A Practical Look at Agarwood Benefits and Everyday Uses
Derived from the heartwood of the resinous agar trees, agarwood essential oil is one of the most precious oils in the world. Agar plants are also referred to as ‘Wood of Gods,’ a name that references their widespread use in Buddhist, Islamic, and Hindu religious rituals. Many religious scripts also mention the therapeutic properties of agarwood, noting its anti-inflammatory effect. It is also quite popular in Chinese traditional medicine for its neuroprotective benefits.
Modern-day studies explore the pharmacology behind agarwood essential oil to validate its traditional therapeutic use, and to expand its applications for health and wellness. This article explores the history, scientific origins, and benefits of agarwood essential oil.
Forms and Extraction of Agarwood
Commercial forms of agarwood refer to the fragrant heartwood of the Aquilaria plant that is formed through a complex interplay of natural and mechanical interventions. Healthy Aquilaria plants do not contain the prized agarwood that is used for fragrance and therapeutic purposes, as it only forms on stressed plants. The stress may come from several factors including physical injuries, insect bites, and microbial attacks, causing the tree to produce agarwood as a defense mechanism.
The Aquilaria species most commonly used for commercial uses are malaccensis and crassna. Most agarwood products, such as essential oils and powders are derived from these species. Aquilaria plants are native to parts of South and Southeast Asia and can grow to heights between 50 to 60 meters. It is important to note that trees that have ‘matured’ or are over the age of 20 years can produce agarwood. Older plants produce better quality agarwood with high amounts of beneficial chemical compounds.
Essential oil collected from Aquilaria trees goes through a strictly controlled extraction process. The infected agarwood is ground and then collected through steam distillation. High-quality agarwood essential oil is priced expensively and is marked by a complex woodsy aroma with spicy notes. The aromatic profile of agarwood essential oil blends well with earthy and sweet essential oils such as patchouli, cedarwood, and rose essential oils.
Chemical Components and Their Therapeutic Properties
Much of the scientific interest in agarwood centers on isolating novel compounds from the essential oil and identifying their biological effects. Phytochemical studies have found agarwood to contain a wide range of chemical groups, including steroids, phenolics, sesquiterpenoids, flavonoids, and alkanes. These chemical compounds are found in the resin that forms as a defense from external chemical and mechanical injuries to the Aquilaria plant.
When choosing an agarwood essential oil, make sure to select a high-quality one, like Wholesale Botanics’s agarwood oil , so that you’re certain of the composition of the oil and, therefore, its potential benefits.
Compounds in the chromone family are of particular interest to researchers as they have been found to sizeably contribute to agarwood’s therapeutic potential. Some chromone derivatives found in Aquilaria plants are novel and have only recently been identified, such as the 2-(2-phenyl ethyl) chromones. These are responsible for the characteristic sweet-balsamic aromatic notes of agarwood.
Chromones have also been found to be useful in many therapeutic applications such as for anti-microbial, anti-viral, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotective effects. In particular, chromones are useful in the management and control of Alzheimer's disease through several action mechanisms. They limit the damage to the brain from reactive oxygen species, curbing the neurodegenerative effect of Alzheimer's.
Another biologically important chemical group found in agarwood is terpenoids. Agarwood contains several types of terpenoids that contribute to its unique aromatic profile and therapeutic properties. Depending on the concentration of the different types of terpenoids, agarwood may have a different scent, ranging from sweet and honey-like to spicy and minty.
Sesquiterpenoids, a type of terpenoid found in agarwood, have also been found to combat neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. They also contribute to the plant’s anti-cancer, anti-microbial, and antioxidant properties.
Additionally, certain sesquiterpene compounds isolated from agarwood have demonstrated anti-diabetic activity. The sesquiterpenes were found to work by inhibiting the levels of alpha-glucosidase, an enzyme that facilitates the absorption and uptake of glucose. Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors are widely used as diabetic drugs, highlighting the potential of agarwood in managing diabetes.
Health and Wellness Benefits of Agarwood Essential Oil
Agarwood essential oil is concentrated with chemical compounds that have significant therapeutic and bioactive effects. It potentially exhibits anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-viral, anxiolytic, sedative, and anti-diabetic properties, making it useful in several health-related applications. The following sections elaborate on the curative effects of agarwood essential oil for different concerns.
May Enhance Sleep Quality and Duration
In Chinese traditional medicine and the Middle East, agarwood vapor was commonly employed for its sedative effects. Modern research on agarwood has elucidated the effects that agarwood has on the nervous system, identifying its specific action on enzymes and nerve pathways. A paper published in 1993 determined that extracts from agarwood were effective in inducing sleep and increasing sleep duration in test subjects.
