Aromatherapy is a branch of herbal medicine that centers on using fragrant substances, particularly oily plant extracts, to alter mood or improve individuals health or appearance. The alleged benefits of aromatherapy range from stress relief to enhancement of immunity and the unlocking of emotions from past experiences. But skeptics cite a lack of credible supportive studies published in reputable scientific or medical journals. Scents of Well-Being? Aromatherapy is a buzzword used by the cosmetics, fragrance, and alternative-medicine industries. Although the method has ancient roots, proponents did not call it aromatherapy before the 1930s. This expression derives from the French word aromatherapie, coined by Rene Maurice Gattefosse, a chemist whose book of the same name was published in 1928. After a lab explosion Gattefosse conveniently plunged his badly burned hand into a vat of lavender oil. He noticed how well it healed, and thus began the development of modern aromatherapy, which French homeopaths Dr. and Mme. Maury revived in the 1960s. Proponents of aromatherapy maintain that the tools of the trade–wood-resin distillates and flower, leaf, stalk, root, grass, and fruit extracts–contain antibiotics, antiseptics, hormones, and vitamins.
Some proponents have characterized essential oils–i.e., oils that are volatile, aromatic, and flammable–as the soul or spirit of plants. Indeed, one of the aromatherapys premises is that essential oils have a spiritual dimension and can restore balance and harmony to ones body and to ones life. One of its principles, the doctrine of signatures, holds that a plants visible and olfactory characteristics reveal its secret qualities. For example, because the configuration of the violet suggests shyness, proponents hold that the scent of violets engenders calmness and modesty.
Aromatherapy en-compasses topical applications of essential oils, bathing in water to which essential oils have been added, sniffing essential oils, and even ingesting them. Products marketed under the aromatherapy umbrella are legion, including shaving gels, aftershaves, facial cleansers, bath salts, bath soaps, shower gels, shampoos, hair conditioners, body masks, moisturizers, sunscreen preparations, lipsticks, deodorants, candles, lamps, diffusers, pottery, massage oils, massage devices, and jewelry. the most common aromatherapy field is aesthetic, the sense of well-being derived from enjoying perfumes, scented candles, baths, and other fragrances, stated Jane Buckle, R.N.,M.A., who claims the worlds first masters degree in clinical aromatherapy, from Middlesex University in London.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, says Buckle, is medical aromatherapy, also know as aromatic medicine. Practitioners of medical aromatherapy include massage therapists, naturopaths, nurses, and a smattering of medical doctors. The alleged beneficial effects of aromatherapy are numerous. Supporters claim, for example, that essential oils from lavender or peppermint clears negative energy; that essential oil from bergamot normalizes emotions; that essential oils from roses or sandalwood increases confidence; that essential oils from eucalyptus alleviates sorrow; and that patchouli creates a desire for peace. Essential oils can have side effects, however, and even proponents warn about risks. Essential oils from cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger can burn the skin; ingestion of essential oils from pennyroyal can cause miscarriage. Rapheal dAngelo, M.D., is a Colorado family practitioner who began incorporating aromatherapy into his practice over two years ago. DAngelo uses eucalyptus oil and peppermint oil adjunctively in treating respiratory disease.
He alludes to studies indicating these oils not only have soothing properties, but reduce mucous production, as well as possessing antiviral and antibacterial properties. But these studies, he adds, were conducted in Europe, and the degree of scrutiny and peer review they underwent was not necessarily as high as the usual degree of such in the United States. Can You Trust Your Aromatherapist? Outside the U.S. aromatherapy is widely accepted. In France, medical students are taught how to prescribe essential oils; in Britain, hospital nurses use aromatherapy to treat patients suffering anxiety and depression and to make terminal-care patients more comfortable. But the science behind aromatherapy is meager, and in the United States no legal standards exist concerning education in aromatherapy, certification therein, or the occupational practice of aromatherapy. Dr. dAngelo is taking courses offered by the Australasian College of Herbal Studies, a nonaccredited correspondence school in Oregon who six-lesson aromatherapy course leads to a Certificate in Aromatherpy.
The school also offers certificate courses in homeopathy; Homeobotanical Therapy, which centers on the use of botanical tinctures that purportedly have been prepared homeopathically; and iridology—so-called iris diagnosis. According to Dorene Peterson, the schools principle: In the last 18 months, weve had a seventy-five percent increase in aromatherapy students. Peterson holds a Diploma in Acupuncture (Dip ACU) and two degrees: a baccalaureate and a Diploma in Natural Therapeutics (DNT) from New Zealand. She says her school has 400 enrollees, ranging from age 18 to 68 and including professionals adjuncting an existing career: medical doctors, registered nurses, licensed massage therapists, and some radiologists. Other students are planning on jobs in beauty salons, in health food stores, and in the fragrance industry. The American Aromatherapy Association, also nonaccredited and in Oregon, offers certification based on attendance at two three-day meetings and submission of a paper that includes case histories.
