Exercise and Herbs

While the active season of summer may be coming to a close, fall entices many sports enthusiasts to run, bike, hike, and train when cooler weather presides. Of course, a successful workout requires adequate fuel and self-care to reduce the risk of injury and make for an enjoyable experience. So we look to herbs to help us postpone the onset of fatigue and aid in recovery.

Cayenne {Capsicum annuum}

Capsaicin, one of the cayenne’s active components, aids muscle pain and soreness by providing topical heat to those areas. Taken internally, the pepper informs the brain to circulate endorphins throughout the body. These endorphins make the athlete feel good, which helps with stamina during a long and intense workout. And because cayenne causes your body temperature to rise, it boosts metabolism {we burn more calories when the body is forced to go through a heating and cooling process}.

Ashwagandha {Withania somnifera}

A study published in 2015 in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition showed that the root has significant benefits for muscle strength, mass, and recovery in resistance training. Male subjects between the ages of 18 and 57, with little experience in resistance training, were split into a placebo group and an ashwagandha-extract group. The men spent eight weeks completing exercises that included leg extensions and bench presses. They were measured before and after eight weeks. At the end of the trial, those in the Ashwagandha group showed a siginificantly greater increase in muscle strength on the leg extension and bench press exercises and a significant increase in muscle size in the arms and chest. Exercise-induced muscle damage and body fat percentage were both reduced. In addition, participants saw a greater increase in testosterone levels.

Peppermint {Mentha x piperita}

Peppermint is a wonderful stimulating herb that boosts performance. Just a drop of peppermint essential oil on the tongue can give a blast of refreshing energy. Try it before and during a workout to increase endurance. Its antispasmodic properties help reduce muscle spasms and cramping, making it beneficial during a workout or while recuperating. This herb also contains potassium, magnesium, and calcium, important electrolytes that we can lose through sweat. An individual doing a long-duration run such as a marathon would benefit from drinking a peppermint infusion to replenish the needed potassium and electrolytes.

Chamomile {Matricaria recutita}

We may associate this herb with bedtime, but it actually works wonders on muscles, thanks to its ability to reduce inflammation of the affected areas. As an antispasmodic, it also eases muscle tension, which is particularly helpful during cramping. A cup of strong chamomile tea will work almost immediately. For topical relief before or after a workout, add chamomile essential oil to a base oil and use for a massage.

Lavender {Lavandula angustifolia}

This fragrant herb offers soothing relief for joint pain and muscle soreness, offering both anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic benefits. Combine it with almond oil for use in massage, or add it to a bath to relieve aches and pains while enjoying much-needed aromatherapy. It’s perfect for someone who’s just completed a long-duration workout or a marathon. {Use lavender essential oil or loose fried lavender in a muslin bag and add to the tub}.

Mustard {Brassica alba}

As a rubefacient, mustard {applied as a paste} brings heat to a sore or injured area by dilating the capillaries and increasing blood circulation {it will turn the skin red}. Some people also swear by “mustard baths,” an age-old bath blend that includes mustard powder, Epsom salts, and essential oils such as eucalyptus to warm fatigued muscles and lessen pain throughout the body.

Nettle {Urtica dioica}

This vitamin-packed herb strengthens the body’s overall health, stimulates metabolism, and boosts energy and stamina. It’s also beneficial for recovery after a hard workout. Nettle is rich in magnesium, calcium, zinc, manganese, iron, potassium, and many other minerals and vitamins. Calcium regulates muscle contraction and is necessary for the repair and maintenance of bone tissue. {Deficiency in calcium can result in stress fractures because of low bone mineral density.} Nettle reduces musculoskeletal pain as well as inflammation and muscle spasms.

Oats [Avena sativa}

Oats are a great source of energy, and their tops are rich in magnesium, an important mineral for muscle and nerve function. Oat’s anti-inflammatory action reduces fatigue and helps with post-exercise recovery.

Athletic Energy Balls

1/4 ounce spirulina

1-ounce Siberian ginseng powder

1-ounce ground ashwagandha

1-ounce astragalus

1 cup sesame butter

1/2 cup honey

1/2 ounce ground pumpkin seeds

1/2 cup crushed almonds

2 Tbls cocoa powder

1 Tbls carob powder

Combine herbs and spirulina, mixing well. In a separate bowl combine sesame butter and honey to form a paste. Add powdered herb mix into the paste. Next add pumpkin seeds, almonds, cocoa and carob powders. Roll into balls roughly the size of a walnut. Place in the refrigerator to harden.

