Complementary and alternative therapies (CAM) such as essential oils are becoming more commonly used as more people become interested in natural healing therapies. Research has shown that essential oils may help with the management of some multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms and side effects, including chronic pain, joint and muscle immobility, sleep disturbances, and depression.
What Is Multiple Sclerosis?
MS is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the immune system attacks healthy cells by mistake. In MS, the immune system mistakenly attacks the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord, and damages the protective covering of nerve fibers known as the myelin sheath. This causes inflammation and issues with communication pathways between the body and the brain, leading to symptoms.
Common MS symptoms include:
- Numbness or tingling in the face, body, or legs and arms
- Difficulty walking
- A squeezing sensation around the torso, often referred to as an MS hug
- Stiff and weak muscles
- Muscle spasms
- Vision problems
- Vertigo and dizziness
- Uncontrolled bladder or bowel movements
- Chronic pain
- Sexual dysfunction
- A decline in brain function
- Mood changes and depression
Essential Oils for MS Symptoms
Aromatherapy, which is the aroma and inhalation of plant extracts that imparts therapeutic effects, is a type of CAM. Research shows that aromatherapy may have many positive health benefits, such as reducing chronic pain and symptoms of depression. Since many people with MS suffer from these symptoms, aromatherapy may be a good option to add to your disease management plan.
Support for the use of essential oils for chronic disease is mainly from anecdotal evidence. However, some research has shown the health benefits of aromatherapy for MS.
Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the myelin sheath. Using essential oils with traditional therapies may help relieve symptoms of MS. However, the clinical evidence is scarce.
The limbic system is the area of the brain responsible for behavioral and emotional responses. When a person inhales essential oils, it activates certain parts of the limbic system. This is thought to be the reason behind the positive health benefits of aromatherapy.
Research on the health benefits of essential oils is mixed, and more is needed to establish that essential oils are effective and safe to use. Some oils have been shown to help with various ailments that are common in MS, such as:
- Stress and anxiety
- Headaches and migraines
- Sleep disturbances and insomnia
- Cognitive decline
Best Essential Oils for MS
Although there is little research on how effective essential oils for MS symptoms are, some of the best possible choices and the symptoms they could potentially help include:
- Lavender for pain, inflammation, migraines, anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbances
- Bergamot for neuropathic pain, stress, and anxiety
- Peppermint for headaches
- Rosemary for brain function, chronic pain, stress, depression, and inflammation
- Sweet orange for anxiety, depression, and chronic pain
One study found that the use of aromatherapy with a massage once per month helped relieve pain, alleviate sleep disturbances, and enhance overall well-being in patients with MS. The specific oils used in the study for MS patients were not mentioned.
While there is limited evidence to support the use of essential oils for MS symptoms, several different oils have been proven to be effective for alleviating chronic pain, headaches, inflammation, and sleep disturbances.
Possible Side Effects
While seemingly safe, using aromatherapy is not without side effects—many of which depend on the potential for allergic reaction, which varies from person to person.
Use of essential oils in any form should be cautioned during pregnancy, as specific chemicals from a plant can become concentrated in essential oil form, with potential harmful effect on both mother and baby if exposed in excess.
Since there is limited research on the use of essential oils, it can be hard to determine if you will experience side effects. Many people assume that because essential oils are derived from plants they are safe, but plants can also be toxic. It’s important to speak to your doctor prior to starting essential oils for your MS symptoms.
Dosage and Preparation
There is no specific guideline for the dosage or preparation of essential oils. Different oils and the method by which they are used will play a role in how much should be used and how they are prepared.
If you have MS and are looking to try essential oils to help with symptoms, speak to your doctor about the best way to go about it. They can tell you if essential oils are right for you, if they will interact with medications you are on, and the best way to use them.
Multiple Sclerosis Doctor Discussion Guide
Each oil concentrate should be diluted with what is known as a carrier oil to avoid skin irritation or inflammation. Carrier oils are designed to water down the essential oil and “carry” it onto the skin. There are a variety of carrier oils to choose from, including:
- Sweet almond
- Apricot kernel
The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy recommends a minimum of 2.5 percent dilution, which is 15 drops of essential oil per 6 teaspoons of carrier oil. Maximum dilution of 10 percent is 60 drops of essential oil per 6 teaspoons of carrier oil. The amount of drops used varies widely depending on the method it’s used, so what a person uses for topical application will be different than if the essential oil is inhaled.
The preparation and dosage of an essential oil will vary depending on the type and how you will be using it. A good rule of thumb is to dilute the oil with a carrier oil by at least 2.5 percent.
What to Look For
It can be hard to figure out what to look for when it comes to finding the right essential oil. In general, you will want to avoid companies that use problematic marketing tactics such as “too good to be true” health claims without any research to back them up.
Many companies refrain from sharing their extraction process, which is important when it comes to the quality of oil and its benefits. Essential oils are also not regulated by the FDA, so they are not required to meet purity standards.
When researching companies, pay attention to the extraction process. Extraction can be done in various ways, but according to research, the methods that yield the highest quality are:
- Supercritical fluid extraction (using gas)
- Microwave-assisted extraction (using microwave energy)
- Ultrasound-assisted extraction (using ultrasound waves)
The oil you purchase should also only have one ingredient listed. If there are any other ingredients, the oil is diluted. Essential oils should also be packaged in dark bottles and kept out of sunlight.
Choosing the right essential oil can be difficult because they are not regulated by the FDA and there’s a vast essential oils market. Be sure to look out for outlandish marketing claims and buzzwords, and research the company’s extraction process prior to purchasing any type of essential oil.
A Word From Get Meds Info
Coping with the symptoms of MS can be difficult, which is why you may be considering the use of essential oils to help with them. While some research has shown that the use of essential oils may help with some symptoms a person with MS deals with, such as chronic pain, most of the clinical evidence does not address MS and essential oil use specifically.
Before starting to use any essential oils, speak to your doctor. If they give you the go-ahead, you may be able to find some relief. It’s important to note that they can be used as a complementary coping strategy and will not cure the symptoms entirely.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you use aromatherapy for multiple sclerosis?
There are various ways you can use aromatherapy for MS symptoms. The oils can be used topically on the skin or inhaled using a diffuser, which is a tool that fills the air in the room with particles of the essential oil for you to breathe in.
Do essential oils help with MS spasticity?
Certain essential oils may be able to help with muscle tightness, but no studies have been done on the use of essential oils for MS spasticity.
Alpinia zerumbet, otherwise known as shell ginger, may be useful to help with spasticity in MS patients. However, the research done on the oil and spasticity was for muscle tightness caused by a stroke.
What should you look for in quality essential oils for MS?
The best thing you can do when on the hunt for a good quality essential oil is research as much as possible. Look for companies that have certificates and use organic and pressed oils, and that have their oils tested at third-party labs.
Essential oils that hold a membership with the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy are generally considered the best.