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Science Continues to Validate Aromatherapy – Now If We Could Only Change It’s Name
Origin of Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy, or more properly called “aroma-medicine”, seeks to treat or prevent disease using potent, aromatic essential oils. Since ancient times, aromatherapy has been used for prevention as well as treatment. Hippocrates himself believed that aromatic baths and massage were a way to stay healthy. Today, aromatherapy and its holistic approach is one of the fastest growing therapies in the world.
A wellness approach using aromatherapy
The approach to aligning the body is primarily through inhalation, direct contact absorption and to a lesser extent ingestion of the essential oil either diluted or for some mild oils undiluted. Upon inhalation, the oils are believed to enter the bloodstream through the lungs to activate the limbic system and emotional centers of the brain. When applied to the skin (usually in a carrier oil), they activate heat receptors and kill pathogens (such as bacteria and fungi). If taken orally, essential oils are thought to activate the immune system.
Research in Scientific Studies
In Western culture, validation of medical treatments comes through empirical research. The growing popularity of aromatherapy in mainstream society has prompted researchers to take a closer look at this ancient treatment. Although not yet proven to a large extent by a wide range of research, preliminary studies, both in vitro and clinical, show positive results with the use of this drug therapy.
Depression: At the Hong Kong University of Technology (2009), researchers published a review of the effectiveness of aromatherapy in reducing depression and depressive symptoms arising from various types of chronic medical conditions. Continued use of aromatherapy for depression is supported with further controlled studies recommended.
Dementia: The standard treatment for dementia in conventional medicine is the use of neuroleptic or antipsychotic drugs. In the elderly, such drugs are poorly tolerated, especially for patients with severe dementia. Researchers from the Wolfson Research Centre, UK (2002) conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of the use of aromatherapy (in combination with an antipsychotic) as a treatment for stimulation in people with severe dementia. After 4 weeks of treatment, the results showed that there was a 35% improvement in stimulation and that the active treatment (using Melissa officinalis) was well tolerated by the patients. The researchers support further studies to investigate the use of aromatherapy as an adjunct or alternative to conventional treatments.
Anxiety: Laboratory results (using animals) indicate statistically significant differences when aromatherapy was applied. Clinical trials are few. However, a joint review from the University of Newcastle and Northumbria, UK (2006), examined the pharmacology of essential oils and found evidence that essential oils exert measurable psychological effects in humans. The researchers concluded that aromatherapy provides a potentially effective treatment for a range of psychiatric disorders, especially because side effects are minimal (if non-existent) compared to conventional psychoactive drugs.
Travel Enthusiasm in Pets: Response to therapeutic treatments administered to animals is often much faster than to humans. At the Queen’s University of Belfast Canine Behavior Center (2006), researchers examined the effects of aromatherapy (diffuse lavender essential oil) in managing travel excitement in dogs. The researchers found that the dogs spent much more time resting than moving and recommended the use of aromatherapy as a practical alternative to the expensive and sometimes adverse reactions of traditional treatments.
Recent scientific studies show that aromatherapy is effective for conditions such as anxiety, depression and enhancing cellular immune functions. In many of the studies reviewed, scientists recommend (rather than dismiss) further research into potential uses of essential oils as an alternative or supplement to conventional medical practices. What has been used for centuries may soon find its place among hospitals and medical offices worldwide. The evolution of phytochemical plants over millennia has served to preserve their species. It is likely that such chemicals will soon be sought on a larger scale for human survival as well.
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