Even if you don’t know what they are exactly, you’re bound to have smelled them at some point in your life. They’re everywhere, and you probably don’t even know they’re there. It’s that whiff of a distinct, woody scent and the vibrant aroma of citrus. What is it? What you’re smelling are terpenes.
Researchers and enthusiasts have kept an eye on these aromatic compounds for years. Terpenes aren’t only significant because of their smell but also their potential to provide exciting health benefits.
If you’ve felt out of the loop about terpenes, this article is for you. You can expect to learn more about how terpenes affect your body, their common uses, and which kinds are the most popular.
What Are Terpenes?
Terpenes are a large and diverse class of organic compounds from many herbs and animals, but most commonly plants. Plants secrete essential oils containing terpenes to attract pollinators or repel insects or other dangerous herbivores.
Terpenes are typically colorless substances. However, yellow samples mean they’re impure. Researchers and manufacturers have learned different ways to leverage these aromatic compounds for various uses. They can do this by extracting the terpenes from the plants and flowers.
How Are Terpenes Extracted?
If you plan on manufacturing or extracting terpenes, you must know the different methods. Each approach varies, can influence the final product’s quality and characteristics, and has distinct advantages and disadvantages.
Steam distillation, for example, can produce pure terpenes. However, it can expose the terpenes to high temperatures, leading to a loss in scent. Another method is hydrodistillation, which allows users to preserve the quality of the terpenes’ oil, although its potency may be affected in the process.
There is no perfect extraction method because each terpene can react differently to a particular process.
How Do Terpenes Affect The Body?
Each terpene has a distinct characteristic—how it smells and works in the body. However, it’s commonly agreed that terpenes can lead to psychoactive effects that have exciting potential for becoming medical treatments in the future.
According to a 2020 review article from the Natural Product Communications journal, terpenoids possess antitumor, anti-inflammatory, and antimalarial effects, to name a few.
Combining enough substances with terpenes may allow you to experience the entourage effect. When it occurs, the potencies of each substance improve. While research has not been definitive, many studies have pointed to such an effect as having several medical benefits.
It’s helpful to familiarize yourself with a terpene dictionary to understand terpenes better and what they do. Furthermore, it is a gateway for learning more about how people use terpenes.
What Are The Most Common Uses and Benefits of Terpenes?
Terpenes are highly versatile. While plants have relied on the scents terpenes give off for survival, researchers and enthusiasts have found plenty of ways to benefit from these aromatic compounds.
Below are a few of the most common ways enthusiasts have used terpenes. However, keep in mind that some of these benefits are terpene-specific.
1. Ease Anxiety
A study suggested that essential oils and other formulations that contain certain terpenes, like linalool, citronellol, limonene, and geraniol, have the potential to serve as an aromatherapeutic substance to help relieve anxiety.
The researchers looked into in-vivo studies on animal models. They verified the anxiolytic effects of essential oils, citing the interactions of their major components with receptors found in the central nervous system.
2. Promote relaxation
In a comprehensive study of terpenes and their medicinal uses, the researchers found that several terpenes—linalool and beta-pinene, to name a few—can be linked with helping someone overcome feelings of stress.
According to the study, linalool and beta-pinene are both monoterpenes that can interact with the 5hT1A receptors of the body’s serotonergic pathway. This interaction can potentially help the release and reuptake of stress-relieving serotonins.
3. Relieve pain
For years, people have been using terpenes as an effective alternative to pain relief.
Terpenes, such as pinene, limonene, myrcene, and caryophyllene, can activate the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the body. These receptors are involved with nociceptive pain and inflammatory hypersensitivity, respectively. Once they are activated, they can help lessen some pain a person may feel.
4. Improve sleep
Scientific studies have attributed certain terpenes as having highly sedative effects.
A study from the Phytomedicine journal found that the terpenes limonene, citral, and myrcene presented both sedative and relaxant effects in the tested mice. Although tests on individuals have not been conclusive, these findings bode well for people who may have trouble resting at night.
