6 Ways to Use Essential Oils for Diabetes Management
In this article, you'll learn about:
- Diabetes and the Body
- Aromatherapy and Diabetes
- 6 Ways to Use Essential Oils for Diabetes Management
Diabetes is one of the more widespread metabolic, chronic illnesses of our time. It's estimated that around 10% of the population is diagnosed with diabetes, while another 8 million people likely have it without being diagnosed. (1)
Although there isn't a defined cure, diabetes can be managed with diet and lifestyle and, often, medication. One way to boost your diabetes management is with essential oils, used in various ways to improve insulin sensitivity, manage body composition, and improve overall digestive wellness.
Diabetes and the Body
For a refresher on what diabetes is and how it works in the body, we can look to the American Diabetes Association for their summary of the more common variation of diabetes, type 2:
If you have type 2 diabetes your body does not use insulin properly. This is called insulin resistance. At first, your pancreas makes extra insulin to make up for it. But, over time it isn't able to keep up and can't make enough insulin to keep your blood glucose at normal levels. (2)
On the other hand, type 1 diabetes is genetic and behaves differently:
In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. The body breaks down the sugars and starches you eat into a simple sugar called glucose, which it uses for energy. Insulin is a hormone that the body needs to get glucose from the bloodstream into the cells of the body. (3)
It's important to have an understanding of the disease itself before we adjust our habits and supplemental efforts in response. For example, if you are using an essential oil with the goal of improving insulin sensitivity on most days, understanding that exercise can have a similar and even more potent result will help you make safe choices and avoid bottoming out. On the other hand, if you are a type 1 diabetic, no amount of insulin sensitivity will correct a lack of insulin.
Diabetes can have very serious and life-threatening complications, from poor wound healing to cardiovascular events. Never adjust your medications without the guidance of your physician, and if you suspect you may be diabetic, schedule a consult with your doctor right away.
Aromatherapy & Diabetes
Most of us are already familiar with substances that are beneficial for insulin sensitivity, with powdered cinnamon topping the list of kitchen remedies to help deal with blood sugar and diabetes. Aromatherapy has even more to offer – with some oils appearing to benefit the insulin response and others working to ease the symptoms that diabetes can cause.
For diabetes and essential oils, the key is to think outside of the box. (4) If you are working toward weight loss to relieve the severity of your diabetes, then diffusing essential oils that energize and potentially benefit weight loss might be the way to go. If you're trying to help a wound heal while diabetes hinders the process, an antiseptic and healing oil in a topical formula could do the trick.
Essential oils are best used as integrative components of our wellness routines. For the diabetic who now focuses their lifestyle toward managing both the causes and symptoms of the disease, having such a versatile toolkit can be a lifeline.
Here are some of the most useful oils for diabetes.
6 Ways to Use Essential Oils for Diabetes Management
1. Culinary Cinnamon Essential Oil
Probably the most researched botanical product for diabetes relief, cinnamon in general refers to a group of trees whose leaves or inner bark are distilled for its essential oil or the bark harvested as a spice. There are multiple varieties of the Cinnamom tree, including C. cassia, which we usually refer to as simply cassia when used for its essential oil.
The most heavily researched “angle” for cinnamon and diabetes is that of the powdered spice, with a great deal of focus placed on it for pancreatic support, glucose lowering, weight loss, and general diabetes prevention and management. (5)
Research is moving through the best applications and preparations, though, and essential oils have made their appearance in the literature. In 2013, an evaluation of cinnamon leaf essential oil found that “all tested doses of [cinnamon essential oil] significantly lowered fasting blood glucose and fructosamine.” (6) The researchers pointed to pancreatic support as the likely mechanism leading to the blood sugar benefits.
We don't have an exact directive from studies and research to tell us how to maximize cinnamon's potential for diabetic wellness, but we can glean some helpful tidbits:
- Internal use seems to be the most effective.
- Cinnamon in all forms appears to lower blood sugar.
- A little dab'll do!
Takeaway: Cinnamon essential oil may join the diabetic's arsenal of culinary weapons against glucose. One or two drops for an entire day is a safe and sufficient amount – dilute it into a lipid and include it in recipes. Remember, cinnamon is a strong oil and can be an irritant if not used properly.
Be sure to monitor your blood sugar carefully when using cinnamon in any form, and consult with your doctor before adjusting medication. Your body might just respond a little TOO well to cinnamon's strengths!
2. Blended Oils for Insulin Sensitivity
One of the most intriguing things about essential oils is the effect of synergy, which is the phenomenon in which combinations of oils work together to make even stronger effects. That's why we're so frequently making blends and formulas of oils rather than just using one here and another there. Teamwork makes the dream work, right?
One prominent study out of Georgetown in 2005 took note of the benefits of synergy when they studied essential oils and diabetes. Instead of isolating a single oil for their research, they experimented with blends of multiple oils that have been suggested as beneficial for diabetes. Oils named in the summary included (7):
- Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum)
- Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
- Cumin (Cuminum cyminum)
- Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
The blends were able to improve insulin sensitivity when taken internally, which can be replicated by including oil blends diluted into a carrier and consumed in capsules, drinks, and recipes.