The associations courses covers the use of essential oils as internal remedies. Another nonaccredited organization, the International Association of Aromatherapists, offers an 11-month correspondence course leading to certification as an Aromatherapist Practitioner. Business Stinks? As director of his Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, in Chicago, neurologist and psychiatrist Alan Hirsch, M.D., specializes in treating people with smell disorders. His passion, however, is investigating how odors affect behavior. Hirsch’s most attention-getting study focused on whether an odor could affect weight. Hirsch had noticed that, after losing the sense of smell, people’s weight increased. He theorized that people would eat less if they were subject to odors more often. For the study, 3,193 people were given an inhaler that imparted an odor somewhat reminiscent of corn chips. At the outset of the study the subjects’ average weight was 217 pounds; some subjects weighed nearly 600 pounds. Hirsch found that the more often the subjects sniffed the odor, the more weight they lost.
The average weight loss over six months was 30 pounds. Some subjects sniffed the odor more than 200 times daily and lost more than 100 pounds. Most researchers are skeptical of Hirsch’s work. They complain that he doesn’t publish in respected scientific journals, that his studies therefore do not undergo rigorous peer review, and that his experiments are not well controlled. Hirsch concedes: At this point, I wouldn’t use aromatherapy myself, as a physician to deal with disease. I don’t think we’re there yet. If I saw a physician using aromatherapy, rather than tranquilizers, I’d say that’s inappropriate at this point. But Hirsch predicts that by 2010 aromatherapy will be a part of mainstream medicine. In the future, odors may be used to diagnose disease, he says. If we ever find the odor associated with the greatest impairment, we could potentially use that to diagnose the recurrence of disease. Hirsch also describes more mundane purposes: Maybe ten minutes before you wake up in the morning, the alarm clock will spray a scent to make you more alert.
You’ll go to the kitchen, where an odor will be released to increase or suppress your appetite. Your office may be scented to make you more productive. And at bedtime? An aroma, he replies, to make you sleepyor more amorous. Observes principal Dorene Peterson of the Australasian College of Herbal Studies: There is a philosophical difference between hard science and the approach that believes there’s vibrational energy that’s part of the healing process. Alternative medicine is offered now in quite a number of medical schools. I think a lot of hard-core scientists and doctors who have been trained in that data-oriented scientific approach are realizing there’s more to heaven and earth than we really know about. Still, Peterson admits that empirical evidence is necessary for widespread acceptance: This is such a new area that there are a lot of studies at this point that aren’t reproducible. Even though there’s been some interesting work done in Japan and Germany, it’s one thing to get results once. But it doesn’t appear that researchers have been able to duplicate these results again.
While I believe there’s a scientific basis for aromatherapy, and enough basis to show that physiological reactions occur in the body when individuals inhale certain fragrances, there’s also a tremendous range of subjective reasons for reactions. For instance, If someone’s had a negative experience with fragrances in the past, and it’s caused anxiety, that person will react negatively, even though other people may react positively. Smell the Roses Generally, insofar as odors and topical essential-oil preparations are pleasurable, they are healthful. Consumers don’t need to be told what smells good. And which odors evoke pleasant thoughts in an individual is knowable only personally. But consumers ought to be told what’s risky and what’s unfounded. Aromatherapists and marketers of aromatherapy products do not seem reliable sources of such information. Popular and higher-education acceptance of a method is not evidence that the method has therapeutic utility.
As a health system, aromatherapy is largely unsubstantiated. Sniffing Out Aromatherapy Noted herbal-medicine expert Varro Tyler, Ph.D, Sc.D., an ACSH Advisor, states that the cons of aromatherapy far outnumber the pros. He cites the problem created by different definitions of aromatherapy. He also cites the confusing of aromatherapywhose focus is health improvementwith aromacology, whose focus is mood alteration. The descriptions below illustrate the definition problem. aroma-spa therapy: Subject of a textbook of the same name (Anessence Inc., 1996), by massage therapist Anne Roebuck, of Toronto, Canada. Apparently, aroma-spa therapy is the practice of aromatherapy as a part of spa therapy, which Roebuck describes in the introduction as therapeutic face and body treatments at a spa location. aroma-tology: Form of aromatherapy that includes using essential oils to re-form character and to enhance spirituality. Prof. William Arnold-Taylor, an Aromatherapist, coined the name aroma-tology in 1981. cosmetic aromatherapy: Topical use of skin- and hair-care products that contain essential oils. magical aromatherapy: Offshoot of aromatherapy expounded by author Scott Cunningham (1956-1993) and distinguished by the following attributes.
