Can aromatherapy relieve post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and restore vigor?
A number of studies—including placebo-controlled clinical trials—suggest the use of essential oils, or aromatherapy, as an effective alternative treatment for stress.
Recent Brazilian research with rats—animals with many brain functions similar to those of humans—supports aromatherapy’s tranquilizing power. And most experts discount placebo effects in animals since they’re unable to understand or believe in healing results, as people may do when they’re given treatments.
In May, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that the U. S. military was trying aromatherapy with the growing number of personnel suffering from post-traumatic stress (PTS) during or after long deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq. “We have an experimental unit. . . treating soldiers with PTS and using a number of unorthodox approaches, including aromatherapy. . . that are really getting some serious results,” he told the wives of servicemen at Fort Riley, Kansas.
Japanese research exploring non-pharmacological therapies for dementia reports “significant improvement in personal orientation related to cognitive function” with several aromatherapy oils among the elderly—especially those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. And a survey of Washington state hospices using complementary therapies shows that 45% of their patients are offered aromatherapy.
A placebo-controlled study in Thailand shows a number of uplifting effects in the autonomic nervous system from aromatherapy massage. The 40 healthy volunteers in this investigation reported feeling more alert and vigorous after an aromatherapy massage, providing evidence of essential oil’s use “for the relief of depression,” researchers say.
Dr. Ann Louise’s Take:
It’s great that the Pentagon is experimenting with holistic practices like aromatherapy—something that I know from personal and professional experience to be very effective.
Aromatherapy baths, for example, are a terrific way to reduce stress, soothe muscles, care for the skin, and encourage detox by opening the pores and stimulating lymph flow—releasing toxins through perspiration. Today, we’re all exposed to a tremendous number of toxins as well as stress—just watching the news on the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is enough to make anyone anxious!
Research shows that aromatherapy oils are quickly absorbed—both into your skin and inhaled through your nose, sending a soothing message to the part of your brain that initiates feelings of well-being and harmony. Or if you’re feeling down, these essential oils can be a real pick-me-up as the Thai study shows.
The Healing Power of Plants
Whether called aromatherapy or essential oils, these healing substances are distilled from flowers, leaves, and roots of organically grown or wild plants. But it’s always important to check the label when buying these oils.
Choose oils that have been analyzed with a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer (GC/MS) for safety and effectiveness. This is really the only way to know that essential oils are high quality—meaning that they don’t contain petrochemicals, fractions of cheaper (and less effective) oils, synthetic fragrances, or other degrading chemicals.
Match aromatherapy oils to your own personal needs.
• Bergamot essential oil improves mood through its impact on neurotransmitters in the brain.
• Jasmine oil increases blood oxygen saturation, contributing to alert calmness.
• Lavender aromatherapy oil offers relaxing benefits.
• Lemon and rosemary essential oils help clear the mind and promote cognitive skills.
• Orange essence appears to relieve anxiety.
• Sandalwood essential oil can help offset stress and relax the adrenal glands, encouraging deeper sleep.
• Thyme aromatherapy oil supports immunity.
Some aromatherapy oils—like clove, grapefruit, and lemongrass—offer antimicrobial action too. Whichever essential oils you choose, pour 10 drops into a hot bath and soak for 20 minutes at the end of the day. You can combine oils, but don’t use too many—or more than 10 drops in your tub.
From my personal experience, I find essential oil of juniper helps reduce fluid retention, eliminating toxic wastes, while lemongrass tones connective tissues, helping to stimulate lymphatic drainage and purge excess fluids from the body. Both are ideal to use in the summer!
While researchers tend to use these oils by themselves, any experienced aromatherapist will suggest combining a few drops of healing essential oils in a carrier oil like almond, jojoba, or olive oil before applying directly to the skin. To find out more about aromatherapy’s healing benefits, visit www.naha.org.
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