The use of essential oils of plants for healing is called aromatherapy, at a first glance the name seems to suggest that the oils are inhaled, but although the name includes ‘aroma’, this technique also includes massages on the skin using oils. Essential oils have been very popular recently as treatments for infections, stress and other health problems, although there is still a lack of scientific evidence to support their results.
What are essential oils?
They are concentrated oils extracted from the leaves and flowers of different plants, each ingredient has a particular mixture that determines the application of the extracted oil. Some are used to treat physical conditions such as inflammation or infection, others to relax, relieve stress or just to make a room smelling nice. For example, orange blossom oil has an active ingredient that is believed to have the property of calming people.
What is the history of aromatherapy?
There is research revealing that essential oils were used more than 6000 years ago, Chinese, Egyptians, Indians, Romans and Greeks used it in cosmetics, drugs and perfumes, often for spiritual and hygienic purposes, but also in rituals and in forms of therapy.
In the last century, a European scientist applied lavender oil to a burn of his hand caused by a fault in his laboratory, so he began to investigate the chemical properties of oils and how to apply them to treat burns, skin infections and wounds on the soldiers in the war. The current aromatherapy dates from a little less than 100 years ago. About 60 years ago, therapists, masseurs, nurses, doctors and other professionals began using aromatherapy.
In America it became popular a little over 3 decades ago, but today many candles, beauty products and lotions are sold as aromatherapy, although they are nothing more than artificial products and synthetic fragrances that do not have the same properties as essential oils.
How does aromatherapy work?
Scientists are not clear about how aromatherapy can work, although everything seems to indicate that our sense of smell plays a more important role than we think, receptors located in the nose communicate with the hippocampus and amygdala that work as a basis for data of memories and emotions. When we smell an essential oil these parts of the brain are stimulated and the power of our mind helps to heal our body.
Several scientists think that lavender, for example, stimulates the activity of the amygdala, similar to the way certain sedative drugs work, others are inclined to inhaled molecules interacting with hormones and enzymes in the blood.
The aromatherapy massages are an effective way to use the oils, their skin absorbs them and you inhale them and also all that helped by the benefits of the physical therapy itself.
What happens during an aromatherapy session?
Very few specially trained professionals can provide an aromatherapy treatment by mouth, that is, a treatment that involves ingestion of essential oils by mouth, most aromatherapists, physiotherapists and masseurs will only use massages or treatments of inhaled oils. In a typical session, the professional will ask you the symptoms and a little of your medical history, then can indicate that you inhale the oil, either directly or through a vaporizer or spray. You can also apply diluted oil to your skin with a massage. It could also indicate how to use it at home, for example, during a bath.
What is the application of aromatherapy?
The conditions treated with aromatherapy are many, like the places where it is applied ranging from hospitals to spas, you always get a pain relief, an improvement of mood and a feeling of relaxation. It has even been shown that some oils, including lavender, rose, orange, lemon and sandalwood would relieve anxiety, depression and stress.
Some clinical studies affirm that the essential oils used by trained midwives caused pregnant women to lower the level of fear and anxiety prior to delivery and better well-being and less need for medication after giving birth. Some women claim that peppermint oil relieves nausea and vomiting during labor.
The essential oils applied in massage therapy can help people suffering from depression. The aromas are thought to stimulate the area of the brain responsible for emotions and memories, although the benefits seem to be related to the sensation of relaxation caused by the aroma and the massage itself.
The predisposition of a person to the treatment will help a lot to obtain better results.
According to one study, Neroli oil helped lower blood pressure and anxiety prior to the colonoscopy procedure in patients.
In laboratory work, some oils have shown good results as antibacterial and antifungal, there are also tests that show that citrus oils such as orange or lemon can strengthen the immune system, and that peppermint helps digestion. Sage, anise and fennel can help relieve premenstrual and menopausal symptoms.
Other conditions that can be treated are alopecia, agitation, anxiety, constipation, insomnia, itching, psoriasis and arthritis and headache pain.
Should someone avoid aromatherapy?
Yes, pregnant women, people with asthma and people with a history of allergy, should only use aromatherapy if a trained and qualified professional supervises it and if their doctor authorizes it.
Pregnant women and people with seizures should not use hyssop oil; people with high blood pressure should not use rosemary or lavender oils.
Is there anything that you should be careful?
The vast majority of oils are safe, however, you should never ingest an essential oil as it can be fatal, in some cases there may be side effects, such as asthma, headache, liver damage and skin rashes. For instance, cinnamon oil can irritate the skin, should always be diluted in water or a base oil before applying it in a massage and should never be applied near the eyes.
The oils should never be applied near the fire, as they are volatile and flammable.