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Do essential oils have an effect on your heart?

Exposure to essential oil of bergamot for less than one hour lowers your heart rate and blood pressure. Being exposed for more than one hour raises your heart rate and blood pressure. But we can’t be certain about the study’s findings.

BMJ Group News

What do we know already?

lavender essential oils

Essential oils are concentrated oils made from natural substances such as clove, lavender, and rose. They are commonly used in complementary therapies, such as aromatherapy.

Some studies have shown that essential oils could have some health benefits, but these have mostly been poor-quality studies. We can’t be sure that essential oils have any health benefits.

In complementary medicine, essential oil of bergamot is used, among other things, to give you a calming, soothing feeling. Researchers wanted to find out if this could affect your blood pressure or heart rate. This study looked at the effect of essential oil of bergamot on the heart rate and blood pressure of 100 spa workers who had no heart problems and weren’t at risk of developing heart problems.

The researchers used a diffuser to disperse a fine mist of essential oil of bergamot into a room. The spa workers sat in the room for two hours on three occasions about one week apart. During each of the two-hour visits, the researchers measured the blood pressure and heart rate of the spa workers at 15-minute intervals.

What does the new study say?

During the first hour of breathing in the vapours, the spa workers’ heart rate and blood pressure went down. But during the second hour the spa workers’ blood pressure and heart rate increased to higher levels than before they were exposed to the bergamot oil. Overall the changes were less than one millimetre of mercury (mm Hg, the unit blood pressure is measured in), or one or two heart beats a minute.

Our blood pressure and heart rate change a lot throughout the day. We don’t know if the small changes in heart rate or blood pressure in this study had any effect on the spa workers’ health.

How reliable is the research?

This study didn’t use a dummy treatment or a sham treatment (for example something that smells like essential oil of bergamot, but isn’t) for comparison. So the researchers didn’t have anything to compare their results to. We don’t know if the changes in heart rate or blood pressure might have happened anyway, even without breathing in the bergamot vapours. Both the spa workers and the researchers knew they were using bergamot oil. This means the results could have been biased, or affected by their expectations.

The fact that the spa workers’ blood pressure and heart rate dipped very slightly during the first hour was probably because they’d been active at work and now they were sitting down in a nice-smelling room. After sitting for more than one hour, they may have become fidgety and anxious, causing their blood pressure and heart rate to rise slightly.

What does this mean for me?

We don’t know if essential oils have an effect on people’s health. The quality of this study is not good enough to know for sure. If you enjoy aromatherapy or other complementary therapies that use essential oils, there is no reason to stop using them. They probably won’t do much for your heart rate or blood pressure though.

Published on November 30, 2012

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