oregano are not only "traditional" or "folk remedies."

    In recent years, oregano has been surprisingly well studied. Harry Preuss of Georgetown University Medical Center, for instance, over the last decade has published five studies on oregano and other essential oils with results that are impressive. For uses as diverse as from antibiotics to weight loss, oregano and its constituent compounds are attracting new interest in an old remedy.

    Snapshot of Oregano

    Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is in the same family as rosemary, thyme and the mints. Also called "wild" or "winter" marjoram, it is not to be confused with the related "sweet" marjoram. A further distinction often is made in the health food industry between the oregano cultivated for culinary uses and the species that grow wild, particularly in the Eastern Mediterranean. The latter have a much stronger flavor and aroma reflecting their higher content of certain essential oils.

    Constituents of oregano vary with the species, the growing area and the season. The chief active constituents of oregano are a volatile oil known as carvacrol along with the related compound thymol, which is more characteristic of the herb thyme. Also found are the precursor molecule p-cymene and smaller amounts of a variety of other phenolic compounds. Most of the volatile compounds found in oregano are terpenes. Although it might seem to be a foreign term from chemistry, almost everyone is familiar with one or more terpenes—probably the best known terpene is limonene, the highly aromatic compound found in the peel of oranges and the chief component of orange oil.

    A number of the most ancient employments for oregano remain common. Uses attributed to Hippocrates and the Greek medical tradition include as an antiseptic, a cure for stomach complaints and as a solution to respiratory ailments. Other uses sometimes suggested include rheumatoid arthritis, urinary tract infections, headaches, convulsions and fatigue (the last being common in 19th Century materia medica manuals). A favored use both in the past and today is for parasites.1 The essential oil exhibits diuretic, expectorant and antispasmodic properties as well as a stimulant effect on bile production.2

    Modern Experimental Science Takes a Look at Oregano

    Much of the focus of contemporary oregano research has been on its benefits against fungal and bacterial infections. Some eighty percent of all antibiotics produced in the US are fed to animals, a seriously bad practice that creates reservoirs of resistant bacteria that then are transmitted to humans via food and other vectors.

    In the first of several studies, researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center examined a number of volatile aromatic oils for their benefits.3 Oregano oil, which today primarily is used as a food flavoring agent, was hypothesized to possess a broad spectrum of in vitro antimicrobial activities attributable to the high content of phenolic derivatives such as carvacrol and thymol. In a study published in 2001, the antifungal properties of oregano oil were examined both in vitro and in vivo using the yeast Candida albicans as the exemplar fungal model. In an animal model of systemic candidiasis using mice, consumption of oregano oil supplied in olive oil led to 80% survival at 30 days versus none in the animals fed only olive oil. Carvacrol, the major constituent of the oil, was similarly effective, yet visual observation found that the mice consuming the oregano oil presented a cosmetically superior clinical appearance. This trial showed that oregano oil warrants further examination for possible benefits in pathogenic fungal infections.

    A second trial explored the benefits of oregano oil and the coconut oil fraction monolaurin against one of the more common bacterial infective agents, Staphylococcus aureus.4 As before, both in vitro and in vivo tests were carried out. In vitro, oregano oil was the most successful of the essential oils tested. In mice, systemic infection with S. aureus is routinely and rapidly fatal. This particular trial found that all 14 mice in the untreated arm of the study died within a one week period. Of the oregano oil treated mice, six of fourteen were still alive at 30 days. This compared favorably with the survival rates of those receiving daily vancomycin (7/14) and monolaurin (4/8). Over 60% of mice survived when receiving a daily combination of oregano oil and monolaurin (5/8). This trial therefore demonstrated that oregano oil, either alone or in combination with monolaurin, warrants further examination for possible use for prevention and therapy of Staphylococcus aureus infections. Numerous studies, in fact, have been undertaken since this one and have demonstrated, for instance, activity against methicillin-resistant staphylococci.5 In a world of increasing resistance to antibiotics, this is significant.

    Needless to say, staphylococci are not the only bacterial pathogens against which new active agents are required. A third test conducted at Dr. Preuss' laboratory examined the efficacy in vitro of oregano and several other essential oils as well as monolaurin against a variety of gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. Oregano oil proved active against all the tested pathogens except B. anthracis Sterne.6

    The successful use of oregano oil against parasitic infections has been mentioned already.

