Sage Essential Oil Benefits for Digestive, Menstrual and Mental Health

June 12, 2018

One whiff of this earthy, herbaceous scent is all it takes to improve overall well being. Sage essential oils have been used for centuries as medical cure-alls, but there are still some surprising benefits you may not know about. Breathe in the pungent aroma and you'll recognize the menthol effect that gently warms your nostrils and awakens your mind.

The sharp, cooling effect is reminiscent of inhaling peppermint or toothpaste and it's a unique scent most people can recognize instantly. Belonging to the mint family, it's no surprise that sage has such a distinctive aroma. Popular in a variety of food dishes, particularly in flavoring meat, sage has a wide range of health benefits when consumed as well as when used in aromatherapy.

Types of Sage Oil

There are several different types of sage oil including Dalmatian, Greek and Spanish, which are produced in locations strewn across the globe using sage leaves. Most sage oils are interchangeable and, in general, will offer the same health benefits overall. Here we'll go over the three most popularly used sage oils.

Clary Sage Oil

Clary sage oil is also known as muscatel due to its use in the flavoring of wines. It is produced mainly in France, Morocco and Russia. Extracted from the sage plant variety Salvia sclarea, this variety is distilled using steam or water. Clary sage is pale yellow-green in color and effuses a sweet and nutty aroma.

Dalmatian Sage Oil (Common Sage)

Dalmatian sage oil is commonly known as garden, common or true sage and is extracted from the Salvia officinalis plant. This is the most popular type of sage in essential oils and it is native to Europe, particularly Greece and areas surrounding the Mediterranean. Common sage has the same pale yellow-green color as clary sage, but instead emits a strong and spicy aroma. Common sage oil is extracted using water or steam distillation.

Spanish Sage Oil

Spanish sage oil, Salvia lavandulifolia, is native to Spain and southern France. This type of sage oil is made through steam distillation of the twigs and leaves of the sage plant. It is a much more pale yellow color than the previous two types of sage.

Spanish sage also has only trace amounts of thujone, which is associated with potential negative side effects for certain people — see Side Effects section for more detail. It’s a safer type of sage for sensitive individuals. Instead, eucalyptus and camphor are the main compounds in Spanish sage. Eucalyptus gives Spanish sage a slightly minty scent, while camphor results in a sharp, slightly medicinal scent that is characteristic of sage oil.

History of Sage Oil

Sage oil has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine as well as in Ayurvedic medicine. It has been traditionally used to treat pain, infection and inflammation by societies around the world. In ancient times, Greeks and Romans used sage to preserve meats and help with the digestion of fatty acids. It was wildly popular with the French. Charlemagne ordered it to be planted on German Imperial farms both as a money-making crop and due to its healing powers.

Health Benefits of Sage Oil

1. Aids in Regulation of Diabetes

Sage oil has been shown to lower blood sugar levels in animal studies, offering hope to people who suffer from diabetes and other blood sugar diseases. A study conducted by the University of Minho examined the effects of sage oil on rats. The experimental rats were given an infusion of common sage for 14 days and results showed those mice exhibited lower levels of fasting glucose. The study also demonstrated an increased sensitivity to insulin and better absorption.

A second animal study showed the potential benefits of sage oil in treating the inflammation often associated with diabetes. Diet-induced obese mice were used in the study to examine blood sugar levels, insulin tolerance and inflammation. Following two weeks of treatment, the mice that were given sage essential oil showed higher levels of insulin sensitivity and lower glucose levels. The anti-inflammatory properties resulted in decreased pain. While more human research is needed, these animal studies show promise in the use of sage oil to treat diabetes.

2. Helps Digestion

Sage oil has demonstrated potential health benefits in streamlining the digestive system thus preventing microbial infections and illnesses such as irritable bowel syndrome. Sage oil has choleretic properties, meaning it has compounds that help to stimulate the production of gastric juices including bile.

Bile is essential to a healthy digestive system as it comprises acids that help to break down food and enables the small intestines to absorb nutrients. Bile also neutralizes stomach acid to prevent conditions such as ulcers and acid reflux that can occur when there is too much acid present. Sage oil also has antimicrobial properties that help to prevent the microbial growth of bacteria in your stomach, which can lead to gas and bloating.

3. May Control Dementia and Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's and dementia are increasingly common conditions as the human population reaches more advanced age. Sage oil, Spanish sage in particular, has been shown to reduce the cognitive symptoms of these neurological diseases.

A 2003 study found that human patients treated with Spanish sage demonstrated increased levels of cognition and an improvement in attention span after six weeks of regular treatment. The study attributes the potential Alzheimer’s-fighting characteristics to the ability of sage essential oil to inhibit the enzyme AChE.

A second study conducted by the Northumbria University examined the effect of Spanish sage on cognition in a group of 24 healthy volunteers. Cognition was recorded the day before participants were given sage essential oil and at regular intervals in the hours after. Results showed a consistent improvement in terms of speed of memory and secondary memory. Participants also experienced enhanced mood including higher rates of contentment, calmness and alertness.

