The natural athlete: the essential oils as performance enhancers
Dr. Simone Gabbanini
I remember a speech by Prof. Gerhard Buchbauer (Dept of Clinical Pharmacy and diagnostics at Vienna University, Austria) held at Sana, the International exhibition of organic and natural products in 2008: in particular during his speech entitled “Aromatherapy: recent advances in scientific research” he showed human electroencephalograms evidencing increased activities of specific cerebral areas after inhalation of certain essential oils.
In order to get in depth to the matter I found some Literature dealing with the ability of typical Some fragrances help cognitive functions and attenuating pain (i.e. Peppermint
), activating blood circulation, helping in lactic acid removal (i.e. camphor and Rosemary
 or eliciting potent antioxidant and anti inflammatory activities (i.e. Tea Tree, Lemon and Thyme
It seems clear that each essential oil is endowed with specific therapeutic properties and it is able to give different effects when inhaled or administered on the skin. As a matter of fact the essential oils can acts therapeutically
- Pharmacological – by causing real biochemical changes at cellular level
- Physiological – by acting to specific body systems
- Psychological – by stimulating an olfactive feedback
By first and second ways the essential oils biocomponents penetrate through epidermis
 (or they are absorbed by digestive or respiratory systems) and reach organs and cells by blood circulation, in the third case they enter the organism by nasal flow.
In the same year I started to intensify my sport activity with cycling and I tried to better understand potential benefits elicited by essential oils and the possibility to improve my performances.
Does a “psycho-aromatic” influence exist on the athletes?
It is fully recognized that mental wellness deeply influences sport performances (therefore portable music players for music listening are prohibited in competitive marathons because are intended as “emotional doping”), already the simple fact of smelling a specific essential oil or a blend of them could stimulate cognitive ability and give a good contribute to reach a top sport achievement.For an aerobic endurance athlete (i.e. a marathon runner or a cyclist) one of the most important features is represented by risk of muscular damage associated to lactic acid production (cramps)
 and to the oxidative stress caused by free radicals originated by prolonged efforts. The latter phenomenon is effectively counteracted by antioxidants which represent a potent solution to protect cells and the whole organism from negative effect caused by free radicals (tissue ageing, muscular pain, etc.).
Olio Strongful® by BeC is a strong partner before and after daily training: it has become fundamental for me because its blend of diverse essential oils has been conveniently designed to gain the “winning synergy”.
Along with Olio Strongful, the dietary supplement PerforMax is particularly suitable for aerobic fitness such as marathon. Olio Strongful and PerforMax represent optimal tools to reverse muscular deficit associated with cramps and oxidative stress caused by production of free radicals during a prolonged efforts. This phenomenon is deeply counteracted by antioxidant activity of ingredients of our both products along with their precious essential oils.
Researchers at Tufts University (Boston, Massachusetts) have designed and validated the laboratory test (ORAC: Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) to determine radical oxygen radical absorption by food and natural products that has become as one of the most widespread technique to measure antioxidant capacity. By using this method, it is shown that the antioxidant power of essential oils is much higher than commonly believed antioxidant molecules or food
 (Vitamin E, orange or lemon juice). Moreover, the pure essential oils – obtained by natural methods – are much more potent and effective in comparison to their single components (natural or synthetic molecule). For instance, the preservative ability of not-adulterated eucalyptus oil is higher compared to the main component eucalyptol
For this reasons, scientific evidences showed the importance of essential oils for an athlete who wants improve his performances
 Fox M., Krueger E., Putterman L., Schroeder R. The Effect of Peppermint on Memory Performance. Physiology 435, Spring 2012
 Diego MA, Jones NA, Field T, Hernandez-Reif M, Schanberg S, Kuhn C, McAdam V, Galamaga R, Galamaga M. Aromatherapy positively affects mood, EEG patterns of alertness and math computations Int J Neurosci. 1998 217-24.
 Ali B., Ali Al-Wabel N., Shams S., Ahamad A., Alam Khan S., Anwar F.. Essential oils used in aromatherapy: A systemic review. Asian Pac J Trop Biomed 2015; 5(8): 601–611
 Gabbanini S., Lucchi E., Carli M., Berlini E. , Minghetti A., Valgimigli L.. In vitro evaluation of the permeation through reconstructed human epidermis of essentials oils from cosmetic formulations J Pharm Biomed Anal. 2009 Oct 15;50(3):370-6
 Bentayeb K, Vera P, Rubio C, Nerín C. The additive properties of Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) assay: the case of essential oils. Food Chem. 2014 Apr 1;148:204-8.
 Tadtong S, Puengseangdee C, Prasertthanawut S, Hongratanaworakit T. Antimicrobial Constituents and Effects of Blended Eucalyptus, Rosemary, Patchouli, Pine, and Cajuput Essential Oils.Nat Prod Commun. 2016; 11, 267-70
Cyclooxygenase, lipoxygenase and the inflammatory process
Cyclooxygenase and lipooxygenase are the two families of enzymes that are commonly involved in the inflammatory process, through a complex of reactions which is called arachidonic acid cascade. This complex of reactions develops as follows: a first enzyme, a phospholipase cleaves the phospholipids of biological membranes, releasing arachidonic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid with 20 carbon atoms (eicosa-5Z,8Z,11Z,14Z-tetraenoic acid ; C20:4; ω-6). The arachidonic acid is then transformed by two parallel enzymatic pathways, that is, by two families of enzymes: the cyclooxygenase which transforms it into prostaglandins and thromboxanes and the lipooxygenase which transforms it into hydroperoxides which in turn transform into leukotrienes .
