By Arie L., Chicago, IL.
Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine that uses volatile liquid plant materials, known as essential oils (EOs), and other scented compounds from plants for the purpose of affecting a person's mood or health.
Aromatherapy is a generic term that refers to any of the various traditions that make use of essential oils sometimes in combination with other alternative medical practices and spiritual beliefs. It has a particularly Western currency and persuasion. Medical treatment involving aromatic scents may exist outside of the West, but may or may not be included in the term 'aromatherapy'.
The main branches of aromatherapy include: Aerial diffusion for environmental fragrancing or aerial disinfection Direct inhalation for respiratory disinfection, decongestion, expectoration Topical applications for general massage, baths, compresses, therapeutic skin care Oral, rectal, vaginal interfaces for infection, congestion, parasites Perfumery for body fragrancing, annointments.
Aromatherapy is the supposed treatment or prevention of disease by use of essential oils. Two basic mechanisms are offered to explain the purported effects. One is the influence of aroma on the brain, especially the limbic system through the olfactory system. The other is the direct pharmacological effects of the essential oils. While precise knowledge of the synergy between the body and aromatic oils is often claimed by aromatherapists, the efficacy of aromatherapy remains to be proven. However, some preliminary clinical studies show positive effects.
In the English-speaking world, practitioners tend to emphasize the use of oils in massage.
On the continent, especially in France, where it originated, aromatherapy is incorporated into mainstream medicine. There, the use of the anti-septic, antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial properties of oils in the control of infections is emphasized over the more "touchy feely" approaches familiar to English speakers. In France some essential oils are regulated as prescription drugs, and thus administered by a physician. French doctors use a technique called the aromatogram to guide their decision on which essential oil to use. First the doctor cultures a sample of infected tissue or secretion from the patient. Next the growing culture is divided among petri dishes supplied with agar. Each petri dish is inoculated with a different essential oil to determine which have the most activity against the target strain of microorganism. The antiseptic activity manifests as a pattern of inhibited growth.
Essential oils, phytoncides and other natural VOCs work in different ways. At the scent level they activate the limbic system and emotional centers of the brain. When applied to the skin (commonly in form of "massage oils" i.e. 1-10% solutions of EO in carrier oil) they activate thermal receptors, and kill microbes and fungi. Internal application of essential oil preparations (mainly in pharmacological drugs; generally not recommended for home use apart from dilution - 1-5% in fats or mineral oils, or hydrosoles) may stimulate the immune system.
* Basil is used in perfumery for its clear, sweet and mildly spicy aroma. In aromatherapy, it is used for sharpening concentration, for its uplifting effect on depression, and to relieve headaches and migraines. Basil oil has many chemotypes and some are known to be emmenagogues and should be avoided during pregnancy.
* Bergamot is one of the most popular oils in perfumery. It is an excellent insect repellent and may be helpful for both the urinary tract and for the digestive tract. It is useful for skin conditions linked to stress, such as cold sores and chicken pox, especially when combined with eucalyptus oil. Bergamot is a flavoring agent in Earl Grey tea. But cold-pressed Bergamot oil contains bergaptene, a strong photosensitizer when applied to the skin, so only distilled or 'bergaptene-free' types can be topically used.
* Black pepper has a sharp and spicy aroma. Common uses include stimulating the circulation and for muscular aches and pains. Skin application is useful for bruises, since it stimulates the circulation.
* Citronella oil, obtained from a relative of lemongrass, is used as an insect repellant and in perfumery.
* Tea tree oil and many other essential oils have topical (external) antimicrobial (i.e. antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, or antiparasitic) activity and are used as antiseptics and disinfectants.
* Eucalyptus oil is often used in combination with Mint to provide relief for the airways in case of cold or flu.
* Sandalwood oil
* Thyme oil
* Clove oil is a topical analgesic, especially useful in dentistry. It is also used an antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative, and antiemetic.
* Lavender oil is used as an antiseptic, to soothe minor cuts and burns, to calm and relax, and to soothe headaches and migraines.
* Yarrow oil is used to reduce joint inflammation and relieve cold and influenza symptoms.
* Jasmine, Rose, Sandalwood and Ylang-ylang oil are used as aphrodisiacs.
* Lemon oil is uplifting and anti-stress/anti-depressant. In a Japanese study, lemon essential oil in vapor form has been found to reduce stress in mice.
People with HIV/AIDS have found some relief to both the virus and the side effects of HIV medications using aromatherapy such as: depression, pain, swelling, nausea and sleeping problems.