Many terpene enthusiasts aren’t afraid to add a dash or two of terpenes into their dishes, probably because some common herbs, spices, and fruits contain some form of terpene, including lemon, thyme, and sage, among others.
Terpenes can interact with other compounds that common ingredients, such as herbs and spices, release. These come together to elevate home-cooked staples into mouthwatering delights.
Since each terpene has a distinct smell and flavor, some are more suited for certain dishes. The earthy-smelling pinene, for instance, is found most often in basil and rosemary, which means it can go great with savory dishes.
Regardless of how you intend to use terpenes, knowing the most common ones is always helpful.
What Are The Most Popular Terpenes and Their Benefits?
There are hundreds of terpenes out there, each with a unique but recognizable scent and flavor. To aid in your understanding of the vast selection of terpenes, below are a few you’ll likely encounter often while learning more about these aromatic compounds.
Myrcene is among the most common terpenes you’ll encounter, often found in hops, basil, and mango. It has a clove-like and fruity smell and is usually in the form of a yellow oily liquid. Many food and beverage products use it as a flavoring agent. You’ll also find myrcene in household cleaning supplies, such as soaps and detergents.
Studies on myrcene often point to its many health benefits since it has antioxidant, anti-aging, analgesic, and anti-inflammatory properties, to name a few.
The name of this terpene already gives away much of what you can expect from it.
Limonene is a zesty-smelling terpene found in citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons, and limes. Its fresh smell is why many fragrance and cleaning companies use it for their products. Limonene can also be an excellent addition to energize the flavor of your home-cooked dishes.
According to research, limonene offers several health benefits and can act as an antioxidant, anticancer, and antidiabetic substance. It may also help reduce inflammation and provide gastroprotective effects.
Linalool is a pleasant-smelling terpene found in lavender, rosewood, and laurel. This terpene is famous for being a soothing substance, that helps people relax. One study found it affects insomnia when paired with acupuncture.
Several studies have pointed out linalool’s effect on relieving arthritis and preventing seizures and its ability to produce antidepressant-like effects, which could help people struggling with mental health.
As the name suggests, you’ll often encounter pinene in evergreen trees like pine and cedar. Pinene has a sharp and sweet smell that will remind you of relaxing walks on a hiking trail.
Although more research is needed, pinene is shaping to be a potentially effective terpene, providing several attractive health benefits. According to one review, there is evidence suggesting that pinene, along with linalool, could work as medicine for stroke, inflammatory and neuropathic pain, anxiety, depression, and ischemia.
Besides eucalyptus trees, eucalyptol is another common terpene in citrus, laurel, and rosemary. It has a minty, fresh, and cooling taste that emits a pleasant scent. Because of these properties, you’ll often find eucalyptol in many cosmetic and antibacterial products.
Besides helping you fight bacteria, eucalyptol can also help reduce inflammation. A study found that this terpene can play a role in treating chronic diseases, including cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
Terpenes are aromatic compounds that can provide consumers with many potential health benefits. These include pain relief, mood improvements, and better sleep and relaxation. However, there is a need for more research. Though promising, the full effects of terpenes on the human body are still unknown.
To keep it safe, stick to the standard method of using terpenes—cooking. Since they’re so versatile, you can add terpenes to many dishes for an extra zing of flavor.
If you’re interested in using terpenes for various reasons listed above, it would be best to hold off on experimentations until there is enough research to back up the claims.
The research and knowledge about terpenes are vast, but it continues to grow. When you take the time to familiarize yourself with these composites, you join a passionate and growing community of terpene enthusiasts looking for new ways to enjoy these aromatic compounds.
Despite their different use and benefits, there is no guarantee of practical terpene use for yourself. It’s always beneficial to consult your doctor before taking any product. Not all terpenes affect people the same way; some affect others more. Your doctor can guide you in making the most out of terpenes in the safest way possible.
The Food and Drug Administration has not evaluated these statements.