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Aromatherapy Is More Than Just Scents!

Jul 4, 2008
Do you agree Aromatherapy has suffered from it's New Age stigma long enough? It's time to tell the masses what these little bottles of liquid jewels are all about! Here in the United States, common use of the term 'aromatherapy' has been skewed so much that only that 'touchy-feely' aspect of 'feeling good from smelling something nice' is it's complete definition to most folks. If you happen to know better, this article may just be a refresher in the science of therapeutic essential oil usage, but one that may help you teach others the 'why' of 'medical aromatherapy' - if this concept is new, however, read on and learn - this may be important to you someday!

We've always been attracted to pleasant smells - body perfumes have been used for millennia, as have incense and scented balms in religious and ritual ceremony. Plants have been used medicinally throughout history as well. Therapeutic use of distilled aromatic compounds of plants only 'officially' began in 1937 with the writing of Rene Maurice Gattefosse's 'Aromatherapie' - a treatise on the physiological effects of essential oils published by the scientist after his accidental discovery of the healing properties of Lavender oil. Medical aromatherapy practice continues strongly in Europe today - in France, one can be prescribed an essential oil blend by a doctor, and have it filled as we have pharmaceutical prescriptions prepared here. These are not prescriptions for simple aromatic use; as the practice of Aromatherapy includes the entire branch of botanical medicine using volatile aromatic plant compounds, these prescriptions utilize other broad-ranging physiologic effects of essential oils. These include noted antibacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic, anti-inflammatory and immune supportive effects of many oils, just to name a few.

Essential oils effects on the nervous system an psyche through the olfactory sense is not to be discounted, however. Studies have shown repeatable results in essential oils' ability to lift the spirits and sharpen the attention. Students inhaling Lemon and Rosemary essential oils while studying have scored better on tests; other subjects have slept better while inhaling Lavender (one article proclaimed these results with "Lavender Works Better than Benzodiazepines !"). The 'aromatic' effect of essential oils is a result of the intimate wiring of the smell sense with certain control systems of the brain. The olfactory system is the only one of the five senses directly connected to the bulk of your gray matter - the rest are routed first through the thalamus. This direct connection has powerful implications for physiological as well as psychological effects.

The olfactory sense is also closely tied to the limbic system, the center of emotions, sexual response, and the formation of many memories. Aroma receptor cells, when stimulated, respond in-kind by stimulating this important brain region. With such close ties continually being revealed between one's emotional state and one's physical well-being, it is no surprise that aromas can have such strong influences. Human studies have show the inhalation of natural aromatic oils can be calming, stimulating, uplifting, relaxing, and/or clarifying, depending on the oil being inhaled (as opposed to synthetic ones, which do not have such effects).

This brings us to the great range of non-'aromatic', therapeutic uses of essential oils. Modern aromatherapy practice includes topical application, ingestion, and suppository use of these natural plant comounds. Safe and effective treatment depends completely on the particular essential oil - some are absolutely not to be taken internally and others are known strong skin irritants. Effects through topical application rely on the small size and lipophillic nature of essential oil molecules - the oil-like compounds pass through the lipid bi-layers of skin cells to be absorbed directly into the bloodstream. Used this way, essential oils can produce profound physiological responses - again ranging widely depending on the oil. Topical application may be helpful in a variety of skin, joint, and muscle conditions, infectious illness, as well as for more general stress related states. Oral injestion and suppositories are often used in systemic infectious illnesses of microbial or viral natures - the oils are quickly absorbed and able to travel easily throughout the body, again to due to their structure which is quite compatible with human physiology. A knowledgeable practitioner should be always be consulted for such applications, as it is important to preciecly match the oils and the condition being treated. Further, use of essential oils should only be used as an adjuct therapy in serious cases following the advice of a medical professional.

Broad acceptance of true 'medical aromatherapy' is a ways-off in the US. There is a lack of knowledge within the established medical community, and qualified aromatherapists are fairly rare, as of yet. With the growing body of evidence validating the efficacy of natural medicines, however, and the failing confidence in our allopathic medical institutions, it may not be long until essential oils find their rightful place in our medicine chests. In the meantime, be cautious, have fun, and do stop and smell the roses, and lavenders, patchoulis, sandalwoods, and all the other great aromatherapies available to you!
About the Author
The author has been a contributor of aromatherapy articles and information around the internet. More information on essential oils and aromatherapy carrier oils is available at the Ananda Apothecary.
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