Have you ever wondered if essential oils contain any vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients? I’m positive you’ve come across any number of articles stating that a daily drop of lemon essential oil in your water is equivalent or even BETTER than adding real lemon, but is that actually the case?
Well first off, I would never recommend putting essential oils in water for consumption, that’s just asking for trouble! In fact, I’m not one to recommend consuming EOs at all for that matter, unless of course you are under the guidance of a certified aromatherapist, but I digress.
The consumption of essential oils isn’t what this article is about. What I want to cover today, is whether or not they actually contain any viable nutrients to begin with – that means vitamins, minerals, proteins, enzymes, and even hormones.
So, let’s get into the nitty gritty, shall we?
Do Essential Oils Contain Nutrients?
Before we really dive in, we need to learn a few basics about chemistry and the reactions that that entails.
The Basics of Solubility
Vitamins are either fat soluble, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K, or water soluble like B vitamins and vitamin C. This is a general rule. However, the solubility of these nutrients is different than that of essential oils – this is important to note.
There isn’t a single pure essential oil that’s soluble in water because essential oils are “fat-loving” compounds. This is also known as a lipophilic non-polar substance. You can also just remember the simple fact that water and oil don’t mix. Same thing.
Hydrophilic (aka water-loving) vitamins are incredibly polar in nature. It is known to most everyone that “like dissolves like” which in this case means – polar substances like carrier oil and essential oils will “like” each other while water and other non-polar substances “like” each other and will mix readily.
This is no different for essential oils. They dissipate well in carrier oil but will not dissolve in water.
Think of it like a salad dressing. The oil and vinegar stay separate because they are polar opposites.
Water-Soluble Vitamins and the Volatility of Essential Oils
All essential oils are volatile, meaning that they evaporate. The rate at which they evaporate is known as their “volatility”. This is why it’s so important to keep our precious essential oils sealed tight and stored in a cool dark place in order to slow or eliminate evaporation and oxidation. Interestingly enough, this is also true for many vitamin supplements.
Water-soluble vitamins (like B vitamins and vitamin C) are also known to be extremely volatile in nature and can degrade with heat and oxidation just like essential oils.
Cold Pressed Extraction and Steam Distillation
Most essential oils are extracted via steam distillation. The raw plant material is placed in a still and the steam (which is between 100-212 degrees) passes through the plant material and is then cooled in order to collect the resulting essential oil. This process essentially separates the volatile compounds (the essential oil) from the non-volatile compounds (the water from processing).
Since Vitamin C is considered volatile like an essential oil, there is some heated debate as to whether or not it can cross over into an essential oil during processing. This is especially thought to happen in regards to cold pressed essential oils like lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, and other citrus EOs.
The extraction process for cold pressed essential oils is different than steam distillation in that is uses no heat to extract the oil. As such, cold pressed essential oils may contain very trace amounts of vitamin C, but most of it ends up in the water from processing.
As such, I wouldn’t recommend replacing real food sources of vitamin C with an essential oil.
If you want lemon water, use real lemon. If you want the benefits of grapefruit for weight loss, eat some actual grapefruit. If you want some flavor in your meals, get those flavors and nutrients from actual spices and real food sources.
Sure, there are times when a drop of peppermint or orange essential oil can add some amazing flavor to chocolate and the like, but if you’re looking for added vitamins or minerals, you’re not going to find them in essential oils.
The Degradation of Water-Soluble Nutrients
It is known that B vitamins, which are water-soluble, degrade drastically when temperatures exceed 77 degrees.
Since steam distillation starts at at least 100 degrees, it’s likely that there will be hardly any B vitamins in the resulting EO. This means that all water-soluble nutrients will either be destroyed by heat or end up in the water (hydrosol) during processing.
This is also true for vitamin C.
On a side note, only molecules less than 500 amu (atomic mass unit) can pass on into the finished essential oil. B12 is known to weigh around 1355 amu and is too heavy to make it through the distillation process. The same goes for fat-soluble vitamin D as it weighs about 793 amu.
Cold pressed oils can contain heavier molecules like beta-carotene which weighs 544 amu. However, the presence of these nutrients is so minute that an essential oil would not be considered a reliable source for these nutrients.
The Degradation of Fat-Soluble Vitamins
Non-volatile nutrients such as fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K are lipophilic in nature as we’ve already discussed. However, there are two important facts to consider when it comes to fat-soluble nutrients: one, only volatile material is left in the end product of an essential oil, and two, lipids degrade rapidly in heat.
Since we know steam distillation occurs between 100-212 degrees, we can already deduce that any fat-soluble vitamins will be greatly destroyed during processing. If anything remains in the finished essential oil, it would be incredibly minute.
What About Minerals?
Minerals are water-soluble and polar in nature which means that like water-soluble vitamins, they will not cross over through steam distillation but rather left behind in the water during processing.
What about Proteins and Enzymes?
In short, the molecules of proteins and enzymes are too large to make it through the distillation process. The heaviest molecule that can cross over to an essential oil is 500 amu (atomic mass unit). Proteins and enzymes have a molecular weight well over 10,000 amu; they’re just too heavy. For example, the enzyme amylase weighs around 45,000 amu while most proteins are considerably heavier.
Aside from weight, proteins and enzymes are destroyed by the heat produced in the distillation process.
However, you may find trace amounts in cold pressed essential oils though they will won’t play any role in healing as they cannot pass through the skin.
And Lastly, What About Hormones?
All hormones have a molecular weight under 500 amu which means they could transfer over to the finished essential oil. However, these occurrences are so rare that you would never see them listed on an essential oil analysis report, even among the touted “therapeutic grade” companies.
Essential oils do however have molecules that act like hormones. These hormone like molecules are able to occupy hormonal receptor sites within the body and trigger its specific hormonal actions. The proper use of such oils can help support the endocrine system and help normalize imbalanced hormones.
All in All
So, what we’ve learned is:
1. Fat-soluble nutrients degrade in heat and are left in the water during steam distillation
2. Minerals are polar in nature as well as water-soluble. They will therefore not make it through steam distillation into the finished essential oil, but left in the water (hydrosol) during processing.
3. Proteins and enzymes are too heavy to transfer into an essential oil during processing
4. Hormones almost never ever transfer into an essential oil during processing. Like really never. They can, however, contain hormone like chemicals that act like hormones in the body
5. Trace amounts of vitamin C may be present in cold pressed essential oils
6. Water-soluble nutrients are insoluble in non-polar substances such as essential oils
7. Water-soluble nutrients like B vitamin and vitamin C will degrade in heat
Through basic chemistry, we can see that essential oils contain very little, if any nutrients at all. No water-soluble or fat-soluble vitamins and no minerals. Definitely no proteins, enzymes, or hormones.
However, despite this, essential oils are extremely potent plant medicines with the capacity to support our mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Nutritional content (or the lack thereof) is not why we use essential oils. We use them because time and time again they have proven their ability to support our over-all health.
The only thing essential oils aren’t good for is supplementation.
Having said this, essential oils do have the ability to increase the bioavailability of nutrients in our food and can enhance our ability to absorb them. They can stimulate the body to make its own vitamins as well as aid digestion and the assimilation of nutrients.
Even if the essential oils themselves don’t contain any nutrients, they are still able to support the body indirectly for nutritional needs.
So, what do you think? Have you found any hard evidence that suggest essential oils contain vitamins and minerals or any other nutritional value? Please let me know in the comments!
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