ORAC testing results can be confusing to navigate. In this post, I’ll address myths, facts, and FAQs of essential oils and ORAC values to help you better understand how ORAC works and whether or not it should be something you need to focus on before choosing which essential oils to buy or use. You'll also see a full list of essential oil ORAC values, and whether they really mean anything.
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Understanding ORAC: Definition and Importance
Ascertaining ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) of essential oils was deemed necessary in the early 1990s as a measurement tool for different foods. Antioxidants are known to fight off free radicals, which can damage your body’s cells and cause your body to struggle more with managing your immune system.
Since the USDA began ORAC testing, businesses (mainly marketing companies) used the emerging measuring antioxidant capacity trend to promote their food-based products. Many brands updated their nutrition labels with their own stated ORAC value.
What does it mean? Each item’s antioxidant level was measured in terms of micromoles per 100 grams or µmol/100 g. This means that if an object reads 1,000 µmol/100 g, then it contains one thousand molecules of antioxidants present within that amount only! Foods with more polyphenols, like berries & dark chocolates, will have high levels. In contrast, processed foods tend to be low due to processing methods where some nutrients are removed altogether.
How ORAC Measures Antioxidant Power
The Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) method is an interesting laboratory test that measures the antioxidant potency of foods, beverages, and supplements.
This system uses a complex set of chemical reactions to identify how much oxygen radical absorbance capacity each item has. In other words, it helps us determine which products are most effective in combatting free radicals and oxidative stress.
But what exactly are free radicals? They’re highly reactive molecules that attack our cells when they come into contact with them – something we need to be aware of because this damage can lead to chronic diseases like cancer or heart disease if left untreated for too long!
Common causes of oxidative stress include:
- air pollution,
- cigarette smoke (including e-cigarettes and Vape pens),
- industrial chemicals,
- chemicals in skincare products,
- chemicals in hair care products,
- harsh home and office cleaners,
- chemicals in cosmetics,
- unnecessary additives in supplements and medication,
- food additives,
- chemicals in swimming pools
While our culture and environment has no shortage of free radical sources.
Thankfully, there’s help – antioxidants found in many fruits & vegetables neutralize these particles before they do any harm by donating electrons, which acts as an “off switch,” creating a shield against oxidation and eventually resulting in better general health over time.
ORAC was developed at Tufts University under USDA partnership to provide you with another way of understanding precisely how beneficial your produce intake could be.
Understanding ORAC Measurements in Essential Oils
In exploring the world of essential oils and how they relate to their food and herb counterparts, ORAC results are a little muddied. Many marketers and essential oil enthusiasts believe ORAC values suggest a means of evaluating oil quality. Others believe it has to do with energy healing modalities. But that begs the question… do steam-distilled or cold-pressed oils maintain the plants’ antioxidant qualities?
There are a few studies that give us insights:
- Mixtures containing clove bud essential oil also strongly inhibited oxidation (source)
- The mixture of essential oils from laurel and coriander possessed antioxidant properties (source)
- Frankincense essential oil can counter the effects of stress by effectively relieving sleep debt and maintaining antioxidant capacity without increasing oxidative stress… (source)
- Rosemary essential oil exhibited free radical scavenging activity (source)
While I’ve scanned through over 5,000 studies of essential oils serving as antioxidants, the ones listed above give you an idea of essential oils playing a role in neutralizing free radicals.
(If you enjoy geeking out over science topics, you are always welcome to do your own searches on PubMed and Google Scholar, too… those are my favorite resources.)
** PLEASE NOTE ** Don't be fooled by clever marketing. Not all essential oils are created equally. Make sure you're not wasting your money on fake or altered essential oils (even if they're labeled as “pure essential oil”). Don't miss our explosive report outlining the dirty little secrets of the essential oil industry to ensure you're not wasting your money on brands of oils that legally mislead you through deceitful marketing practices.
27 Essential Oil ORAC Values
They are superior, however, when it comes to antioxidants and using them to protect the body from oxidative damage, especially when applied topically to the skin (remember, everything you put on your skin is absorbed). This is why essential oils are popular additions to anti-aging skincare products.