There are two cyclooxygenase isoforms indicated with type 1 and type 2, briefly COX-1 and COX-2. COX-1 is the enzyme present in most cells (except red blood cells), and is constitutive, that is, it is always present. COX-2 is an inducible cyclooxygenase isoform: it is constitutively present in some organs such as brain, liver, kidney, stomach, heart and vascular system, while it can be induced (i.e. developed if necessary) following inflammatory stimuli on the skin, white blood cells and muscles.
There are various types of lipooxygenase that lead to different products, the most important in the inflammatory process is 5-lipooxygenase, 5-LOX.
Prostaglandins, Thromboxanes, and Leukotrienes
Prostaglandins, Thromboxanes, and Leukotrienes are chemical messengers or mediators, that is, molecules that bring a message to specific cells and activate or deactivate metabolic responses in these cells. They, therefore, have a function similar to hormones, only that, unlike what hormones do, the chemical message is carried only at a short distance, that is, only to the cells that are in the vicinity of the place where the mediators were produced. There are different prostaglandins, different thromboxanes and different leukotrienes that carry specific messages. In many cases these act as mediators of the inflammatory process , therefore they trigger all the events that are involved in inflammation:
– vasodilation with consequent blood supply (redness),
– increased capillary permeability with consequent fluid exudation (swelling or edema),
– stimulation of nociceptive nerve signals (pain),
– on-site recall of immune system cells that attack a possible invader (chemotactic action)
– activation of the biosynthesis of fibrous tissue to strengthen or repair the affected part (even if there is no need)
– generations of free radicals that can chemically destroy an invader (but also damage our tissues, i.e. they just “shoot in the middle”).
Prostaglandins and thromboxanes, however, also play important physiological roles in normal conditions, i.e. in the absence of inflammation. For example, they regulate the secretion of mucus that protects the walls of the stomach, they regulate the biosynthesis of cartilages and synovial fluid in the joints, they regulate vasodilation, hence the correct flow of blood in the various local districts, and more.
Triglycerides are the main components of most oils and fats. These are heavy, non-volatile and little polar molecules, insoluble in water, made up of glycerol (or glycerin) esterified with three molecules of fatty acids: therefore, it is a tri-ester of glycerin, from which the name derives. Each fatty acid contains 8 to 22 carbon atoms (commonly 16 to 18) and can be saturated, mono-unsaturated or poly-unsaturated. The size of the fatty acids and their saturation determines the physical and sensorial properties of the triglycerides, which can appear as oils (liquids at room temperature) or fats (solid or semi-solid) and can have greater or less greasiness and smoothness on the skin. Unsaturated triglycerides or with shorter fatty acids are more fluid and have greater flowability.
Fatty acids (saturated, mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated)
The name fatty acids is commonly used to indicate those organic acids that are found in the composition of lipids, that is, in animal and vegetable oils and fats, both in the free form and in the form of esters with glycerol (e.g. in triglycerides), or they are esterified with “fatty” alcohols, that is, long chain alcohols, to form waxes. Fatty acids are carboxylic acids (formula R-COOH) which have a long carbon chain (R), unlike common organic acids such as acetic acid and propionic acid, which have 2 or 3 carbon atoms in total, respectively. Fatty acids are defined as saturatedif they do not have double carbon-carbon bonds, (called “unsaturations”), they are defined mono-unsaturated if they have only one, they are defined mono-unsaturatedpoly-unsaturated if they have two or more double bonds (see figure). The term omega-3 (ω-3) or omega-6 (ω-3), refers to the position of the first double bond starting from the bottom of the chain of carbon atoms: if the first double bond is encountered after 3 carbon atoms the fatty acid is classified as omega-3 , if after six carbon atoms omega-6 , as shown in the figure. The most common saturated fatty acids are palmitic acid (16 carbon atoms and no double bond, C16: 0) and stearic acid (18 carbon atoms, 18: 0), the most common mono-unsaturated is the oleic acid, typical of olive oil (18 carbon atoms and 1 double bond in position 9, C18: 1; ω-9), while the most common poly-unsaturated are linoleic acid and linolenic acid, progenitors respectively omega-6 and omega-3 (see figure).
Terpenes and terpenoids
Terpenes or terpenoids are a large family of natural molecules, typically containing 10 to 30 carbon atoms, which are biosynthesized from a common “brick”, isopentenyl pyrophosphate (IPP), containing 5 carbon atoms (see figure). The discovery that the repetitive brick consists of 5 carbon atoms is relatively recent, while it was once assumed that the entire family was created by repeating a brick of 10 carbon atoms, which was called “terpene”. Therefore, the molecules with 10 carbon atoms (such as limonene, see figure) were called mono-terpenes, i.e. composed of a single brick, diterpenes those with 20 carbon atoms (e.g. the cafestol that gives the aroma to the coffee), triterpenes those with 30 carbon atoms (e.g. beta-carotene). Since molecules made from 15 carbon atoms were also found (such as bisabolol), it was thought they contained a terpene and a half, and were called sesquiterpenes (from the Latin semis = half + atque = and). Today it is known that the repetitive unit is composed of 5 carbon atoms, therefore it is easy to understand how mono-terpenes contain two (see figure), sesquiterpenes three, diterpenes four, triterpenes six.