How Effective is Aromatherapy?

Essential oils in aromatherapy

Essential oils in aromatherapy

Essential oils have been used in an ancient therapy dating back to the time of the Egyptians, Chinese, Greeks, Romans and Indians almost 6,000 years ago. However, it was the French chemist, Rene Maurice Gattefosse, who founded aromatherapy during the first World War.

How Aromatherapy Works

The inhalation of essential oils stimulates the olfactory system, which then sends signals to the limbic system. Being the control center of the brain, the limbic system influences emotional, mental and physical health, invoking a general feeling of well-being. Essential oils are believed to mimic the effects of certain medications because they affect the release of enzymes and hormones in the body. One example is lavender, which stimulates the amygdala; an effect similar to sedative medications. Coupled with other treatments such as massage, aromatherapy can have positive effects to a person.

How Effective is Aromatherapy in Treating Illnesses and Conditions?

According to a study published in the Medical News Today, aromatherapy cannot treat medical conditions, decrease pain, heal wounds or strengthen the immune system. However, it can make a person feel good.

Contrarily, NYU Langone Medical Center also published an article claiming that aromatherapy can help improve certain medical conditions. For instance, the article stated that inhalation of black pepper vapor can help reduce cigarette addiction. Anxiety in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and cancer were also found to benefit from aromatherapy. Lavender was effectively found to help calm agitated behaviors.

Double blinded studies revealed that aromatherapy by ingestion, particularly eucalyptus, is effective in treating respiratory conditions such as cough, colds, acute bronchitis and sinus infections. Peppermint and caraway oil were also found to relieve digestive problems such as dyspepsia.

Aromatherapy by topical application also showed promising results. Tea tree oil, for instance, was found effective in treating fibromyalgia and fungal infections such as athlete’s foot. Alopecia areata also showed improvements when treated with a combination of thyme, Cedarwood, rosemary and lavender oils. Cineol extracted from eucalyptus is found to be an effective mosquito repellant.

Risks Associated with Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is generally safe. However, certain essential oils are prohibited from being taken internally. Some essential oils could be applied directly to the skin, but should be diluted with carrier oil.

Pregnant and lactating women, small children, epileptics and those suffering from high blood pressure should exercise caution when receiving aromatherapy. Certain essential oils can be harmful and can aggravate existing conditions.

Those who are suffering from asthma, hay fever and allergies should consult with a doctor before proceeding with aromatherapy because it can do more harm than good. Those who are suffering from psoriasis and eczema should also consult with a dermatologist before applying essential oils topically. Patients with deep venous thrombosis should avoid aromatherapy with massage because it can dislodge clots which can be fatal.

Aromatherapy can have varying effects to different persons because it mainly affects the emotional center of the brain. Another factor which can affect its effectiveness is the amount of application, the concentration and the type of essential oil used.

Photo credit: CrystalWood Naturals via Fotopedia

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