Fo-ti {Polygonum multiflorum}

An energizing herb used in Chinese tonics, fo-ti improves endurance and reduces stress in the body by boosting circulation and supporting the heart. It contains lectins, protein-sugar complexes that help block the formation of plaque in the blood vessels that would restrict the flexibility of their walls. Fo-ti works best when taken regularly.

Astragalus {Astragalus membranaceus}

Another amazing tonic herb, astragalus strengthens the whole body, stimulates metabolism, and improves energy and endurance. This herb’s ability to increase the uptake of oxygen aids in recovery. A 2014 study published in Molecules showed that astragalus supplements increase exercise endurance and muscle glycogen {which muscles then convert into glucose} in mice. It also reduces exercise-induced fatigue.

Licorice {Glycyrrhiza glabra}

This anti-inflammatory aids the respiratory system, which is useful for the increased breathing associated with being active. It’s also handy {and tasty} when dealing with fatigue and exhaustion during high-intensity exercise or recovery.

Dandelion {Taraxacum officinale}

Dandelion is a restorative herb that helps during recovery. The leaves contain a wealth of vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C. A shortage of iron in the body can cause a deficiency of hemoglobin, which makes it difficult for the body to move oxygen into the muscles. Adding raw dandelion leaves to a salad is a great way to increase iron intake. Dandelion is also rich in potassium, which replenishes the body after long-duration activity. It relieves inflammation and the buildup of fluid in the joints and increases the absorption of nutrients.

Rosemary {Rosmarinus officinalis}

As a stimulant, rosemary supports the circulatory system and boosts energy. Thanks to its analgesic and antioxidant properties, it’s great at targeting inflammation. These antioxidant properties also reduce oxidative stress and decrease joint pain. A nice cup of rosemary tea is a great way to relax and reap the benefits during recovery. Steep one tablespoon of rosemary leaves in two cups of water for 20 minutes. Strain and enjoy.

Turmeric {Curcuma longa}

Turmeric is an immune-boosting herb that has highly effective anti-inflammatory properties, thanks to its active compound curcumin. This powerful herb encourages flexibility and also aids the ligaments and tendons. Turmeric promotes the health of the musculoskeletal system. As a recovery herb, it reduces the pain, fatigue, and inflammation caused by the stress of an intense workout. For a simple recovery drink, mix turmeric root powder with a cup of warm almond milk {or milk of choice}. Stir 1/2-1 teaspoon of the turmeric powder into the warm milk. If you’d like something sweeter, add honey. Turmeric capsules are also a great option.

Athletic Energy Capsules

1 part ground licorice

1 part ground fo-ti

1/2 part ground oats

1/4 part cayenne powder

“OO” gelatin or vegetable capsules

Blend all of the powdered herbs together in a bowl and scoop into the capsules.

 

 

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Can Essential Oils Help Treat Fibromyalgia?

Essential oils are concentrated aromatic liquids that are distilled from plants. They are believed to provide a number of health benefits and ease the symptoms of several medical conditions, including fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic musculoskeletal disorder and a class of rheumatic disease, which is believed to affect the way the body processes pain signals. It is marked by pain throughout the body, fatigue, mental fog, depression, cramps, and sleep disturbances.

According to the American College of Rheumatology, fibromyalgia affects between 2 and 4 percent of people. Up to 90 percent of people with the condition are women. At present, there is no cure for fibromyalgia. Treatment is based on managing the symptoms.

Essential oils and fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia causes chronic pain, fatigue, depression, and other symptoms.

People with fibromyalgia may experience relief from both physical and mental symptoms through the use of essential oils.

In general, research suggests that essential oils offer therapeutic potential in pain relief.

Studies specifically on essential oils for fibromyalgia, other rheumatic conditions, and pain management are limited. However, the following essential oils may help with symptoms of fibromyalgia:

Basil

In one study, basil oil was found to produce painkilling effects on mice with chronic muscle pain. This finding led the researchers to suggest basil oil as a potential method of pain relief for those with fibromyalgia.

Capsicum

This essential oil is extracted from red chilies. It contains capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers, which is well-documented as a pain reliever.