As a side note, surely it's no accident that culinary herbs play a role in improving the way we digest and use food! God's medicine has been right there around our dinner plates all along!
Takeaway: As you discover oils that can be a) used internally and b) used to improve causes like insulin sensitivity or symptoms of any sort, experiment with blends! Pre-mix your dilution by adding a few drops each of the oils you'd like to blend into a 5 ml or 10 ml bottle of a carrier oil.
3. Melissa Essential Oil for Glucose Regulation
Like cinnamon, some herbs and their essential oil are simply regarded as anti-diabetic. Those are the words anyone with a diagnosis or pre-diagnosis of diabetes wants to hear! Let's fight this disease right at its core, where the body stops short of breaking down glucose into usable energy.
Like most early research, Melissa essential oil was tested on mice for precise tracking of its actions and potential benefits. Lab tests can first tell us the composition of oils, then how it is generally received in a body, and later how the human body responds in various circumstances.
The results of this study in particular were published in 2010 with exciting news. Of the mice that received a low-dose, heavily diluted amount of Melissa essential oil, markers of diabetes were reduced in multiple facets. Ultimately, the researchers concluded that Melissa “administered at low concentrations is an efficient hypoglycaemic agent, probably due to enhanced glucose uptake and metabolism.”(8)
Once more, we see that it only takes minute amounts of these potent digestive health oils to make a potentially substantial difference for those battling blood sugar imbalances.
Takeaway: One drop is plenty, included in blends or diluted on its own for digestive assistance and potential glucose regulation. As with all hypoglycemic/anti-diabetic substances, be sure to monitor your levels carefully and work with your doctor closely.
4. Korean Pine for a New Scent with Strong Benefits
Moving away from the expected culinary herbs and their essential oil content, it seems you can still maintain anti-diabetic benefits while also branching out. Still very much in the foundational levels of research, Korean pine (Pinus koraiensis) has also exhibited potential for diabetes relief.
In the same vein as the Christmas favorite and year ‘round healer fir essential oil, Korean pine essential oil comes from the needles of an evergreen pine tree. It's woodsy and grounding, the perfect addition to a blend of anti-diabetic oils we've looked at so far.
Researchers tackled this oil in 2013, very much in vitro, by injecting the oil into lab mice. The results were promising, with effects on the body that led to improved glucose levels. (9) We won't be injecting essential oils, of course, but this demonstrates the wide range of oil types that may be part of our anti-diabetes toolkit.
Takeaway: Don't feel restricted with your diabetes-fighting blends! Look for oils like Korean Pine to mix up your approach. If it can't be taken internally, enjoy diffusion or direct inhalation to begin to introduce the oil into your routine.
5. Essential Oils for Side Effects of Diabetes
This is where we really get to play with essential oils and the diabetic management lifestyle. Diabetes is so much more than how cookies or cakes are used by the body. Any time nutrient use is involved, the whole body is affected. Complications of diabetes can include:
- Heart health
- Oral health
- Respiratory health
- Skin health
- Immune health
In other words, diabetes is a case study in the ways that each body system is intertwined with the others.
Using what we know about essential oils to boost these systems and potential complications, we can counter the effects of diabetes while managing the source of the issue with medication, diet, and lifestyle.
We can take this to its logical end and get creative with skin health and healing oils, oils for oral health, clear breathing oils, and antimicrobials. For a more specific look at how essential oils comprise complementary therapy, a systematic review had this to say about research that has been conducted:
Essential oils can be used to reduce the side effects of some complication (ulcer: loss of skin integrity) and to reduce that often take longer to resolve than in non diabetic patients. Essential oil[s] can also ameliorate the stress of the coping with a lifelong chronic condition such as diabetes. (10)
The applications are endless here. If you or a loved one are diabetic, learn all you can about the various uses of essential oils, and begin to incorporate them into your life. The healing, restorative, and preventative benefits can quickly become your most trusted ally.
Takeaway: Diabetes complications can occur throughout the body, and essential oils can help to counter these issues and support the body's intended processes. Look for anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and stress relieving oils as a start to your essential oil “medicine” cabinet.
6. Quality of Life Improvement for Kids with Diabetes
Lets not forget the kids who are impacted by diabetes. As a primarily genetic disorder, diabetes isn't about who ate too much cake as they got older. Kids are affected to the tune of thousands, and many of them spend their lives in and out of doctor's offices getting poked and prodded, not to mention those who receive daily injections.
Very recently, published in August 2015, researchers published findings on the use of essential oils to help relieve some of this stress and physical pain for kids with diabetes. Thankfully (and hardly surprising), markers for pain relief were noticeable thanks to diffused orange and lavender oils. (11)
Incidentally, these oils are notable for their anxiety-relieving properties, as well, which only contributes to quality of life for kids who are faced with more than their little lives should have to deal with.
Takeaway: Diffusion of oils can help with anxiety relief and even direct pain relief, and even the most gentle of oils can be potent for this purpose. Diffuse oils during times when painful or frustrating procedures are necessary, or place drops on a handkerchief or other personal inhaler to “sniff” when needed.