Benefits of Aromatherapy
Essential oils from plants have been used for thousands for years for therapeutic purposes. This practice is popularly known as aromatherapy because the highly concentrated essential oils emit scents that are believed to have healing powers. Although these aromatic scents are mostly inhaled, the oils are also used to massage the body, which increase their healing effects. Because of these health benefits, aromatherapy is now being used as part of complementary and alternative medicine to treat stress, infection, chronic pain, and other health problems.
How Aromatherapy Works
Aromatherapy uses concentrated essential oils extracted from various plant roots, seeds, leaves, and flowers. These emit aromatic scents that may be directly inhaled, although the oils may also be applied to the skin in the form of lotions, bath salts or massage oils. The strong aroma is believed to stimulate the receptors in the nose, which send signals to the part of the brain that controls your emotions. Some scientists believe that scents can stimulate the activity of certain brain cells in a way that is similar to the way some medications work. Others think that essential oil molecules may interact with enzymes or hormones in the blood. When used for massage, essential oils are absorbed by the skin and at the same time, manipulation serves as physical therapy.
Aromatherapy is widely used in a variety of settings. It is popularly used in health spas, but hospitals, clinics and even homes use it to treat a variety of conditions, including pain, anxiety, and depression. Some examples of essential oils that have been shown to be effective in relieving stress, anxiety, and depression include lavender, rose, bergamot, lemon, orange, and sandalwood. For people who have chronic health conditions, aromatherapy is believed to improve the quality of life.
Health Benefits of Aromatherapy
Studies suggest that essential oils may be used to improve health in various ways:
- Lavender, rose, and frankincense are used by midwives for pregnant women to reduce anxiety, promote a sense of well-being, and reduce pain during delivery.
- Peppermint oil helps relieve nausea and vomiting in women undergoing childbirth.
- Massage therapy using essential oils helps relieve depression by stimulating positive emotions and promoting relaxation.
- One study found that neroli oil may help reduce blood pressure. It has also been found to reduce anxiety in people who were about to undergo colonoscopy.
- Laboratory examinations show that chemical compounds found in some essential oils have antibacterial and antifungal properties.
- Research suggests that citrus oils may help strengthen the immune system.
- Peppermint oil may help improve digestion.
- Estrogen-like compounds found in aniseed, fennel, and sage may help relieve symptoms of PMS and menopause.
- Essential oils that can help relieve anxiety include: bergamot, cardamom, cypress, chamomile, frankincense, lavender, melissa, marjoram, myrrh, neroli, nutmeg, orange/lime, patchouli, rose, pine, and vanilla.
- Essential oils that can help relieve depression include: angelica, bergamot, clary sage, cedarwood, geranium, jasmine, lemon, marjoram, neroli, patchouli, peppermint, rosemary, sandalwood, lavender, and ylang ylang.
- Essential oils that can help relieve fatigue include: angelica, basil, cedarwood, clove, eucalyptus, frankincense, jasmine, lemon, marjoram, neroli, patchouli, peppermint, and vanilla.
- Essential oils that can help relieve headaches include: basil, cinnamon, chamomile, clary sage, eucalyptus, ginger, lavender, lemon grass, marjoram, melissa, peppermint, thyme, and ylang ylang.
- Essential oils that can help relieve lung and sinus congestion include: angelica, basil, clove, cedarwood, cypress, eucalyptus, ginger, fennel, hyssop, juniper, marjoram, rosemary, and tea tree.
- Essential oils that can help relieve indigestion include: anise, basil, fennel, ginger, juniper, lavender, lemon grass, lemon verbena, orange, peppermint, rosemary, rose, sandalwood, and thyme.
- Essential oils that can help relieve menstrual cramps include: angelica, basil, clary sage, chamomile, caraway, ginger, lavender, rosemary, rose, and sage.
- Essential oils that can help relieve muscle soreness include: bay, chamomile, caraway, eucalyptus, frankincense, geranium, ginger, juniper, lemon verbena, lemon grass, myrtle, patchouli rosemary, and sandalwood.
Aromatherapy may also be helpful for:
- Hair loss
- Dementia-related agitation
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Cancer pain
Aromatherapy is a safe and effective form of complementary and alternative medicine that may be used in combination with conventional medical therapies. When used as directed, essential oils may be safely used to reduce symptoms of many health conditions. However, they are not FDA-regulated and more studies are needed to prove their effectiveness in treating diseases. Applying essential oils to the skin may trigger allergic reactions or skin irritation. They may also interact with your medications. Breast feeding and pregnant women must ask their physicians if they may use aromatherapy.
Consult your doctor and look for a trained aromatherapist when considering the use of aromatherapy.
This information should not take the place of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your health care providers (doctor, registered dietitian, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary supplements and what may be best for your overall health.
Mayo Clinic. What are the benefits of aromatherapy? http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/consumer-health/expert-answers/aromatherapy/faq-20058566
Huffington Post. Aromatherapy: Allowing Scents to Heal Us. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/julie-chen-md/aromatherapy_b_3698319.html
UMMC. Aromatherapy. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/treatment/aromatherapy