In one study, people with severe fibromyalgia applied topical capsaicin three times per day for 6 weeks. The treatment led to significant improvements in terms of pain relief and overall well-being.

It has also been suggested that concentrated capsaicin patches can reduce neuropathic pain for up to 12 weeks.

Cedarwood

Research from 2015 suggests that inhaling cedarwood essential oil alleviates post-surgery pain in mice by influencing the way the body experiences pain.

Clove

A review of research on clove essential oil suggests that it may be a possible method to relieve pain.

The researchers suggest that clove oil may be so effective because it contains eugenol in high concentrations (88.58 percent). Eugenol is commonly used as a local antiseptic and anesthetic.

Ginger and orange

A blend of both ginger and orange oil was tested on older adults with moderate-to-severe knee pain.

Those treated experienced an improvement in physical function and a reduction in pain when compared with those that received a placebo, or no treatment at all. These benefits were still observable at the 1-week follow-up, but not at the 4-week review.

This study indicates an aromatherapy massage using these essential oils can effectively reduce pain in the short term. Be careful when using citrus oils if going out in the sun, as some research has suggested that they may cause sunburn.

Lavender

Recent research found that an aromatherapy massage using lavender oil effectively reduced pain in people with osteoarthritis of the knee.

Pain levels were reduced immediately after the treatment and remained lowered at 1-week post-treatment. However, the pain relief did not last long-term. At the 4 week follow-up, the pain had returned.

Lavender oil was also found to reduce stress and anxiety, and so may be beneficial for those who experience these common fibromyalgia symptoms. It may also aid sleep.

Multiple oil blend

Research that looked at the effects of a commercially available essential oil blend on people with fibromyalgia found that, following 4 weeks of treatment, improvements were experienced in night pain, strength, and tender point pain thresholds.

The oil blend tested comprised white camphor oil, aloe vera oil, eucalyptus oil, lemon oil, orange oil, peppermint oil, and rosemary oil.

How to use essential oils for fibromyalgia

[lavender essential oil]
The essential oil should not be applied directly to the skin without diluting it first. Alternately, it can be inhaled using a diffuser or oil burner.

Essential oils can be used in the following ways:

  • Topically. Do not apply undiluted essential oils directly to the skin. Essential oils must be mixed with a carrier oil. Mix a few drops of an essential oil with 1 ounce of carrier oil (such as coconut oil, sweet almond oil, or olive oil) before applying to the skin. It can also be used as a massage oil. Mixed oils can also be added to bathwater.
  • Inhaled. The oils can be inhaled directly, or placed in an essential oil diffuser or burner.

To ease fibromyalgia and other pain conditions, it is best to use essential oils on a regular basis. Some of the above studies suggest that the beneficial effects of the oils do not endure beyond a few days, so the regular application may help to keep the pain at bay.

Risks and considerations

Although essential oils are considered a natural remedy, they carry some risks. It is important for people to keep the following in mind:

  • Essential oils should not be ingested. Although some people may recommend taking essential oils by mouth, these products are highly concentrated. They can have serious side effects if taken incorrectly in this manner.
  • It is possible to be allergic to essential oils. People should test their chosen essential oil by mixing it with a carrier oil and putting a small amount, about the size of a dime, on their forearm. If there is no reaction, it should be safe to use. Test each new essential oil in the same manner.
  • Look out for unwanted side effects. While these oils have been shown in studies to have beneficial effects, they may have negative effects too. If any undesirable side effects are experienced, people should stop using them and consult a doctor. Risk varies depending on age, health status, and medications.
  • Check for drug interactions. Essential oils can interact with common prescription drugs. Those on medication should consult a doctor before using essential oils, especially if intending to use them on the skin.
  • Always use a carrier oil. Undiluted oils can cause skin irritation, blisters, or rash. Some oils can also increase sensitivity to light, especially citrus oils. People should dilute essential oils with a carrier oil such as almond oil, coconut oil, or jojoba oil.
  • Choose a reputable brand. There is considerable variation between essential oils in terms of potency and quality.

Other natural remedies and lifestyle changes

There are several other natural treatments for fibromyalgia that vary in effectiveness from person to person. A combination of treatments tends to work best.

