January 31, 2011

What is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is a type of alternative medicine that uses essential oils and other aromatic plant compounds which are aimed at improving a person's health or mood. Many consider this type of treatment as unscientific and wishful thinking - however, scientific evidence of its effectiveness is growing. This study acknowledged that aromatherapy makes you feel good although there was no evidence that it makes you well. The essential oils used in aromatherapy have a different composition compared to other herbal products because the distillation used in aromatherapy recovers the lighter phytomolecules. 

Aromatherapy is a widely used term for a range of traditional therapies that use essential oils. These may include massaging oils, or any topical application that uses pure, essential oils - the essential oils are either absorbed through the skin or inhaled. We are not completely sure what the source of the benefit is - the massage, the smell or both.
The theory behind Aromatherapy
It is believed that the inhalation of essential oils stimulates the part of the brain connected to smell - the olfactory system; a signal is sent to the limbic system of the brain that controls emotions and retrieves learned memories. This causes chemicals to be released which make the person feel relaxed, calm, or even stimulated. If the aromatherapy includes massage the effect is to further relax the person. 

The essential oils are said to have a direct pharmacological effect. Aromatherapists claim there is a synergy between the body and aromatic oils; however there is no scientific proof that this is the case. Nevertheless, some preliminary clinical studies have revealed positive results. 

Essential oils, phytoncides and other natural volatile organic compounds (VOCs) work differently. When targeting our sense of smell they activate the limbic system and emotional centers of the brain. When applied topically (onto the skin) they activate thermal receptors and destroy microbes and fungi. Internal application may stimulate the immune system (generally in prescribed form).
What can Aromatherapy be used for?
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Insomnia
  • Muscular aches
  • Body aches
  • Headaches
  • Circulation problems
  • Digestive problems
  • Menstrual problems
  • Menopausal problems
  • Depression - this study found that women with depression have their sense of smell affected. It adds that women who receive aromatherapy and suffer from depression may benefit from the treatment.
Popular Aromatherapy
  • Basil - this is used to sharpen concentration and alleviate some of the symptoms of depression. Also used to relieve headaches and migraines. Should be avoided during pregnancy.
  • Bergamot - said to be useful for the urinary tract and digestive tract. When combined with eucalyptus oil it is said to be good for the skin, and skin problems caused by stress, as well as skin affected by chicken pox
  • Black pepper - commonly used for stimulating the circulation, muscular aches and pains, and bruises.
  • Citronella oil - this is a relative of lemongrass. It is commonly used as an insect repellent.
  • Clove oil - a topical analgesic (painkiller) commonly used for toothache. It is also used as an antispasmodic, antiemetic (prevents vomiting and nausea) and carminative (prevents gas in the gut).
  • Eucalyptus - often used for relief of the airways for people who have a cold or the flu. Commonly combined with peppermint.
  • Geranium oil - this is commonly used as a diuretic (makes you get rid of water), astringent (draws together or constricts body tissues and is effective in stopping the flow of blood or other secretions), and antiseptic.
  • Jasmin - this is said to have aphrodisiac qualities.
  • Lavender oil - commonly used as an antiseptic for minor cuts and burns. Also used to help people relax. It is said to relieve headache and migraine symptoms. Also used to help people with insomnia.
  • Lemon oil - used to give the person a mood-lift, also said to be effective for relieving the symptoms of stress and depression.
  • Sandalwood - some say this has aphrodisiac qualities.
  • Tea tree oil - said to have antimicrobial, antiseptic, and disinfectant qualities. Commonly used in mouth rinses.
  • Thyme oil - said to help fatigue, nervousness and stress.
  • Yarrow oil - used for cold and influenza symptoms. It is said to help reduce joint inflammation.
Aromatherapy does sometimes have side effects. However, they tend to be very mild and do not last long. These include nausea, headaches and some allergic reactions. 

Skin sensitivity to sunlight - essential oils derived from citrus may make the skin more sensitive to ultraviolet light, making the person more susceptible to sunburn. 

Some oils may change the effectiveness of conventional medicines - if you are not sure, check with a qualified pharmacist or doctor. 

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