Free radicals. The term itself sounds like a late 80’s garage band or a rebel army opposing an unjust empire. As glorified as both of those connotations are; the reality is a little less …well, radical. In the body, free radicals attach themselves to cells, causing oxidative damage. Too much of this oxidative stress throws the body out of harmony, leading to numerous chronic disorders.
While many antioxidant foods, vitamins, and compounds have been isolated to combat the effects of oxidation in the body, the most promising antioxidants may be right under your nose. There is a long list of antioxidant essential oils studied to help keep your body balanced throughout the day.
Free Radicals in the Body
Free radicals are reactive particles that naturally occur in the body due to cell metabolism and energy production. In a healthy body, free radicals are the natural response to environmental toxins such as cigarette smoke, industrial pollution, and radiation. A certain number of free radicals are great for the body, as they act to notify the brain that there is a problem.
Problems arise when the amount of free radicals in the body is too high for the body to process and eliminate on its own. This is mostly due to the way free radicals interact with the cells of the body. A free radical molecule reactive because it is missing one or more of its electrons. This means that the molecule has too many protons, and therefore a positive (+) charge. Because atoms and molecules act like magnets to each other, this positive charge will readily attach to any atom or molecule with an extra electron, which will have a negative(-) charge.
In this way, free radicals steal electrons from the cells of the body. The result is a chain reaction; to make up for its absence the affected molecule now steals from another molecule, which steals from another, which steals from another ad infinitum. This chaotic effect builds up in the body, affecting the DNA of cells and contributing to dozens of chronic disorders. This is where the importance of antioxidants comes into play.
How Antioxidants Fight Oxidative Damage
Antioxidants are the perfect solution to this problem. They effectively end the snowball effect of oxidative damage by donating one of their extra electrons to the hungry free radicals. Antioxidants are different from normal cells in that they do not become reactive through this process, they become stable. This is how antioxidants help to prevent and reverse oxidative damage.
There are different types of antioxidants as well; and the various forms have different jobs in the body. Some antioxidants can actually reverse signs of aging from damaged cells. Still others act to activate the immune system, specifically target heavy metals, or kill cancer cells.
The good news is nature provides many sources of antioxidants. To keep a healthy body, it is important to vary the types of antioxidants utilized; as each type of antioxidant plays a different role in the body. Here are a few common antioxidants:
ALA – A free radical scavenger which also helps eliminate metals from the body and brain; a very important function in the body, as metals in the brain have been linked to degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
CoQ10 – This antioxidant is used by every cell in the body, acting to produce more energy for the cells, supporting the heart and nervous system, and maintaining blood pressure.
Resveratrol – Another antioxidant which crosses the blood brain barrier, resveratrol can help to inhibit the spread of cancer, lower blood pressure, keep the heart healthy, and regulate the body’s inflammatory responses.
Vitamin C – A common supplement, vitamin C has some amazing health benefits. In addition to fighting against oxidative damage, vitamin C can also protect the cells from said damage.
The Antioxidant Lifestyle and Diet
In addition to supplementing the diet with antioxidants, it is important to include a wide variety of foods which contain antioxidants themselves; such as a variety of fresh organic fruits and vegetables, nuts, green tea, and many herbs and spices.
Foods like blueberries, kale, noni leaf juice, green tea, and spinach all have high amounts of oxygen radical absorption capacity (ORAC) among foods.
Exercise is also a vital part of reducing antioxidant damage in the body. Moderate exercise can help the body produce antioxidants on its own. Too much exercise can actually create more oxidative stress in the body. This will also make sure the body gets tired at a reasonable time, which is important, as a lack of sleep can negatively affect the health in many ways.
Earthing, also known as grounding, is the way in which your body picks up electrical impulses from the earth. There is a large amount of science supporting the benefits of grounding.
The Earth’s surface is full of electrons. As your bare body contacts the natural surfaces of the Earth, they pick up these electrons. When these extra electrons enter your body, many beneficial changes occur. Physically, your body starts to change its charge to match that of the Earth. Your nervous system, immune system, and stress levels all come into balance. Over time, walking barefoot balances cortisol levels; reducing stress, oxidative damage, and inflammation, all without the need for any medications.
