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AromatherapyAromatherapyAromatherapy

Aromatherapy is the practice of using the natural oils extracted from flowers, bark, stems, leaves, roots or other parts of a plant to enhance psychological and physical well-being.

The inhaled aroma from these "essential" oils is widely believed to stimulate brain function.

Essential oils can also be absorbed through the skin, where they travel through the bloodstream and can promote whole-body healing.

A form of alternative medicine, aromatherapy is gaining momentum.  It is used for a variety of applications, including pain relief, mood enhancement and increased cognitive function.  There are a wide number of essential oils available, each with its own healing properties. 

Aromatherapy also referred to as Essential Oil therapy, can be defined as the art and science of utilizing naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize and promote the health of body, mind and spirit.  It seeks to uni-physiological, psychological and spiritual processes to enhance an individuals innate healing process. 

When essential oils are used to support clients chakras, energy can become balanced and supported.

How does aromatherapy work?

Researchers are not entirely clear how aromatherapy may work.  Some experts believe our sense of smell may play a role.  The "smell" receptors in your nose communicate with parts of your brain (the amygdala and hippocampus) that serve as storehouses for emotions and memories.  When you breathe in essential oil molecules, some researchers believe they stimulate these parts of your brain and influence physical, emotional, and mental health.  For example, scientists believe lavender stimulates the activity of brain cells in the amygdala similar to the way some sedative medications work.  Other researchers think that molecules from essential oils may interact in the blood with hormones or enzymes.

Aromatherapy massage is a popular way of using essential oils because it works in several ways at the same time.  Your skin absorbs essential oils and you also breathe them in. Plus, you experience the physical therapy of the massage itself.

What happens during an aromatherapy session?

Topical or inhaled aromatherapy treatment is applied.

At an aromatherapy session, the practitioner will ask about your medical history and symptoms, as well any scents you may like.  You may be directed to breathe in essential oils directly from a piece of cloth or indirectly through steam inhalations, vaporizers, or sprays.  The practitioner may also apply diluted essential oils to your skin during a massage.  In most cases, the practitioner will tell you how to use aromatherapy at home, by mixing essential oils into your bath, for example.

What is aromatherapy good for?

Aromatherapy is used in a wide range of settings -- from health spas to hospitals -- to treat a variety of conditions.  In general, it seems to relieve pain, improve mood, and promote a sense of relaxation.  In fact, several essential oils -- including lavender, rose, orange, bergamot, lemon, sandalwood, and others -- have been shown to relieve anxiety, stress, and depression.

Several clinical studies suggest that when essential oils (particularly rose, lavender, and frankincense) were used by qualified midwives, pregnant women felt less anxiety and fear, had a stronger sense of well being, and had less need for pain medications during delivery.  Many women also report that peppermint oil relieves nausea and vomiting during labor.

Massage therapy with essential oils (combined with medications or therapy) may benefit people with depression.  The scents are thought by some to stimulate positive emotions in the area of the brain responsible for memories and emotions, but the benefits seem to be related to relaxation caused by the scents and the massage.  A person’s belief that the treatment will help also influences whether it works.

In one study, Neroli oil helped reduce blood pressure and preprocedure anxiety among people undergoing a colonoscopy.

In test tubes, chemical compounds from some essential oils have shown antibacterial and anti fungal properties.  Some evidence also suggests that citrus oils may strengthen the immune system and that peppermint oil may help with digestion. Fennel, aniseed, sage, and clary sage have estrogen like compounds, which may help relieve symptoms of premenstrual syndrome and menopause. However, human studies are lacking.

Other conditions for which aromatherapy may be helpful include:

  • Alopecia areata (hair loss)
  • Agitation, possibly including agitation related to dementia
  • Anxiety
  • Constipation (with abdominal massage using aromatherapy)
  • Insomnia
  • Pain: Studies have found that people with rheumatoid arthritis, cancer (using topical chamomile), and headaches (using topical peppermint) require fewer pain medications when they use aromatherapy
  • Itching, a common side effect for those receiving dialysis
  • Psoriasis

Should anyone avoid aromatherapy?

Pregnant women, people with severe asthma, and people with a history of allergies should only use essential oils under the guidance of a trained professional and with full knowledge of your physician.

Pregnant women and people with a history of seizures should avoid hyssop oil.

People with high blood pressure should avoid stimulating essential oils, such as rosemary and spike lavender.

People with estrogen dependent tumors (such as breast or ovarian cancer) should not use oils with estrogen like compounds such as fennel, aniseed, sage, and clary-sage.

People receiving chemotherapy should talk to their doctor before trying aromatherapy.

Is there anything I should watch out for?

Most topical and inhaled essential oils are generally considered safe.  You should never take essential oils by mouth unless you are under the supervision of a trained professional.  Some oils are toxic, and taking them by mouth could be fatal.

Rarely, aromatherapy can induce side effects, such as rash, asthma, headache, liver and nerve damage, as well as harm to a fetus.

Oils that are high in phenols, such as cinnamon, can irritate the skin.  Add water or a base massage oil (such as almond or sesame oil) to the essential oil before applying to your skin.  Avoid using near your eyes.

Essential oils are highly volatile and flammable so they should never be used near an open flame.

Animal studies suggest that active ingredients in certain essential oils may interact with some medications.  Researchers don’t know if they have the same effect in humans. Eucalyptus, for example, may cause certain medications, including pentobarbital (used for seizures) and amphetamine (used for narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) to be less effective.

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