    New Research Directions for Oregano

    Two interesting developments in modern research may break new ground for uses of oregano oil. The first involves insulin metabolism. Researchers in 2005 examined the ability of various combinations of essential oils such as fenugreek, cinnamon, cumin, oregano, etc. to enhance insulin sensitivity. As a first approximation, they examined the effects of these natural products on Zucker fatty rats, a model of obesity and insulin resistance, and spontaneously hypertensive rats, a model of genetic hypertension. The ability to alter systolic blood pressure (the upper figure) in rat models is the most sensitive early index of insulin sensitivity. In this particular trial, various combinations of essential oils lowered blood pressure in both rat species, suggesting improved insulin sensitivity.7

    The story does not end with blood pressure data. Relatedly, a mouse study found that carvacrol appears to inhibit visceral adipogenesis (the creation of new fat cells in belly fat tissue) and it also attenuates the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines in these tissues.8 Work in another model, this one with induced edema in the paws, demonstrated anti-inflammatory and anti-ulcer protections, as well.9

    Finally, there is information emerging regarding oregano's protection against prostate cancer. According to Dr. Supriya Bavadekar, PhD, RPh, Assistant Professor of Pharmacology at Long Island University's Arnold & Marie Schwartz College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, the lead scientist for work presented at a conference in 2012, "Some researchers have previously shown that eating pizza may cut down cancer risk. This effect has been mostly attributed to lycopene, a substance found in tomato sauce, but we now feel that even the oregano seasoning may play a role."10

    Safety and Usage of Oregano

    Oregano and oregano oil are generally considered as safe (GRAS). However, caveats do apply. Large amounts of either may irritate the gastrointestinal tract. Concentrated amounts taken internally especially should be avoided in pregnancy and lactation. Also, the essential oil can be an irritant not just to the gastrointestinal tract, but to the skin, hence topically the essential oil usually is applied only as part of a prepared ointment.

    For intestinal parasitic infection, an emulsified oil of oregano has been used in a dose of 200 mg three times daily for 6 weeks, but such treatments need to be overseen by an experienced physician. Traditionally for other purposes, a typical dose is one cup of tea made by steeping one heaping teaspoon of the dried leaf in 250 mL boiling water 10 minutes. Alternatively, 19th Century herbals and medical manuals suggested 2 - 5 drops / day of the essential oil taken on a sugar cube for gastrointestinal issues and as an aromatic stimulant.

    1. Force M, Sparks WS, Ronzio RA. Inhibition of enteric parasites by emulsified oil of oregano in vivo. Phytother Res 2000:14:213-4.
    2. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs and Cosmetics. 2nd ed. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 1996.
    3. Manohar V, Ingram C, Gray J, Talpur NA, Echard BW, Bagchi D, Preuss HG. Antifungal activities of origanum oil against Candida albicans. Mol Cell Biochem. 2001 Dec;228(1-2):111-7.
    4. Preuss HG, Echard B, Dadgar A, Talpur N, Manohar V, Enig M, Bagchi D, Ingram C. Effects of Essential Oils and Monolaurin on Staphylococcus aureus: In Vitro and In Vivo Studies. Toxicol Mech Methods. 2005;15(4):279-85.
    5. Nostro A, Blanco AR, Cannatelli MA, Enea V, Flamini G, Morelli I, Sudano Roccaro A, Alonzo V. Susceptibility of methicillin-resistant staphylococci to oregano essential oil, carvacrol and thymol. FEMS Microbiol Lett. 2004 Jan 30;230(2):191-5.
    6. Preuss HG, Echard B, Enig M, Brook I, Elliott TB. Minimum inhibitory concentrations of herbal essential oils and monolaurin for gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. Mol Cell Biochem. 2005 Apr;272(1-2):29-34.
    7. Talpur N, Echard B, Ingram C, Bagchi D, Preuss H. Effects of a novel formulation of essential oils on glucose-insulin metabolism in diabetic and hypertensive rats: a pilot study. Diabetes Obes Metab. 2005 Mar;7(2):193-9.
    8. Cho S, Choi Y, Park S, Park T. Carvacrol prevents diet-induced obesity by modulating gene expressions involved in adipogenesis and inflammation in mice fed with high-fat diet. J Nutr Biochem. 2012 Feb;23(2):192-201.
    9. Silva FV, Guimarães AG, Silva ER, Sousa-Neto BP, Machado FD, Quintans-Júnior LJ, Arcanjo DD, Oliveira FA, Oliveira RC. Anti-inflammatory and anti-ulcer activities of carvacrol, a monoterpene present in the essential oil of oregano. J Med Food. 2012 Nov;15(11):984-91.
    10. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). "Component of pizza seasoning herb oregano kills prostate cancer cells." ScienceDaily, 24 Apr. 2012. Web. 23 Jan. 2013.
  • One of the gentlest, yet most effective ways to spring into fitness is through the art and science of bathing, especially with the use of essential oils. Bathing reduces stress, eases aching muscles, opens your pores, gives your skin a healthful glow, and stimulates your lymph flow by pulling toxins and wastes from your body via sweat. Taking a hot bath before bed will also help you sleep — a critical part of fitness and weight loss.

    A key component in your spring detox is getting your lymph moving. Since your lymph doesn’t have a pump like your heart does, you must take matters into your own hands. A few effective ways to do this are exercise, massage, rebounding, and using essential oils — which all happen to work so very nicely together. When your lymph (the body’s garbage collector) gets lazy, it can lead to chronic illness, poor circulation, allergies, weight gain, and cellulite.