Antioxidant Essential Oils
There are over many essential oils that have a considerably high ORAC potential, and are the perfect additions to your antioxidant lifestyle. As the oils are either diffused or applied topically to the skin, they enter the bloodstream and help reduce the oxidative load on the body. Here we will look at the most studied antioxidant essential oils.
1. Clove Essential Oil
Atop the list of antioxidant essential oils sits clove bud. Every essential oil user should have a bottle of clove bud essential oil in their home, if only for its potency as an antioxidant. In fact, the high amounts of the phenolic compound eugenol in clove bud essential oil make it the most potent natural antioxidant around. While many other natural products have ORAC ratings in the thousands, Clove essential oil tips the scale with an ORAC rating in the millions. A rating is nothing without proof, however. Multiple studies on clove essential oil have concluded the same thing – clove essential oil is a powerful antioxidant. In addition to being a potent antioxidant, clove bud essential oil is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, increases circulation, and helps with the digestive system.
2. Cinnamon Bark Essential Oil
The essential oil of cinnamon bark is a close second to clove bud. Cinnamon bark has been used medicinally for thousands of years to hone the mind and heal the body. The essential oil of cinnamon bark enjoys some impressive benefits as well. It is a digestive tonic, Increases blood circulation, and helps in the regulation of the body’s sugar levels. In addition to this, a comparative study of 42 other essential oils found cinnamon bark to be the highest performing antioxidant compound. Like clove essential oil, cinnamon bark essential oil enjoys a high content of the potent antioxidant compound, eugenol.
3. Oregano Essential Oil
Oregano essential oil has rapidly gained fame as a way to cleanse and tone the body system. Perhaps its most noted use, oregano essential oil is a potent antimicrobial. These disinfectant and antibacterial properties of oregano essential oil were first recognized in ancient Greece; where it was common to treat bacterial infections on the skin or wounds with oregano oil, and it was also employed to protect food from bacteria.
The antioxidant abilities of oregano essential oil are no less impressive. It has frequently outperformed other oils, and has been studied itself multiple times. This is largely due to its main phenolic compounds – carvacrol and thymol. These potent antioxidants also are responsible for oregano essential oil’s ability to quickly kill the toughest strains of bacteria.
4. Blue Tansy Essential Oil
The blue tansy is an herbaceous flowering plant common to Europe. The plant is put through a steam distillation process, producing a rare deep blue liquid blue tansy essential oil. Used on the skin to treat all types of burns, stings, and skin disorders like psoriasis and eczema; blue tansy essential oil is also a potent antioxidant. When compared to dozens of other essential oils, blue tansy was among the top oils in free radical scavenging ability. Diluted in carrier oil and applied topically, blue tansy essential oil can be absorbed through the skin and get to work fighting oxidative damage immediately.
5. Rosemary Essential Oil
In addition to making amazing meals taste better, the Rosmarinus officinalis plant has many uses. When steam distilled to extract all of the beneficial compounds, the result is pure rosemary essential oil. There are many benefits to the sharp, camphorous oil; chief among them is that rosemary essential oil is a known antioxidant which acts to protect the blood. The compounds in rosemary essential oil scavenge free radicals through activating the body’s defense mechanisms, boosting the ability to handle oxidative stressors.
6. Laurel leaf Essential Oil
The laurus nobilis plant has been used for thousands of years as a symbol of knowledge and great achievement. The term “Bachelor’s degree” even stems from the Greek word for laurel, as people of great achievement in the culture were often adorned with crowns of laurel leaves. With all the wonderful benefits of laurel essential oil, there is no wonder it has been revered for centuries.
Laurel leaf essential oil is an anti-coagulant, fever & headache reducer, and digestive. One study finds that laurel leaf essential oil is an antioxidant in the body as well. While the oil is not as effective as many other essential oils as far as free radical scavenging activity, it is very effective at removing metals from the bloodstream. As the accumulation of metals in the body leads to serious diseases, laurel leaf essential oil is a great one to have in the cabinet.