Researchers believe these effects are largely due to the cholinergic properties of sage essential oils, which work as neurotransmitters in the nervous system. Increased calmness can help to treat the advanced symptoms of irritation and aggravation that many dementia and Alzheimer's sufferers experience.

4. Improves Menstrual Health

Sage oil is a known emmenagogue, meaning that it helps to improve menstrual flow. A healthy menstrual cycle is an important part of women's overall health, but many women suffer from irregular periods, cramps and discomfort. Sage essential oils trigger a hormonal response in the body, which produces estrogen to help regulate menstrual cycles. This release of hormones can also help to alleviate mood swings, fatigue and nausea associated with periods.

A Korean study published in 2012 examined the effects of sage oil aromatherapy on high school girls during their menstrual periods. The study divided the participants into two groups.

One was given aromatherapy using a blend of clary sage oil, ginger, cinnamon, marjoram and geranium combined with carrier almond oil. The second group received acetaminophen in place of the aromatherapy. Results showed significantly lower levels of pain in the group that received aromatherapy treatment when compared to the pain medication group.

5. Supports Healthy Skin

Sage oil is antimicrobial thanks to its composition of camphor and camphene, two chemical compounds that help prevent the growth of dangerous microbes. These antimicrobial properties are one of the main reasons that sage oil is used so extensively in cosmetics and skin care products.

Sage oil’s antimicrobial properties make it a good choice to prevent infections. Sage oil can be applied to wounds and surgical incisions to prevent the growth of bacteria that can cause complications. Sage oil can also eliminate bacterial infections that occur in your ears, nose and throat, which can lead to the common cold and flu. Sage essential oil can also treat fungal infections such as Athlete's foot and other fungus infections that can cause odor and skin irritation.

Sage essential oil also contains high levels of antioxidants and vitamins that help to prevent the development of fine lines and wrinkles. These antioxidants work to combat free radicals that are caused by pollution and other dietary factors, which cause degeneration in skin cells resulting in a loss of elasticity and firmness.

Side Effects of Sage Essential Oil

There are several documented side effects of using sage oil, although most of these can be avoided by using in moderation and according to recommended uses. Sage oil can cause skin irritation, allergies and is not suitable for women who are pregnant or nursing.

Skin Irritation

Sage oil should never be applied directly to the skin without a carrier oil such as jojoba oil, olive oil or coconut oil. Sage oil can be irritating to sensitive skin and should not be applied topically by people who have sage allergies or skin that irritates easily.

Sage oil contains the compound thujone, which can cause allergic reactions in people with sensitive skin. Thujone has also been shown to cause convulsions and seizures, but this only occurs with moderately high doses. If you suffer from a condition that causes seizures, avoid sage oil.

Make sure to use sage oil as directed to avoid these potential side effects. The concentration of thujone can vary depending on the sage variety as well as the time of harvest and growing conditions. For people who cannot tolerate common sage oil, clary sage oil or Spanish sage oil are good alternatives as they are more mild yet still contain comparable health benefits.

Pregnant or Nursing Women

Women who are pregnant or nursing should avoid sage oil as it can cause contractions and slow down the production of breast milk. Thujone can also affect normal menstrual cycles and induce periods leading to miscarriages when taken early on during pregnancy. As always, it's important to consult with your physician before adding any essential oils to your daily routine.

Diabetes and Surgery

If you have diabetes, it's best to limit your use of sage oil as it can lower blood sugar. While this is a potential health benefit of sage oil, it is one that needs to be monitored closely, especially in conjunction with your physician. If you do choose to use sage oil, keep an eye out for signs of hypoglycemia and make sure to monitor your blood sugar regularly.

Consult with your doctor as your diabetes prescription medication may need to be adjusted when paired with sage oil use. Use of sage oil should be stopped at least two weeks prior to any surgeries to avoid interference with normal blood pressure during the procedure.

Use With Alcohol and Prescriptions

As with many other essential oils, sage oil can cause interactions with medications and when paired with alcohol, can increase feelings of intoxication. Some studies have shown compounds in sage oil may cause hallucinations so it's best to consult a healthcare professional before using with medications. Sage oil can interact with medication prescribed for depression such as clonazepam and Ambien as sage induces drowsiness.

Use High Quality Oils

Make sure to choose only high quality, pure or therapy grade essential oils to avoid negative side effects. The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate essential oils so make sure to do your research before choosing an essential oil brand. Any good quality sage oil will list the type of sage plant used for extraction, concentration amounts, an expiration date and proper usage instructions. Any oils missing this information should raise red flags.

Sage for Better Health

Used in ancient times by the Romans and Greeks as a cure-all, sage essential oils maintain a variety of health benefits in modern times. With medicinal uses ranging from controlling diabetes and improving digestion to slowing the effects of Alzheimer's, adding sage oil to your routine can promote a healthier life. Improve your overall well-being with a few drops of sage oil in your diffuser or pair it with carrier oil to relax with an effervescent massage oil.

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