Subsequent research reported that the main constituents responsible for this sedative effect were benzylacetone, alpha–gurjunene, and calarene. These compounds are present in both ethanolic and essential oil extracts of agarwood, indicating its potential as a relaxant. These compounds alter the gene expression of GABA neurotransmitters, chemicals associated with sleep and relaxation. Research provides support for the potential of agarwood extracts and essential oils to regulate the effect and function of GABA neurotransmitters, improving sleep.
You can make a sleep-time linen spritz with agarwood essential oil by diluting it with water and storing it in a spray bottle. Add lavender essential oil to the blend to enhance the sedative properties of your night-time spritz. To use, shake the bottle well and spritz the mixture onto your bedding 10 minutes before bed.
Can Diminish Anxiety and Depression
Increased stress and anxiety levels are commonplace effects of a fast-paced modern-day lifestyle. These conditions may also be caused by an underlying condition or hormonal imbalance. Although stress and anxiety are not synonymous, they manifest in similar symptoms such as digestive issues, headaches, and sleep problems. Research is looking towards identifying natural therapies to manage everyday stress and anxiety, such as agarwood essential oil.
In 2002, researchers in China isolated a compound called agarofuran from agarwood essential oil. They discovered that this compound and its derivatives exhibited anxiolytic and anti-depressive activity. The chemical compound was found to modulate central neurotransmitters such as dopamine to regulate mood states. The researchers established that agarwood extracts and essential oils had the potential to alleviate anxiety and depression through mood stabilization.
There are several ways that you can use agarwood essential oil as a remedy for stress and anxiety. For an on-the-go therapy, infuse a few drops of agarwood essential oil in a cotton ball and inhale deeply to induce relaxation and calm. You may also integrate agarwood essential oil into a meditation or yoga routine by diffusing it in your practice space.
Potentially Manages Neurodegenerative Conditions
Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's affect the nervous system and are characterized by chronic inflammation. The inflammation is caused by an excessive immune system response and can harm neurons in the central nervous system. One of the first forms of defense against neurodegenerative diseases is the inhibition of acetylcholinesterase.
A 2017 paper confirms the effectiveness of agarwood as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor. It works by preventing the hydrolysis of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that is essential for brain function. The study isolated four compounds in agarwood extract that demonstrate acetylcholinesterase-inhibiting action.
Other studies have identified up to 5 chromone derivatives in agarwood that exhibit between 10 to 45 percent inhibition. This accentuates the capacity of agarwood in the management of neurodegenerative diseases.
Another research article published in 2021 notes the therapeutic viability of agarwood in managing symptoms of cognitive decline. The research investigated the effect of inhalation of agarwood incense on mental capabilities and cognitive function. The results suggest that agarwood can enhance intelligence and manage symptoms of dementia such as memory impairment. Results were analyzed through behavioral tests that measured cognitive abilities on defined parameters.
While agarwood essential oil does not stand as a replacement for medical treatment, it may help your healing journey with neurodegenerative conditions. To use the essential oil to maintain and manage cognitive health, you can diffuse it in your surroundings and inhale it as you go about your routine. You may also combine agarwood essential oil in a blend with memory-enhancing essential oils such as rosemary and peppermint.
May Improve Respiratory Health and Manage Asthma
In the quest for natural treatment options for chronic respiratory diseases, agarwood essential oil has emerged as a potential therapy option. Chronic respiratory conditions such as asthma and obstructive lung disease are associated with increased oxidative stress and persistent inflammation. Agarwood may reduce the severity of symptoms by suppressing inflammation and neutralizing reactive oxygen species.
A research study conducted in 2023 explored the role of agarwood essential oil in addressing inflammation in the respiratory tract. Researchers examined respiratory tract epithelial cells for inflammation caused by factors such as cigarette smoke and environmental stressors.
The results of the study confirmed that agarwood essential oil works through several mechanisms to address issues such as shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing. It was found to modulate levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, substances that trigger inflammation in the body. It also increases the expression of anti-inflammatory factors, calming any inflammatory response in the body. Given this potential, researchers identified agarwood as a potential therapy for respiratory diseases exacerbated by inflammation.
Another study provides a complementary perspective on the efficacy of agarwood for lung health. The study explores how agarwood affects histamine levels, determining its usefulness in managing diseases such as asthma where histamine release occurs. The research yielded that administration of agarwood notably reduced histamine release, highlighting its potential for treating bronchial asthma.
To use agarwood essential oil to manage respiratory problems, add it to your diffuser and inhale the vapors. An alternative approach is to dilute agarwood essential oil with a carrier oil and apply it to your chest for enhanced respiratory support. You can strengthen the therapeutic effect of agarwood by combining it with essential oils that have expectorant and mucolytic properties. Peppermint and eucalyptus essential oils are scientifically proven to help with breathing issues and cough and work synergistically in a blend with agarwood essential oil.