7. Allspice Essential Oil
The rich aroma of allspice essential oil has found its way into many men’s fragrances due to its aromatic, woody body. In the medical world, however, allspice is even more attractive. Among the benefits of allspice essential oil is the ability to greatly reduce free radicals in the bloodstream. When inhaled or applied topically, allspice essential oil fights against oxidation in much the same way as clove bud essential oil. Researchers even noted that allspice essential oil scavenges free radicals much like pure eugenol.
8. Basil Essential Oil
Basil is revered for its amazing medicinal properties. In India, for example, basil is regularly used in Ayurveda to treat coughing, constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, and skin abrasions. Basil essential oil is a known antimicrobial, and has been shown in multiple studies to have significant antioxidant activity. When compared to many other essential oils, basil essential oil effectively reduced free radicals at lower doses.
9. Lemon Essential Oil
A recent study highlighted the antioxidant capacity of lemon essential oil. Researchers found that the oil’s high capacity of antioxidants help reduce the growth of cancerous cells involved with cervical cancer. The presence of antioxidant compounds like limonene makes lemon oil a possible chemopreventative agent against many types of cancer, including breast and colorectal cancer.
10. Buddha Wood Essential Oil
Buddha wood oil is very unique in the aromatherapy world; promoting a sense of calmness and relaxation that has definitely earned the oil its reverent name. A very comprehensive study recently compared the antioxidant effects of many essential oils using a common method of measurement. While there were some 52 essential oils which showed antioxidant activity, buddha wood essential oil was among the only oils to reduce scavenge free radicals at very low concentrations. For that reason, Buddha wood essential oil is considered a strong antioxidant oil.
11. Thyme Essential Oil
There are many benefits of thyme essential oil. In addition to such things as preventing cramps and helping to heal urinary tract infections, thyme essential oil is also a potent antioxidant. Researchers noted that the essential oils of the Thymus vulgaris plant showed such antimicrobial and antioxidant reducing potential; they could be used as natural food preservatives.
12. Geranium Essential Oil
Geranium essential oil is used to calm anxiety and stress, reduce swollen lymph glands, and soothe symptoms of menopause. New research into the plant shows that geranium essential oil contains strong antioxidant compounds, and is specifically beneficial for diabetics. When compared to a leading medication for hypoglycemia, geranium essential oil outperformed it. Researchers noted that geranium could be used as a safe alternative antihyperglycemic drug for diabetes patients. Looks like another essential oil for diabetes to add to the list!
13. Lavender Essential Oil
The list of benefits of lavender essential oil is quite long. Among the list is its use as a powerful antioxidant. Not only does lavender exhibit free radical scavenging abilities, but one study showed that it acts to modulate the immune system in response to oxidative stress. This means lavender doesn’t do the work for the body; but rather empowers the body to heal itself. These same antioxidants are also potent anti-inflammatory compounds as well.
Other Antioxidant Essential Oils
As stated previously, there are numerous essential oils with antioxidant properties. Below are just a few of the oils we did not highlight, but which still have potent antioxidant properties.
- Eucalyptus Essential Oil
- Helichrysum Essential Oil
- Peru basalm essential oil
- Lemongrass Essential Oil
- Cumin Essential Oil
- Coriander Essential Oil
- Parsley Essential Oil
- Mountain Savory Essential Oil
- Ginger Essential Oil
Pure essential oils are powerful, and should be used with care. The antioxidant levels in pure essential oils are especially high, and can cause serious skin irritation. For that reason, pure oil should always be diluted; and pay attention to any reactions your body may have to it when applied on the skin. Children and pregnant women should use any essential oil under the guidance of a healthcare practitioner. Antioxidant essential oils should only be taken internally under the guidance of an experienced practitioner, as the antioxidant levels can cause serious damage to the esophagus and digestive organs.
The most important thing to consider when purchasing essential oil is the purity of the product. Always look for pure essential oils. Pure oils are not only the most beneficial – they are the safest. Read more about pure essential oils and how they can positively affect your life.
Do you have an antioxidant recipe you’d like to share with us? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!