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Today's Aromatherapy: Using Essential Oils as Effective Medicines

Jul 3, 2008
Therapeutic use of essential oils is beginning to be recognized in the United States as a valid modality for treating illness. There is still significant resistance to the science of Aromatherapy, but such is the resistance from the institutional-medicine/pharmaceutical-industrial complex to most 'natural' health treatments. 'Big Pharma' is THE industry with the highest average profit margins on earth -- and is dedicated to producing, patenting, marketing selling new, unnatural (and therefore 'patent-able') chemical compounds that are supposed to answer every need of health and wellness. While some formulations do much good for the world (modern medicine has nearly eradicated several life-threatening illnesses from the planet), other medicines simply mask symptoms for a time, and others are downright dangerous.

Alternative therapies make up nearly ALL of the medicine ever used on Earth, and in many respects, we're doing very well as a species -- we must have been doing something right all that time. Many folks consider our connection to nature critical to our continued success on the planet, and that natural medicine must play a leading role. Essential oils turn out to be some of nature's greatest gifts; they are potent chemicals created naturally by plants and are easily accessible to us. They're also easy to use, relatively safe, and just happen to smell wonderful. What really is the science of Aromatherapy, and how might you learn to employ it in your wellness program? Let's have a look...

There is an amazing disregard for natural healing in the mainstream media - despite the fact that so many of today's 'modern medicines' are derived directly from plant compounds. There are HUNDREDS of plants that are known to contain anti-cancer compounds, for example. Many of these without the side-effects of chemotherapy (it takes a skilled, knowledgeable Naturopathic doctor to develop an effective personal protocol for this type of work, but success is certainly possible). This brings us to the amazing derision placed upon the science of Aromatherapy. Aromatherapy is purely the science of therapeutic use, for physiological as well as psychological imbalances and disorders, of naturally-produced volatile aromatic plant chemicals. It may be that the term 'Aromatherapy' lends itself to being pigeon-holed into mystical 'new age' hocus-pocus, but in reality, it is simply the practice of using a particular class of natural compounds to improve one's health, wellness and well-being.

A backlash may be coming; more people are getting fed up with the high cost of healthcare and the soaring cost of prescription drugs. They are willing to investigate natural, inexpensive alternatives, particularly when 'proven' effective in the same arena as are modern pharmaceuticals. An important example is the use of Peppermint essential oil in treating irritable bowel syndrome. A study of 50 children comparing the effects of a common chemical preparation and peppermint oil capsules on alleviating their symptoms showed the peppermint oil to be drastically more effective, with fewer side effects, than the pharmaceutical drug. The nature of the essential oil is that it will eliminate bacteria causing disease symptoms, while leaving much-needed natural intestinal flora unharmed. This is the beauty of aromatherapy, and properly utilized natural medicines in general.

Another widely-published effect of a particular essential oil is that of Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) for the treatment of oral and genital herpes. The herpes simplex virus, or HSV, is one that a patient is thought to have to live with for the rest of their lives once contracted. The virus remains dormant in the nervous system until times of stress reduce immune system function enough to allow recurrence of painful sores and legions. It's not fun, nor is it considered 'curable' by the American medical establishment. However, in many university studies performed in Germany, Lemon Balm (as well as other combinations of essential oils containing the same ant-viral compounds) has been shown very effective at reducing the pain, duration, and frequency of outbreaks through topical application. One professor has even proclaimed that repeated use before and during outbreaks can lead to complete remission of the disease. Again, Aromatherapy to the rescue!

On the 'soft side' of essential oil use, that of inhalation or massage-based 'aroma' therapy, it is important first to note that MANY health professionals consider stress to be the number one cause of all disease. The body, lead by the mind, becomes overburdened in a variety of ways which lead to breakdown of particular systems (immune, circulatory, etc). Time and time again, Lavender and other essential oils have been reported by patients, even in controlled studies, to reduce stress levels. As the understanding of the mind-body connection to health and well-being grows, the importance of stress reduction techniques in natural health programs is coming to the forefront. Inhalation of essential oils is but one possible technique, but a powerful one at that. Upon comparison to Valium - the most ubiquitous of anti-stress agents in the Western world, a headline in the Journal of Essential Oil Research proclaimed "Lavender beats benzodiazepines" for stress reduction. This is one commonly-used anti-stress oil; there are many, many others - some people don't like Lavender, but the may like Neroli, Bergamot, Sweet Orange, or one of hundreds of other oils that may reduce stress and have 'downstream' effects of improved health and wellbeing.

Aromatherapy in a natural health, wellness and fitness regime is not a cure-all, miracle path to health, however. Like any other medicine or treatment, it has it's place, and should be used when it provides the best combination of safety and efficacy. How do you find out if essential oils can help you, your friends or your loved ones? Educate yourself! There are several wonderful books available on medical and clinical aromatherapy. Some will deal mostly with the psychological aspects, others mainly in treatment of infectious illness, and others touch on every conceivable application. Buy them, get them from your library, borrow them from friends - but educate yourself as much as possible, and find a degreed practitioner if need be. But most of all, give Aromatherapy a chance. The particular class of plant compounds called 'essential oils', which just happen to smell nice, have as much validity as any other field of medicine, and deserves to be appreciated with the same respect. Whether they work for you is up to your own knowledge and dedication to the practice!
About the Author
The author is the co-owner of www.anandaapothecary.com - More aromatherapy resources are available on this site.
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