Potentially Alleviates Symptoms of Rheumatic Conditions
Rheumatic diseases affect the joints, muscles, and bones and can significantly affect the quality of life. They manifest in symptoms of pain and discomfort, limiting the patient’s mobility and overall well-being. Common rheumatic diseases include fibromyalgia, arthritis, and lupus. On the merit of its anti-inflammatory capabilities, pharmacologists have studied agarwood as a potential alternative therapy to manage symptoms of rheumatic diseases.
A study conducted in 2016 investigated the anti-arthritic potential of agarwood essential oil using the bovine serum albumin denaturation method. The method tests for the alteration of the bovine serum structure as an indicator of anti-rheumatic activity. Conclusions drawn from the test indicate that agarwood essential oil is a potential alternative therapy for rheumatic conditions such as arthritis.
Another paper published in the journal Molecules draws findings from a literature review of agarwood's capabilities in treating inflammatory diseases. The authors of the study affirm that agarwood’s multi-modal anti-inflammatory mechanism makes it a viable therapy for the management of rheumatic diseases.
The topical application of agarwood essential oil can be useful in dealing with the painful symptoms of conditions such as arthritis. To use, dilute the essential oil in a carrier oil such as coconut oil and massage the affected areas for localized relief. For enhanced effectiveness, create a blend with anti-inflammatory essential oils such as lavender and eucalyptus.
Ways to Use Agarwood Essential Oil
Agarwood essential oil lends itself to be used in a wide array of applications ranging from reducing arthritis pain to managing stress and anxiety. Phytochemical studies have identified several compounds in agarwood that allow it to have a multi-modal action across several pathways in the body. This makes it a valuable addition to any wellness routine, ensuring protective and health-promoting effects when used correctly.
The following sections provide ideas on using agarwood essential oil to help you find ways to integrate it into your everyday routine.
Make Agarwood Incense
Using essential oils with incense sticks is a convenient way to benefit from the therapeutic properties of the plant extracts. Incense sticks are wooden rods designed to burn and release smoke into the air. They are easy to prepare and incredibly simple to use, only requiring raw incense sticks and high-quality essential oils.
Agarwood is a particularly good choice of essential oil to use with incense sticks as it has a versatile scent that relaxes the mood. To make agarwood incense, evenly coat raw incense sticks with about 15 drops of essential oil. Place the incense sticks in a jar and let rest for at least a day. Once done, light up your incense stick as you require and enjoy the pleasant atmosphere.
Craft an Agarwood-Scented Candle
A simple way to enjoy the blissful aroma of agarwood essential oil is to make your own agarwood-scented candle. Scented candles can be used for meditation, to prepare for bed, or to create a relaxing ambiance. Agarwood-scented candles can also be used to add a luxurious touch to your environment, as the essential oil is considered exotic.
To make a scented candle with agarwood essential oil, you will require soy wax, a candle wick, a container, and a double boiler. In the container, melt your wax and stir in the essential oil adjusting its quantity depending on how strong you want the scent to be. Center your wick in the wax and allow your candle to cool. Once the wax completely hardens, your scented candle is ready for use.
Add Agarwood to a Diffuser
Essential oil aromatherapy is an excellent way to use your essential oil as it provides the optimal therapeutic effect while also elevating the atmosphere. You can vary the size and functionality of the diffuser depending on your needs, for example using a larger capacity diffuser for longer diffuse times.
To use, add a few drops of agarwood essential oil to your diffuser and enjoy the bioactive properties of the oil.
Safety Precautions of Agarwood Essential Oil
There are a few safety precautions to keep in mind when using agarwood essential oil. Since it is a highly potent plant extract, always ensure that you dilute it before applying topically. It is also important to conduct a patch test even when using diluted agarwood essential oil.
Some individuals might experience discomfort in the form of irritation, itching, or skin rashes. If this happens, discontinue use of the essential oil immediately and seek medical help if the symptoms persist.
Young children and pregnant women are advised not to use agarwood essential oil in any capacity. The effects of agarwood on small children or pregnant women are not fully understood as of yet, so it is better to exercise caution and abstain from using the oil.
The Takeaways About Agarwood Benefits
Essential oil from the Aquilaria species is known to have a wide range of scientifically validated therapeutic applications. It has been extensively researched for its potential to manage chronic inflammatory diseases due to its chromone content.
When using agarwood essential oil, take care to adhere to the safety recommendations to ensure a positive experience. It is important to remember that agarwood essential oil is only an alternative therapy and not a complete treatment for any medical condition. If you intend to use the essential oil to treat an ongoing health condition, consult with your doctor to ensure that the essential oil does not interact with your medication.