Origins of Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy, or more fittingly named “aroma-medicine”, seeks to treat or prevent diseases using potent, aromatic essential oils. Since ancient times, aromatherapy has been used for prevention as well as cure. Hippocrates himself thought that aromatic baths and massage were a way to remain healthy. Today, aromatherapy and its holistic approach is one of the fastest growing therapies in the world.
Wellness Approach Using Aromatherapy
The approach to realign the body is mostly through inhalation, direct contact absorption and to a lesser degree ingestion of the essential oil either as a dilute or for some mild oils undiluted. With inhalation, the oils are thought to penetrate the bloodstream via lungs to activate the limbic system and emotional centers of the brain. When applied to the skin (usually in a carrier oil), they activate thermal receptors and kill pathogens (such as bacteria and fungi). If taken orally, essential oils are thought to activate the immune system.
Research in Science Studies
In western culture, validation of medical therapies comes through empirical research. Rising popularity of aromatherapy with main-stream society has prompted researchers to take a closer look at this ancient therapy. Although still largely unproven by a wide breadth of research, preliminary studies, both in vitro and clinical, show positive effects using this medicinal therapy.
Depression: At the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (2009), researchers published a review of the effectiveness of aromatherapy to decrease depression and symptoms of depression arising from various types of chronic medical conditions. Continued use of aromatherapy for depression was supported with further controlled studies recommended.
Dementia: The standard treatment for dementia in conventional medicine is to use neuroleptics or antipsychotic drugs. In elderly people such drugs are poorly tolerated, especially for patients with severe dementia. Researchers from the Wolfson Research Center, UK (2002) conducted a double-blind, placebo controlled study on using aromatherapy (combined with the antipsychotic) as a treatment for agitation in people with severe dementia. After 4 weeks of treatment, results indicated that there was a 35% improvement in agitation and that the active treatment (using Melissa officinalis) was well-tolerated by the patients. Researchers support further studies to investigate using 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. Yet, one joint review by the University of Newcastle and Northumbria, United Kingdom (2006), looked at the pharmacology of essential oils and found evidence that essential oils exert measurable psychological effects in humans. Researchers concluded that aromatherapy provides a potentially effective treatment for a range of psychiatric disorders, especially since the side effects are minimal (if non-existent) compared to conventional psychotropic drugs.
Travel Excitement in Pets: Response to therapeutic treatments administered to animals is often much quicker than in humans. At the Queen’s University of Belfast Canine Behavior Center (2006), researchers looked at the effects of aromatherapy (diffused lavender essential oil) to manage travel excitement in dogs. Researchers found that dogs spent significantly more time at rest than moving around and recommended the use of aromatherapy as a practical alternative to expensive and sometimes adverse responses of traditional treatments.
Recent science studies indicate that aromatherapy is effective for conditions such as anxiety, depression and boosting cellular immune functions. In many of the studies reviewed, scientists are suggesting further research (rather than dismissing) for possible uses of essential oils as an alternative or complement to conventional medical practices. What has been used for centuries might soon find its place amongst hospitals and medical offices world-wide. The evolution of plant phytochemicals over millennia has served in the preservation of their species. It is likely that such chemicals will be soon sought after on a larger scale for human survival as well.