Thursday, January 18, 2018

Aroma Therapy Facts

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils from plants to support and balance the mind, body, and spirit. There is no evidence that aromatherapy cures or prevents cancer. It is used by patients with cancer mainly as a form of supportive care that may improve quality of life and reduce stress and anxiety. Aromatherapy may be combined with other complementary treatments like massage therapy and acupuncture, as well as with standard treatments.

Essential oils (also known as volatile oils) are the basic materials of aromatherapy. They are made from fragrant essences found in many plants. These essences are made in special plant cells, often under the surface of leaves, bark, or peel, using energy from the sun and elements from the air, soil, and water. If the plant material is crushed, the essence and its unique fragrance are released.

When essences are extracted from plants in natural ways, they become essential oils. They may be distilled with steam and/or water, or mechanically pressed. Oils that are made with chemical processes are not considered true essential oils.

There are many essential oils used in aromatherapy, including Roman chamomile, geranium, lavender, tea tree, lemon, cedarwood, and bergamot. Each type of essential oil has a different chemical structure that affects how it smells, how it is absorbed, and how it is used by the body. Even varieties of plants within the same species may have chemical structures different from each other because they are grown or harvested in different ways or locations.

Essential oils are very concentrated. For example, it takes about 220 lbs of lavender flowers to make about 1 pound of essential oil. Essential oils are very volatile, evaporating quickly when they come in contact with air.

How is Aroma Therapy Administered

Aromatherapy is most often used in one of two ways:

  • Inhalation (taking into the body by breathing). This can be done by using a diffuser or placing drops of essential oils near the patient.
  • Topical treatment (applied to the surface of the body), usually in a diluted form. This can be done by massaging with essential oils diluted in a carrier oil, or by using essential oils in bathwater, lotions, or dressings.

Aromatherapy is rarely taken by mouth.

There are some essential oils commonly chosen to treat specific conditions. However, the types of oils used and the ways they are combined may vary, depending on the experience and training of the aromatherapist. This lack of standard methods has led to conflicting research on the effects of aromatherapy.

Laboratory and Animal Studies of Aroma Therapy

Many studies of essential oils have found that they have antibacterial effects when applied to the skin. In addition, studies in rats have shown that different essential oils can be calming or energizing. When rats were exposed to certain fragrances under stressful conditions, their behavior and immune responses were improved.

One study showed that after essential oils were inhaled, markers of the fragrance compounds were found in the bloodstream, suggesting that aromatherapy affects the body directly like a drug, rather than indirectly through the central nervous system.

Clinical Trials with Aroma Therapy

Clinical trials of aromatherapy have mainly studied its use in the treatment of stress, anxiety, and other health-related conditions in seriously ill patients. Several clinical trials of aromatherapy in patients with cancer have been published with mixed results.

A few early studies have shown that aromatherapy may improve quality of life in patients with cancer. Some patients receiving aromatherapy have reported improvement in symptoms such as nausea or pain, and have lower blood pressure, pulse, and respiratory rates.

Studies of massage with or without aromatherapy in cancer patients found that they had less anxiety and more restful sleep, although there is mixed evidence about whether aromatherapy itself adds to the benefits of massage therapy.

A small study of tea tree oil as a topical treatment to clear antibiotic-resistant MRSA bacteria from the skin of hospital patients found that it was as effective as the standard treatment.

Aroma Therapy Risks and Side Effects

Safety testing on essential oils shows very few bad side effects or risks when they are used as directed. Some essential oils have been approved as ingredients in food and are classified as GRAS (generally recognized as safe) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, within specific limits. Eating large amounts of essential oils is not recommended.

Allergic reactions and skin irritation may occur in aromatherapists or in patients, especially when essential oils are in contact with the skin for long periods of time. Sun sensitivity may develop when citrus or other oils are applied to the skin before sun exposure.

Lavender and tea tree oils have been found to have some hormone-like effects. They have effects similar to estrogen (female sex hormone) and also block or decrease the effect of androgens (male sex hormones). Applying lavender and tea tree oils to the skin over a long period of time has been linked to breast enlargement in boys who have not yet reached puberty. It is not known if the use of lavender and tea tree oils is safe for women who have a high risk for breast cancer that is estrogen-receptive.

Source: NCCAM, National Institutes of Health

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