Some natural remedies and lifestyle changes include:

[young woman getting a massage]
Massage therapy can help people with fibromyalgia manage their symptoms.
  • Acupuncture. There is some research to suggest that certain acupuncture therapies can ease symptoms for some people with fibromyalgia.
  • Exercise. Regular gentle exercises such as yoga, walking, swimming, and Pilates may help to decrease pain symptoms and fatigue and improve mood and sleep.
  • Massage. According to the National Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Association, regular massage therapy can improve chronic pain and fibromyalgia symptoms. Massage with the essential oils listed above may be particularly beneficial.
  • Sleep. Setting a regular sleep schedule – with the same bedtime and wake time – helps ease fatigue.
  • Stress management. Managing fibromyalgia means reducing both physical and emotional symptoms of stress. Several techniques can help with this, including meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and breathing exercises.
  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). Working with a therapist who practices CBT can help people to develop new coping strategies. It can help people to change thoughts, behaviors, and emotions to better manage pain and other symptoms.

A review of research found that 12 weeks of CBT led to a slight reduction in pain, negative mood, and disability in people of all ages with fibromyalgia. These changes were still experienced 6 months after treatment ended.

When to see a doctor

People should see a doctor if any of the symptoms of fibromyalgia persist, or if symptoms get worse.

Common fibromyalgia symptoms include:

  • depression
  • the difficulty with focus and concentration
  • tiredness
  • headaches
  • muscle spasms
  • nausea
  • widespread pain

Complications associated with fibromyalgia include an impaired ability to function and increased anxiety.

Causes and risk factors

While researchers are not sure of the exact cause of fibromyalgia, the following factors are thought to play a role:

  • Genetics. A family history of fibromyalgia is a risk factor.
  • Inflammation. Inflammation around groups of blood vessels and nerves can cause an over-reactive nervous system.
  • Infection. Certain infections trigger onset.
  • Other disorders. People with other rheumatic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or lupus, are at increased risk of fibromyalgia.
  • Psychological distress. Some research suggests that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a potential risk factor for fibromyalgia. Trauma and PTSD ignite inflammatory responses in the body that can lead to pain and disease.
  • Physical trauma. A physical injury, such as a car accident or through surgery, can bring on symptoms.
  • Sex. Women are more likely than men to develop fibromyalgia.

Those who are considering using essential oils for fibromyalgia, particularly if taking multiple medications, may wish to speak with their doctor before beginning treatment.

Nine Essential Oils for Diabetes

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that affects many people in the United States and much more around the globe. The disease is usually treated medically but as yet, there is no cure for it.

Some research suggests that there may be some essential oils that can be safely added to a diabetes care plan with great results.

Essential oils and diabetes

essential oils
Essential oils have been used for many years and compounds of plants have been used in many western medications.

Essential oils are concentrated versions of certain compounds that are found in plant matter.

A simple example of essential oils can be found in the peel of citrus fruits. Peeling an orange releases the essential oil from the peel, causing the fresh orange scent to spread into the air.

Some of the oldest known civilizations used essential oils in one form or another. Compounds isolated from essential oils have been used to make many western medications. Many of the compounds in essential oils can be readily used by the body.

By pairing these effects with the symptoms people are looking to help treat, essential oils can be used to help with many diabetes symptoms.

Coriander seed

Coriander or cilantro seed is grown all over the world and has been used by many cultures for treating digestive issues, such as indigestion, diarrhea, and flatulence.

A recent study on rats shows that coriander seed essential oil may help in the fight against diabetes as well. An extract from coriander seed was found to reduce the blood sugar levels in test subjects.

Researchers noted that the beta cells in the pancreas were more active. This helps to increase insulin levels while reducing blood sugar.

In many cases, coriander essential oil may help the body increase insulin levels naturally.

Lemon balm

Lemon balm essential oil is a lesser known oil, but new research may soon change its profile. A study found that the essential oil from lemon balm helped to consume sugar it came into contact with.

This test was carried out in a lab, not with humans, but it does highlight a possibility that the oil may be beneficial for blood sugar levels when used in a diffuser or applied to the skin.

Clove bud

clove bud essential oil
Studies suggest that clove bud may reduce enzymes in the pancreas that are linked to diabetes.

Another study on animals found that clove bud essential oil might play a role in preventing or managing type 2 diabetes. The research found that using clove oil reduced levels of certain enzymes in the pancreas that are believed to be linked to diabetes.