With that said, here are some of the most potent antioxidant essential oils – ranked by their highest ORAC rating, based on information from one of my favorite books, The Chemistry of Essential Oils:
(Note* links on the oils mentioned in this list will take you to a post to learn more about the oil)
- Clove – 1,078,700
- Myrrh – 379,800
- Anise – 333,700
- Citronella – 312,000
- Coriander – 298,300
- Fennel – 238,400
- Clary Sage – 221,000
- German Chamomile – 218,600
- Cedarwood – 169,000
- Rose – 158,100
- Nutmeg – 158,100
- Marjoram – 151,000
- Melissa – 139,905
- Ylang Ylang – 134,300
- Palmarosa – 130,000
- Rosewood – 113,200
- Manuka – 106,200
- Wintergreen – 101,800
- Geranium – 101,000
- Ginger – 99,300
- Bay Laurel – 98,900
- Eucalyptus Citriodora – 83,000
- Cumin – 82,400
- Black Pepper – 79,700
- Vetiver – 74,300
- Petitgrain – 73,600
- Blue Cypress – 73,100
- Citrus Hystrix/Combava/Kaffir Lime – 69,200
- Douglas Fir – 69,000
- Blue Tansy – 68,800
- Goldenrod – 61,900
- Rosalina (Melaleuca Ericifolia), aka “Swamp Paperbark” – 61,100
- Blue Yarrow – 55,900
- Spikenard – 54,800
- Basil – 54,000
- Patchouli – 49,400
- White Fir – 47,900
- Tarragon – 37,900
- Cajeput (Melaleuca Cajeputi) – 37,600
- Peppermint – 37,300
- Cardamom – 36,500
- Dill – 35,600
- Celery Seed – 30,300
- Fleabane (Canadian) – 26,700
- Mandarin – 26,500
- Lime – 26,200
- Galbanum – 26,200
- Myrtle – 25,400
- Cypress – 24,300
- Grapefruit – 22,600
- Hyssop – 20,900
- Balsam Fir – 20,500
- Niaoili (Melaleuca Quinquenervia)– 18,600
- Thyme – 15,960
- Oregano – 15,300
- Cassia – 15,170
- Sage – 14,800
- Mountain Savory – 11,300
- Cinnamon Bark – 10,340
- Tsuga – 7,100
- Valerian – 6,200
- Cistus – 3,860
- Eucalyptus Globulus – 2,410
- Orange – 1,890
- Lemongrass – 1,780
- Helichrysum – 1,740
- Ravintsara – 890
- Lemon – 660
- Frankincense Carteri – 630
- Spearmint – 540
- Lavender – 360
- Rosemary – 330
- Juniper – 250
- Roman Chamomile – 240
- Sandalwood – 160
25 Common Essential Oils With Unknown ORAC Values
Many essential oils do not have a listed ORAC rating, and because of the ORAC testing being closed (more on that below), there will likely be no ORAC testing on them in the future.
- Carrot Seed
- Cedar, (Western Red)
- Dorado Azul
- Eucalyptus Blue
- Eucalyptus Radiata
- Sacred Frankincense
- Tea Tree (Melaleuca Alternifolia)
- Palo Santo
- Sage, (Spanish)
- Tansy, (Idaho)
- White lotus
Debunking Common Myths about ORAC Scores
It is clear that ORAC scores have become increasingly popular since the testing debut. However, it’s important to understand the myths associated with them so you can make informed decisions regarding your health.
For example, some believe higher-scoring foods or supplements (including essential oils) are more powerful antioxidants than lower-scoring ones. This isn’t true since a food item could contain bioavailable nutrients even if its score is low.
Additionally, while there may be correlations between high ORAC ratings and the overall healthfulness of something, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll automatically improve your well-being. Why? Other factors, such as lifestyle choices, environmental exposures, and the quality of your food, cleaners, and personal care products, also play an essential role. Finally, taking dietary supplements with impressive ORAC readings won’t always increase antioxidant levels, given how complex our diets really are – including nutrient combinations from different sources, which affect absorption rates.
ORAC readings also don’t consider the differences in nutritional values of the same type of food or herb grown in different environments. For example, the ORAC value and bioavailability of an orange grown conventionally may significantly differ from one grown without harmful chemicals in a more historic, sustainable manner.
Benefits of Using High-ORAC Essential Oils
Measuring the antioxidant capacity in food is a big deal. ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) has become one of the most widely used methods. Foods with high values are said to be packed with power-filled antioxidants, which can remarkably affect our health. The same stands for essential oils since they also provide antioxidant values.
Using these potent antioxidant-rich essentials correctly will bring us many benefits that we usually don’t get from regular products.
First, when dealing with free radicals, their ability to damage cells becomes apparent if not appropriately addressed.