(a) Self-administration is preferable. (b) Aims need not relate to health. (c) Visualization of a needed change accompanies inhalation of a scent. (d) Bioelectrical energy, which Cunningham described as non-physical and natural, merges with the scent and is programmable by visualization. massage aromatherapy: Application during a massage therapy session of a vegetable oil to which an essential oil has been added. Massage alone will tone flaccid muscles, reduce muscle spasm and improve circulation. It has also been demonstrated that massage releases endorphins-the body’s natural pain killers2. The experience of massage can be either stimulating or calming depending on the techniques used. There are contra-indications to massage, for instance people being given anti-coagulant drugs (massage causes haemodilution). Therefore some basic training is essential for anyone massaging people suffering from medical conditions. olfactory aromatherapy: Direct or indirect inhalation of essential oils. Olfactory aromatherapy allegedly unlocks odor memories and encourages realignment of natural forces within the body. phytoaromatherapy: Form of aromatherapy that uses essential oils and purportedly acts simultaneously on four human features: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.
Subtle Aromatherapy: Form of vibrational healing (vibrational medicine) expounded by Patricia Davis in her 1991 book of the same name. Subtle Aromatherapy is any use of essential oils with the purported aim of: (a) healing the physical body by affecting the subtle body (energetic body), or (b) contributing to personal and spiritual growth. Using Essential Oils Essential oils are concentrated extracts that may come from various parts of a plant, including the blossoms, roots or leaves. Most are volatile, which means they readily evaporate. This makes them easy for us to smell; it also means they can be flammable. Because they are so concentrated, essential oils typically need to be diluted before use. They may be used singly, or some may be used in combination to produce complementary effects. In aromatherapy, essential oils are used in two ways: They are inhaled through the nose or applied to the skin. When inhaled through the nose, the aromatic molecules of the essential oils are thought to stimulate the olfactory nerve, sending messages to the brains limbic system.
The limbic system is the part of the brain that controls memory and emotion. Researchers believe that when the limbic system is stimulated, it can affect the nervous, endocrine and immune systems. Inhalation of essential oils also can impact the respiratory system directly. For instance, some oils from the eucalyptus plant can help clear the sinuses and respiratory tract and, thereby, help fight respiratory . When applied to the skin, essential oils are absorbed into the body. Some oils have physical effects, such as relieving swelling or fighting fungal infections. Others are used primarily for their emotional value, to promote relaxation or generate a positive or soothing feeling. Inhaling Essential Oils The simplest way to inhale an essential oil is to sniff the undiluted oil itself. (You should not get the liquid into your nose; rather, sniff the air above the oil, as you might when checking the scent of a perfume.)
There are many other ways to inhale essential oils, including the following: Sniff a mixture that contains oil, such as a perfume, lotion or bubble bath. Spray the oil into the air. For instance, add a few drops of oil to a spray bottle of water, then use the spray as an air freshener. Disperse the oil with a diffuser, which heats water, typically using a light bulb, a candle or a stove burner. When you add a few drops of essential oil to the water, the heat causes molecules of the oil to enter the air, scenting it. Add a drop of oil to your pillowcase so youll smell the oil as you sleep. Burn a candle scented with an essential oil. Applying Oils to Your Skin To apply essential oil to your skin, always dilute the essential oil first, such as in a carrier oil. Use a pure, unperfumed vegetable oil, such as soybean oil or almond oil, as your carrier oil. (Chemicals in synthetic oils may interfere with the properties of your essential oil and with your bodys absorption of the oil.)
The scented carrier oil then can be massaged into the skin. You also can apply essential oils to your skin using these methods: Mix the oil with warm water, soak a cloth in the water, then apply the cloth as a compress. Add oil to a warm bath and soak for at least 15 minutes. Add oil to an unperfumed, vegetable-based lotion or cream to rub into your skin. (As with carrier oils, do not use a synthetic product or a product that already is perfumed.) Diluting Essential Oils For oils, lotions or creams applied directly to the skin, adults generally should use essential oils diluted to two to three parts per hundred.
For instance, for one cup (48 teaspoons) of carrier oil, add about one teaspoon of essential oil. Children and anyone with sensitive skin should use a dilution half as strong about one to one-and-a-half parts per hundred (or one-half teaspoon of essential oil per cup of carrier oil). For baths and diffusers, try adding about six drops of oil to the water. For air-freshening water sprays, try three drops. Remember, the concentration of essential oils may vary, depending on the brand you choose. Start slowly, gradually adding just enough oil to achieve the level of aroma you desire. Essential oils usually are sold in small bottles with droppers so that you can add oil drop by drop.