Aromatherapy is a complementary therapy that uses plant extracts called essential oils to promote physical and emotional well-being. Studies suggest that certain aromatherapy scents may help relieve anxiety.
When inhaled, these oils stimulate the olfactory nerves in your nose, sending calming signals to your brain. They can also be applied to the skin during massage or in a bath.
What are essential oils?
Essential oils are liquid plant extracts that contain the vibrant essence of a particular plant and have therapeutic properties. These fragrant plant extracts have been used in traditional and naturopathic medicine for centuries. They can be found in lotions, perfumes, household cleaners and massage treatments.
When inhaled, essential oil compounds are absorbed through the olfactory system and can stimulate and interact with parts of the brain that regulate emotions and memory. The oils can also be diluted and applied to the skin to help treat specific ailments.
While the use of essential oils as part of a wellness practice has been around for centuries, new scientific research is exploring their potential health benefits. However, there isn’t enough evidence to support claims that the oils can treat or cure specific conditions. For example, certain oils may act as mild diuretics by increasing urine production and promoting detoxification. These plant chemicals can be toxic when ingested, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
How do essential oils work?
Essential oils are powerful plant compounds that contain unique aromatic properties. They’re extracted from different parts of plants, including flowers, leaves, bark, roots and resins. Each oil has a different aroma and may have medicinal properties when absorbed through the skin or inhaled. There are more than 90 commonly used oils with a wide range of health claims.
Research has shown that the pure scent of some oils can affect emotions and moods. When inhaled, they can reach the olfactory receptors of your brain and send signals to areas that regulate emotions and memory.
You can use essential oils for aromatherapy by putting them in a diffuser, dry evaporation or an aroma stick. You can also add them to your bath or massage oil. However, you should never take essential oils by mouth unless directed by a trained and qualified specialist. Doing so could cause a toxic reaction or harm the fetus if you are pregnant.
What are the benefits of aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy can help ease stress, anxiety and depression. It may also relieve fatigue, nausea and aches or pains. It can help people sleep better and improve quality of life for those receiving cancer treatments.
Researchers don’t know exactly how aromatherapy works. They think it stimulates smell receptors in the nose, which send messages to parts of the brain that control emotions and memory. The scents may also interact with hormones and chemicals in the blood.
During an aromatherapy session, you might breathe in essential oils from a piece of cloth or use a vaporizer or spray. You can also get aromatherapy at home using a diffuser or by applying diluted oils to your skin during massage. It’s important to buy essential oils from a reputable producer. You can find them online, in health food stores and some regular supermarkets. They should be natural and unscented (or scented with other ingredients). It’s also a good idea to consult your doctor before trying aromatherapy.
What are the risks of aromatherapy?
Some studies suggest that when you smell certain scents, the aroma molecules trigger specific responses in parts of your brain, such as the amygdala and hippocampus, which store emotions and memories. This may help to relieve stress, nausea and vomiting, insomnia, pain, and anxiety.
But more research is needed to know for sure how effective and safe aromatherapy is. And you should only use aromatherapy under the guidance of a trained professional, such as an aromatherapist or massage therapist who is a member of a professional association.
Some essential oils are toxic before dilution, so they should always be used in a diluted form or combined with a carrier oil such as almond, jojoba or coconut before applying to the skin. Also, if you are using cancer drugs or therapies, talk to your healthcare team first before trying aromatherapy as some essential oils can interfere with how well your medications work. If you have allergies, be very careful, as some of the oils can irritate the skin.