The oxidative stress caused by those free radicals leads to inflammation and cell degeneration. Prevention here yields better results than curing things after it happens. If you think about it… one of the most popular ways to take in antioxidants is to eat berries, juice, or smoothies. However, there’s only so much you can eat each day. Knowing our world is full of free radicals causing oxidative stress, taking additional precautions makes sense.
- Switch your chemical-laden name-brand skincare for something healthier
- Use a homemade sugar scrub with essential oils instead of synthetic options from the store
- Swap out your harmful cleaners for something that cleans more efficiently without causing your body harm (yes, my family swapped all our cleaners for one healthy multipurpose option)
- Use Vitality essential oils to flavor your baked goods instead of flavor oils
- Make your own homemade lotions or hair care products
- Enjoy essential oil-based massage oils
Introducing such potent inhibitors into your body through oil extracts could help counteract problematic molecules before harm is done (or help remove the inflammation after the fact).
That’s just part of it, though! By using those oily goodies regularly, you actually support your body’s natural detoxification processes while simultaneously boosting immunity.
Certain oils, like rosemary, grapefruit, juniper, cypress, fennel, and lemon, help support your body through eliminating potential risks associated with heavy metals like mercury or lead while improving overall immune defense systems.
It’s pretty clear what kind of advantages certain specially extracted essences offer compared to other options, outperforming significantly numerous ways and providing superior physical and mental protection.
The Downside to ORAC Testing
Apart from gauging how many antioxidants something possesses, we must consider other aspects, such as bioavailability, medication contraindications, overall lifestyle needs, personal toxin load…etc., while deciding our healthy dietary plans.
While a few products are highly beneficial, judging by their respective ORAC values, they may not be helpful for your individual circumstances.
Remember: everyone’s body is different. To give a blanket statement that something is good for you based on a test that doesn’t involve you being the subject can be short-sighted.
Another issue with ORAC is that it does not accurately express how much antioxidants are actually absorbed into your body.
ORAC detects antioxidants on a molecular level rather than an individual one, meaning we can’t tell whether our bodies will respond differently to different types of food and their associated antioxidants.
Studies have also demonstrated that some products labeled “high-ORAC value” do very little for actual absorption rates due to confounding variables such as bioavailability & solubility etc.
Why ORAC Testing Was Discontinued
ORAC testing was devised by scientists at Tufts University in partnership with the USDA back in 1992 to determine the antioxidant capability of foods.
This technique was speculated as to whether it reliably measured food’s antioxidant levels.
However, insufficient scientific evidence ultimately led to its eventual discontinuation.
Additionally, other methods like Total Phenolic Content (TPC) & Total Flavonoid Content (TFC) exist, which take less time and cost less money while still providing similar precision.
To pour salt in the ORAC wound, most people who publicly used the information misinterpreted the results, turning them into marketing talking points instead of using them to be helpful, causing public confusion.
All things considered, although traditional ORAC tests may be accurate from a molecular perspective, they aren’t so helpful regarding actual body uptake plus are pricier compared with TPC / TFC analyses which offer practically identical accuracy results, just faster & cheaper – thus, why lots of organizations no longer favor using this test anymore and why the USDA decided to cancel the program entirely.
Why Cancelling ORAC Testing is A Good Thing
The cancellation of ORAC testing is good for many different reasons. This test was developed in the early 1990s to measure how well certain foods or supplements could protect against free radical damage and other health problems.
Unfortunately, results were often misinterpreted by people who weren’t accurately educated on them. As such, experts are now hoping that canceling these tests will serve to reduce confusion about which foods can provide adequate nutrition while also allowing them to focus more energy on methods like those found through studies conducted over decades – ones that indicate whole plant-based diets consisting of fruits, vegetables, legumes, etc. have the more remarkable ability when it comes to protecting and nourishing your body compared with processed convenience food based regimens.
By removing this emphasis from individual nutrients measured via an ORAC test, our global culture can focus on better knowledge about what types of nutrition our bodies need to maintain optimal long-term health.
Closing Thoughts About Essential Oil ORAC Values
In conclusion, ORAC is a great way to measure the antioxidant capacity of different foods and supplements (including essential oils). It gives us an idea about how much antioxidants are present in any food item and compares them as well. Using more foods, products, and supplements with higher ORAC-valued ingredients, we can reduce our risk from free radical damage, promoting better overall health.
Choosing a healthier lifestyle doesn’t have to mean just eating salads; there are plenty of delicious options that also offer a good amount of antioxidants! So why not try some healthier foods, supplements, and personal care products full of healthy ingredients?
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