Just a few decades ago, alternative therapies such as massage, acupuncture and herbal medicine were out of the mainstream and dismissed by most physicians. But in the past twenty years, millions of people have embraced non-traditional treatments, often combining this care with more conventional medicine. In a women’s health poll completed by Newsweek, 43% of respondents said they had tried herbal medicines and other natural therapies. Another 34% have considered trying them.
Aromatherapy is one such non-traditional treatment. Aromatherapy is the art of using “pure” essential oils for health and healing. Essential oils are extremely concentrated, highly volatile substances which are derived from a number of sources including, barks, leaves, flowers, sap, flower, etc. They contain all of the plant chemicals, such as vitamins and hormones.
Applying extracted plant oils to the skin and inhaling their aroma dates back thousands of years to ancient Egypt, China and India. During the Crusades of the 1200s, returning soldiers brought the oils back to Western Europe. Folk tales of the healing power of plants have long been recorded. For example, eucalyptus oil has been known to help clear the sinus passages, and can aid in the treatment of chest colds, hi addition, it is used in many medicinal products.
One major reason for the recent increase in interest in aromatherapy is its benefits in fighting stress, but this therapy can assist in treating other maladies including headaches, exhaustion, nervousness and arthritis.
According to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, when the oil aroma is inhaled, molecules of the essential oil enter the nasal passages, stimulating the olfactory nerves, which send messages directly to the part of the brain that controls memory, learning and emotion. Depending on the oil, physiological changes are triggered in the nervous, endocrine or immune systems of the body.
A growing number of hospitals across the nation now offer aromatherapy and other “alternative” or “complementary care” options. Lavender in the delivery room is an example of Western medicine’s growing acceptance of the idea of treating the mind as well as the body. Of course, aromatherapy in the delivery room is not seen as a treatment as such, but rather as another way to help patients copy with injury, illness or pain. Women giving birth have reported feeling more relaxed during labor, when the lavender aroma was present.
Lavender is one of the most versatile, non-toxic essential oils, which comes from the mint family. While the oil mainly comes from France, the plant is grown all over the world, making it a great perennial addition to the garden. Lavender oil actually has many other uses and methods of application. These include topical treatments for burns, athlete’s foot, insect bites and other skin problems. Used in conjunction with massage, it can help with cold and flu, headaches and insomnia. It’s also said to promote tissue regeneration.
hi addition to lavender, four other common essential oils are: sweet orange, tea tree, jasmine and roman Chamomile. On the other hand, one should be very cautious when using: pennyroyal, bitter almond, mugwort, sassafras, calamus and yellow camphor.
Items promoted for use in aromatherapy now seem to be available just about everywhere, such as candle stores and grocery stores. However, many of the mass-produced items may contain synthetically-produced versions of the essential oils, which purists say don’t have the same intrinsic value as the natural essential oil. On the other hand, the manufactured kind generally cost far less. It’s important not to mistake fragrance oils for essential oils. Fragrance oils and perfumes are made of chemicals and alcohol which lends them generally unfit for aromatherapy.
Although there are have been few studies in the U.S., one Austrian study found that lavender helps people fall asleep. This lead researchers to conclude herbal pillows, a old-time folk remedy used for insomnia, might have some scientific basis.
Another study using essential oils was done in Scotland. Dermatologists in Aberdeen tested a mixture of oils (thyme, rosemary, lavender and cedarwood) long used by aromatherapists, to treat hair loss. When 43 patients oiled their scalps nightly for seven months, a majority saw improvement, some re-growing full heads of hair. The study leader speculates the oils may contain druglike compounds which alter the immune response in the skin.
Care should be taken when using any botanical, as they can interact with other medications or medical conditions. Essential oils can cause allergic reactions in some people.
Non-traditional regimens, such as aromatherapy, which once seemed unimaginable in modern medical care, are now being looked at with as much interest as skepticism.