Why Essential Oils Work: The Chemistry of Eucalyptol

Understanding how essential oils work | The reserach backed benefits of eucalyptol and eucalyptus essential oil

Think of the last time you inhaled eucalyptus essential oil, the companion to congested people everywhere. Did you just think about taking a deep breath and feeling your lungs open and clear? Has a feeling of relaxation come over you because you can breathe easier? Have you ever wondered what it is in eucalyptus essential oil that offers these benefits? The answer lies in the chemistry! 

Eucalyptol (1,8 cineole) is a molecule called a monoterpene, just like linalool (a component of lavender essential oil). Eucalyptol has been responsible for relief from stuffy noses, congestion, coughing, and inflammation of the lungs.

Studies have shown that eucalyptol relaxes smooth muscle in the lungs, reduces inflammation, and of course, has well-documented mucolytic (breaking up that gunk in your lungs when you are sick) properties (4,6). Essential oils containing eucalyptol are an absolute must-have aromatherapy remedy for respiratory support during cold and flu season.

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Why essential oils work based on the chemistry of eucalyptol and the benefits of eucalyptus essential oil

Animal Studies

In a study on rats and guinea pigs, eucalyptol was shown to decrease the experiment-induced contractions of the smooth muscle in the lungs (1). This relaxation of the airways opens them up and leads to easier breathing. It also dilates the blood vessels, clearing the airways further.

In another study, guinea pigs with experiment-induced  inflammation in their lungs were given eucalyptol to inhale. The inflammation in the airways was either reduced or completely absent in the animals exposed to eucalyptol (2).

Human Studies

Eucalyptol has also been studied extensively in humans. Inflammation of the airways is partially due to the release of inflammatory cytokines which induce inflammation of the tissue. Eucalyptol can reduce production of these inflammatory cytokines (4). In a double-blind, placebo controlled trial on patients with asthma, after 6-months of treatment with eucalyptol in capsules, patients in the eucalyptol group showed a statistically significant decrease in asthmatic symptoms (3).

Another double-blind, placebo-controlled trial was structured to slowly reduce asthma patient’s steroid mediation while giving some of the patients eucalyptol in capsules. The trial showed the eucalyptol group tolerated the weaning off steroids far better (4).

How to Use

For general respiratory support, inhaling essential oils containing eucalyptol is the most practical method of use. It is absorbed well into the bloodstream when inhaled (5), and offers a calming and cooling effect on the respiratory system. Essential oil diffusers (here) and aromatherapy inhalers (here) are excellent tools for this purpose. (diffusing safety guidelines) Another great option is to make a properly diluted chest salve by mixing coconut oil with essential oil.

Please note that essential oils high in eucalyptol like rosemary and eucalyptus must be used with caution in small children, as it is a smooth muscle relaxant and can induce breathing trouble in small children when concentrations are too high. As with any essential oil, educate yourself. Do your research on the company you have chosen; call them and ask questions, research their farms, distillation processes, GC/MS reports, organic practices, and other data. Essential oils are powerful and must be treated as such. Please, keep them in a locked cabinet far away from children. If you want to know what essential oils I use, please contact me. I’d love to chat about it!

how essential oils work | 1,8 cineole | eucalyptol chemistry | eucalyptus for coldsWhat essential oils is it in?

Almost 60 essential oils have a eucalyptol content of greater than 10%!

Rosemary (Rosemary officinalis ct. cineole) — 39-58% — Great for concentration, focus, and hair support. I love blending it with lemon!

Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus — 65-84% and Eucalyptus radiata –60-65%) — The rulers of respiratory support! These make great additions to a steam shower, adult chest rub, or diffuser respiratory blend.

Fragonia (Agonis fragrans) — 31-33% — An absolute favorite of mine for little ones! Because of the lower concentration of eucalyptol, it is a safer choice, yet is still provides the respiratory benefits.

Rosalina or lavender tea tree (Melaleuca ericifolia) –18-26% — Another excellent choice for little ones; it has a spicy sweet smell.

Spike lavender, cardamom, laurel leaf, myrtle, other eucalyptus spps., niaouli (cineole ct) and Spanish marjoram also contains large amounts of eucalyptol. (7)

Eucalyptol is a well-studied essential oil constituent used throughout aromatherapy. It is responsible for making eucalyptus the gem of an essential oil that it is! Essential oils containing eucalyptol truly stand out in aromatherapy as the rulers of respiratory support. Do yourself a favor and get a bottle!

What to do next?

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      1. 1,8-Cineole induces relaxation in rat and guinea-pig airway smooth muscle.
      2. Inhaled 1,8-cineole reduces inflammatory parameters in airways of ovalbumin-challenged Guinea pigs.
      3. Patients with asthma benefit from concomitant therapy with cineole: a placebo-controlled, double-blind trial.
      4. Anti-inflammatory activity of 1.8-cineol (eucalyptol) in bronchial asthma: a double-blind placebo-controlled trial.
      5. Pharmacokinetic studies of the fragrance compound 1,8-cineol in humans during inhalation.
      6. Anti-inflammatory properties of the monoterpene 1.8-cineole: current evidence for co-medication in inflammatory airway diseases.
      7. Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Healthcare Professionals

Please consult a doctor or healthcare provider before making any health changes, especially if you have a specific diagnosis or condition. The information on this site should not be relied upon to determine diet, make a medical diagnosis, or determine treatment for a medical condition. The information on this website is not intended to be a consult with a healthcare provider or provide medical advice. Any statements or claims about the possible health benefits from food or supplements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and are not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease. Full disclaimer here.


Understanding the science behind eucalyptol in eucalyptus essential oil

About Emily

Hi, I’m Emily. I’m a free range mama helping women conquer simple, healthy living with a side of science!

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