Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils from plants (flowers, herbs, or trees) as a complementary health approach. It’s said to improve physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing while also reducing stress and anxiety.
Does it really work and is there research to back the claims?
There is a wealth of valuable research on numerous essential oils as well as active components. There are different theories about how aromatherapy and essential oils work. These essential oils are able to send chemical messages to the part of the brain via smell receptors in the nose, concludes many research papers. The theory is that the mood centers in the brain may respond to the smells of essential oils by sending chemical messages along nerve pathways to the brain’s limbic system, which affects moods and emotions. Imaging studies in humans help show the effects of smells on the limbic system and its emotional pathways.
I found a study that stated after essential oils were inhaled, markers of the fragrance compounds were found in the bloodstream, suggesting that aromatherapy affects the body directly like a drug, and also indirectly through the central nervous system.
Essential oils are most often used through inhalation or by applying them directly to the skin (usually mixed with fractionated coconut oil). Using plant-based oils is nothing new. They’ve been used in healing practices for thousands of years across many cultures, including ancient China, India, and Egypt. Ways to extract essential oils from plants were first discovered during the Middle Ages but in the early 20th century, Rene Gattefosse, a French chemist coined the term aromatherapy and embarked on studying the effects of essential oils on numerous diseases.
Despite the usage of plant based oils being used for all this time, it disappeared somehow after modern medicine and big pharma took over and the FDA controlled anything and everything relating to complimentary therapy. In the 1980s and 1990s, aromatherapy was rediscovered in Western countries as complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) became popular.
Some side effects can occur
In doing fascial research on cancer and tumor growth I wanted to know more about two popular essential oils, lavender and tea tree oils. Lavender and tea tree oils have been found to have some hormone-like effects. They have effects similar to estrogen (female sex hormone) and also block or decrease the effect of androgens (male sex hormones).
Applying lavender and tea tree oils to the skin over a long period of time has been linked in one study to breast enlargement in boys who have not yet reached puberty. It is recommended that patients with tumors that need estrogen to grow avoid using lavender and tea tree oils.
For the most part, it’s safe and effective
However, safety testing on essential oils shows very few bad side effects or risks when they are used as directed. A study from the Mie University School of Medicine found that patients with depression needed smaller doses of antidepressant medications after citrus fragrance treatment. Another study from the University of Vienna demonstrated that when the scent of orange oil was used in dental clinics, female patients exhibited decreased anxiety. These studies suggest that some fragrances may have a clinically quantifiable effect on mood.
I’m a skeptic and want research (and spend hours scouring research articles to gain the best understanding I can about an issue) before I experiment with anything on my body or my clients’ bodies. However, I’ve been more than pleasantly surprised by the results I’ve had with essential oils. (For disclosure: I have an online account with doTerra, a well-known essential oil distributor, but I believe in the product and I’m just sharing what I know, as always.)
One example of a remedy that worked (and I was shocked) was helping my husband’s eczema breakout after he had sinus surgery. For months, they had him on antibiotics and Prednisone, which caused his gut to really get thrown out of balance. In addition he’s allergic to my cats so he was really struggling with everything from itchy skin to trouble breathing.
So I devised a serum of lavender, frankenscents, helichrysum, cedarwood, peppermint, spearmint, and a special blend called AromaTouch from doTerra. I mixed it with the fractionated coconut oil. His itching stopped immediately, the redness reduced right before my eyes and his breathing opened up in minutes. I’ve also found myself with what felt like a sore throat and used another blend called On Guard and again, like magic my sore throat disappeared overnight.
It’s definitely worth trying
Over the years, I’ve used essential oils with the MELT Hand and Foot Treatment balls, just dropping a few drops on one before MELTing my hands or feet and again, it’s like added magic to the treatment. I would even go so far as to say if I use peppermint on the balls on my feet in less than 10 minutes, I can taste the peppermint as if it’s permeated into my blood and lungs—from the inside of me out.
My advice about essential oils is to find a reputable company and brand that stands by their products. I love doTerra and many of our instructors use it, but Young Living is another brand some of my colleagues swear by. There are other brands, but make sure you are getting the real deal if you are going to use essential oils and don’t be had by the cheap stuff you can buy at CVS.
I think if you are looking for simple ways to reduce stress and you aren’t willing to add self-care techniques like MELT or stretching, or basically anything, this is a low-cost, easy no-brainer to explore.
In my search for some good research, I didn’t find many that showed aromatherapy was proven to reduce pain, promote health, or prevent hair loss, but at the very least, it can improve your mood. So do not be too skeptical of the claims of essential oil products. As long as you believe in the powers aromatherapy, you can still reap many of the benefits and I, for one, will continue to use them as I feel they add to any self-care protocol regardless of the issues you might have.
If you have used essential oils and found great benefits I hope you share your experience with me!