Aromatherapy
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Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy has been around and has been practiced in one form or another since the beginning of civilization. It is the art, and science, of using oils extracted from aromatic plants to enhance health and beauty. Apart from the physical benefits, essential oils can have subtle effects on the mind and emotions. The essential oils taken from plants and used in Aromatherapy have been described as their "life force" -- they are essential to the plants' biological process, as well as being the substance which gives them their scent. Synthetic oils, even if chemically similar, will lack all the natural elements, and that vital life-force, that make essential oils so valuable therapeutically.

Another reason why synthetic oils are not acceptable is that the minor constituents are never identical. The addition of synthetic chemicals is not normally disclosed in the essential oil business, so unless there is a declaration that the oils are natural, pure and unadulterated, assume otherwise.

Essential oils are extracted from flowers; herbs; spices; woods and fibers, usually by distillation, expression and solvent extraction. Solvent extraction is only acceptable for aromatherapy if the solvent used is completely removed after the manufacturing process.

Aromatherapy is one of the fastest growing fields in alternative medicine. It is widely used at home, clinics and hospitals for a variety of applications such as pain relief for women in labor pain, relieving pain caused by the side effects of the chemotherapy undergone by the cancer patients, and rehabilitation of cardiac patients.

Essential oils stimulates the powerful sense of smell. It is known that odors we smell have a significant impact on how we feel. In dealing with patients who have lost the sense of smell, doctors have found that a life without fragrance can lead to high incidence of psychiatric problems such as anxiety and depression. We have the capability to distinguish 10,000 different smells. It is believed that smells enter through cilia (the fine hairs lining the nose) to the limbic system, the part of the brain that controls our moods, emotions, memory and learning.

Studies with brain wave frequency has shown that smelling lavender increases alpha waves in the back of the head, which are associated with relaxation. Fragrance of Jasmine increases beta waves in the front of the head, which are associated with a more alert state.

Scientific studies have also shown that essential oils contain chemical components that can exert specific effects on the mind and body. Their chemistry is complex, but generally includes alcohols, esters, ketones, aldehydes, and terpenes.

Aromatherapy is particularly effective for stress, anxiety and psychosomatic induced problems, muscular and rheumatic pains, digestive disorders and women's problems, such as PMS, menopausal complaints and postnatal depression. Here is a summary of the results from clinical studies:

Aromatherapy for Behavior

Considerable evidence exists that fragrant compounds and aromatherapy have a profound effect on our mind and behavior. Animal studies have found that hyperexcited mice (as a result of consuming a large quantity of caffeine) was calmed by the aroma of lavender, sandalwood, and other oils sprayed into their cages. The same mice were found to become very irritable when exposed to the aroma of orange terpines, thymol, and some other substances. These oils were all detected in their bloodstream after about an hour.

Aromatherapy for Sleep

In a study reported in the British Medical Journal Lancet, elderly patients slept "like babies" when a lavender aroma was wafted into their bedrooms at night. These patients had complained of difficulty falling asleep and had to take sleeping pills to get sleep prior to the aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy for Colds

It has been well established that chicken soup is good for cold (both historically and scientifically). Studies were conducted to find out whether the effect was due to the action of the hot steam on the lining of the nostrils or whether the aroma of the chicken soup has anything to do with it. The results indicated that chicken soup was more effective than the steam indicating the effectiveness of the aroma.

Aromatherapy for Stress

In a study conducted at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York, patients undergoing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) reported 63 percent less claustrophobic after getting exposed to the aroma of vanilla. There was no change in their heart rate. Obviously, the aroma reduced their anxiety probably by the pleasant memories evoked by the vanilla aroma or by some other physiological response.

In another study, 122 patients who were in an intensive care unit, reported feeling much better when aromatherapy was administered with the oil of lavender (compared to when they were simply given a massage or allowed to rest.) No changes in the patients who were given aromatherapy was observed in the blood pressure, respiration, or heart rate.

See BUPA for information.

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