The study also noted that the oil might be helpful in managing or preventing diabetes caused by oxidative stress. This occurs when the body does not produce enough antioxidants to battle the free radicals (unstable molecules) that cause damage to cells throughout the body.

Black seed

Black seed, or Nigella sativa, has been used in traditional medicine to treat many conditions, including diabetes. Recent research in a laboratory aimed to see if these claims were true, using both the Nigella sativa seed and its essential oil.

The authors found that both the seed and essential oil were useful treatments for high blood sugar and the related issues that come with it. They also found that Nigella sativa is high in antioxidants that help to reduce the risk of diabetes complications that are caused by oxidative stress.

Using black seed essential oil alongside a varied and wholesome diet may help to reduce blood sugar to safe levels.

Black pepper

People with type 2 diabetes often have other symptoms, such as high blood pressure and circulation issues.

A study found that an essential oil derived from the common kitchen spice, black pepper, might provide a way to manage or prevent type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

The researchers noted that the oil contains a lot of antioxidants, and helps to block certain enzymes in the body that may contribute to diabetes and high blood pressure.

Helichrysum and grapefruit

Weight loss is a key factor in controlling type 2 diabetes symptoms. While being overweight does not cause every case of diabetes, it can make symptoms worse.

Losing weight is typically seen as the first line of treatment for people with diabetes. This means dieting and exercise, but the process may also be helped along with essential oils.

A recent study found that obese rats given extracts of helichrysum and grapefruit gained less weight, had reduced signs of inflammation, and had less excess insulin than other subjects.

While the study was not done with humans, it may be a good sign that helichrysum and grapefruit can help people lose weight if used properly.

A relaxing massage of oil containing helichrysum and grapefruit essential oils after a nice workout may help promote relaxation and weight loss.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon has long been a favored spice in desserts. It has a sweet flavor that seems to boost sweetness without adding more sugar. New research also suggests that it may also be great for people with diabetes.

One study looked at the effects of cinnamon and the compounds in it on various factors in diabetes. The researchers noted that cinnamon has shown to be beneficial to insulin sensitivity, sugar and fat levels, inflammation, blood pressure, and even body weight.

Regular intake of cinnamon and regular use of cinnamon essential oil may help to control factors of diabetes in some people.

Lavender

The scent of lavender oil is very familiar and lavender has numerous uses in both traditional and western medicine. According to research, one promising use may be in relieving diabetes symptoms.

Researchers found that in animal experiments, lavender essential oil helped to balance high blood sugar levels and protect the body from the oxidative stress that causes complications in people with diabetes.

Aromatherapy and diabetes

lavender
Lavender oil may help to balance high blood sugar levels.

Diabetes is a complex disease that has many contributing factors and can create different symptoms in different people.

Risk factors, such as poor diet, high blood pressure, obesity, and physical inactivity can all play a role in type 2 diabetes. Stress may make symptoms worse for some, and rapid changes to the diet and physical activity levels may affect others more.

People who are in these situations may find essential oils very beneficial. Adding a few drops of essential oil to an aromatherapy diffuser and taking long, deep breaths of the vapor produced is an easy way to get any beneficial compounds into the body.

The receptors in the nose and capillaries of the lungs can pick up the tiny particles of many essential oils and carry them into the bloodstream to be used by the body where it needs the most help.

Some particles may also be small enough to pass through the skin. This is beneficial for people looking for on-the-go relief from symptoms or more localized treatment.

If an essential oil is to be used on the skin, it should be properly diluted first. Many people enjoy adding a few drops of essential oil to an ounce of olive oil, coconut oil, or almond oil. Before applying it anywhere else, apply a dime-sized amount to the forearm to check for allergies. If no signs of allergies appear after 24-48 hours, it should be safe to use the diluted oil.

It is important to note that essential oils should not be swallowed. Even with the purest essential oils, the high antioxidant content of many oils can damage the food pipe, stomach, and intestines.

Outlook

The most important thing to consider with essential oils is that they are a complementary treatment. No essential oil should be expected to relieve a person’s diabetes symptoms on its own.

Essential oils can be used as part of a balanced program of diet, exercise, lifestyle choices, and medical treatment options. It is always best to discuss treatment options that include essential oils with both the doctor and licensed aromatherapist.

When used with proper guidance, essential oils may be useful in the fight against diabetes and its symptoms and side effects.