Aromatherapy

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Overview/History

Aromatherapy refers to any process using essential oils as a form of healing. Essential oils are extracts from leaves, seeds, roots or blossoms of plants. Each extract contains active ingredients, which are then mixed to achieve the desired effect. Essential oils can improve physical healing and emotional healing. For instance, some oils can help reduce swelling and inflammation, while other essential oils can create a sense of calmness and relaxation.

When essential oils are used in aromatherapy, they are often inhaled or massaged into the skin. It is important to never take essential oils by mouth unless you are instructed to do so by a specialist. Aromatherapy has been regarded as an alternative medicine to treat stress, infections and a variety of other health problems. Although there have not been significant studies regarding aromatherapy, this process has actually been used for thousands of years.

In fact, many ancient cultures have used essential oils for hygienic, therapeutic, spiritual and ritualistic reasons. Roman, Greek, Indian, Egyptian and Chinese cultures have used essential oils in perfumes, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.

In more modern times, René-Maurice Gattefosse found the healing effects of lavender oils after he suffered a severe burn. This procedure was considered so effective that it was used to treat the wounds of troops during WWI. Gattefosse, a French chemist, studied the properties of a number of essential oils, and in 1928, created the science of aromatherapy. In the 1950s, other healthcare providers began using aromatherapy as part of their treatment plans. Aromatherapy was not popular in the United States until the 1980s. Although many candles and lotions claim to have aromatherapy properties, many of the essential oils are synthetically produced, which diminished their actual effects.

Basics

Scientists are not exactly sure how aromatherapy works. Some researchers believe that the receptors in the nose relay information to the amygdala and hippocampus in the brain. These two areas of the brain store information related to emotions and memories. By inhaling essential oils, the scents invigorate these parts of the brain, which in turn affect mental, emotional and physical health. Some other scientists believe that the essential oils may affect the hormones and enzymes in the blood.

During an aromatherapy session, the essential oils will be applied topically or through inhalation. Practitioners can include massage therapists, pharmacists, nurses, physical therapists or professional aromatherapists. When applied through a massage, your skin absorbs the essential oils and you breathe them in. The massage also offers a number of physical and mental benefits, such as a restorative nervous system response and the stimulation of lymph production.

Considerations/Uses

Aromatherapy treatments can occur in a variety of settings. Some hospitals use aromatherapy, and you might also find aromatherapy options at a health spa. People choose to use aromatherapy to treat a range of ailments. Aromatherapy can improve your ability to relax and improve your mood. It can also reduce stress, anxiety, depression and pain.

Some commonly used essential oils include lavender, orange, rose, lemon and sandalwood. These have all reduced stress and emotional discomfort in patients. Some studies have shown that peppermint oil reduces feelings of nausea. Another study suggested that women in labor saw reduced anxiety when rose, frankincense and lavender were used.

Aromatherapy is considered safe for most people. However, there are a few cautions. First, essential oils should not be taken by mouth unless under the supervision of a trained professional. Some essential oils are toxic when ingested. Pregnant women should use aromatherapy only under the guidance of a physician as some oils can pose harm to the fetus. People who have estrogen-dependent tumors should consult with their doctors as well because a variety of essential oils have estrogen properties. Finally, anyone who is undergoing chemotherapy treatment should speak with their doctors before engaging in aromatherapy treatment. While aromatherapy has been used for over 6000 years, additional studies are needed to truly understand the benefits and risks of using essential oils.

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