    Spring is a wonderful time of year because it prompts and motivates us to cleanse, refresh and renew any area of our lives that we would like to improve. As you strive this spring to reach fitness goals before the onset of summer, you can use these baths to decongest and detox not just fat from your body, but harmful toxins, as well. Like gentle stretching, bathing is essential to pair with any fitness regimen for maximum results and optimal health.

    Essential oils are all the rage right now and it’s much deserved. What may come first to your mind are oil diffusers, which are great to put throughout your home, but correctly chosen oils can also greatly enhance the power of bathing. You may feel like you’re seeing essential oils all over the place, but do you know exactly how they’re made?

    Essential oils are distilled from the roots, leaves, and flowers of wild or organically grown plants. When you rub them on your skin or put them in a bath, they are quickly absorbed by both your skin and your nose, carrying their subtle messages to your limbic system — the portion of your brain that creates a sense of wellness and harmony. From there, they travel to your hypothalamus, the gland that regulates anxiety, depression, and hormonal balance.

    Essential oils are credited with numerous positive effects, including reducing water retention and fat deposits, alleviating stress and anxiety (which reduces cortisol and in turn aids weight loss), and reducing muscle soreness.

    Research suggests that certain essential oils can stimulate the hypothalamus to suppress your appetite, relieve pain, and stimulate your immune and lymph systems. Plus, let’s face it — they just smell so divine! The distinct smell of cinnamon, the spicy aroma of bergamot, and the zesty smells of lemon and orange stimulate your senses and reawaken your awareness of your physical self.

    There are many very practical reasons to lose weight and become fit, such as combating heart disease, lengthening your life span, and boosting your energy levels. But it’s nice to remember that the ultimate purpose of these plans is to enable you to enjoy your life, take pleasure in your body, and renew your spirit.

    Soaking into Spring
    My favorite way to get started with aromatherapy is by putting some essential oils into your warm bath, enabling the oils to penetrate your skin. You can choose more than one at a time, adding a total of ten drops to your bathwater while you fill up the tub. Be careful to not overdo it, as these are potent substances and using them in excess can sometimes irritate sensitive skin or trigger other unwelcome side effects.

    Simply soak for twenty minutes at the end of your day (about an hour or so before bedtime), using this time to release any stress and tension you’ve been carrying and transition into a peaceful sleep after you dry off.

    There are some important things to remember when it comes to using and caring for essential oils.

    Avoid oils that contain synthetic ingredients, which might produce an allergic reaction, and buy only 100 percent pure and natural oils. For storage, keep the undiluted oil in a tightly closed blue or amber glass bottle, away from the sunlight or heat. The refrigerator is an ideal spot. You should also keep them far away from candles or open flames, as they’re highly flammable! While the aromatic fragrances might entice your senses, please never swallow these highly concentrated oils, and keep them away from your eyes, ears and mucous membranes.

    Finally, if you would like to rub them directly on your skin, ensure that you mix them with a carrier oil (like almond, macadamia or jojoba) before application.

    Here are some of my seasonal favorite, lymph-friendly essential oils that are ideal for spring fitness:

    • Clary sage — supports endocrine function and helps to release fluid from swollen tissues.
    • Cypress — strengthens weak connective tissue, restores skin tone, enhances circulation, and releases toxins.
    • Grapefruit — dissolves fatty deposits, has toning and tightening qualities, and is also highly antimicrobial.
    • Juniper — promotes the elimination of toxic waste and helps to reduce fluid retention.
    • Lemon — dissolves fatty deposits, as the other citrus oils do, while also purifying the system.
    • Lemongrass — tones and strengthens connective tissue and stimulates lymphatic drainage; also acts as a diuretic to purge excess fluids from the system.
    • Orange — stimulates circulation and helps to increase lymphatic flow, relieving puffiness and water retention.
    • Rose and lavender — reduces stress and controls cravings.
    • Rosemary, lavender, peppermint, and mandarin orange — reduces pain from muscle aches, headaches, or arthritis.

    Aromatherapy baths aren’t the only way to turn your bathtub into a therapeutic refuge and healing sanctuary.

    There’s another very healing bath that you can do on a weekly basis, especially to reduce the effects of environmental pollution, X-rays, and CT Scans. This bath will help your body stay alkaline, and counter excess acidity on the cellular level. It’s also my personal formula to quickly but effectively counter jet lag, for those of you who are planning spring travels.

    It’s very simple to do and the results are amazing. It will also help you sleep better, so this is a great bath to turn into a healing ritual — especially before bed.

    Simply dissolve two cups of sea salt, rock or kosher salt with two cups of baking soda into a tub of water as hot as you can stand. Soak until the water is cool (about 20 minutes or so) and wait at least four hours before showering.

    This spring for a change, aim to tune-up your lymph while cleansing your system of harmful toxins. Aromatherapy baths will support your body, mind, and spirit and wash away stress. Hello, spring!