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The Benefits of Essential Oils

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 In recent years, aromatherapy has become an increasingly popular alternative medicine for the clinical treatment and therapeutic management of both acute and chronic symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils from plants to heal the mind, body and spirit. It is believed that the chemicals in essential oils can evoke both psychological and physiological reactions that can be beneficial to an individual’s health and overall well-being. Throughout history, many cultures have practiced the use of essential oils and progressed their knowledge. Ancient cultures recognized the importance of aromatherapy in maintaining health. Various fragrances have long been used for several occasion from spiritual ceremonies and rituals to personal benefit. An example of this would be the Egyptians. A popular custom was to regularly apply scented oils to soften and protect their skin from the dry climate. Oils were also used to purify the body to obtain higher spirituality and used to cleanse and protect environment from evil spirits. The Egyptians were also the first to perfect the practice of embalming bodies with the use of essential oils.

Ancient Arabic people studied the chemistry of places and developed a process of extracting and distilling of essential oils. Throughout Asia perfumes were prized for both medicinal and cosmetic purposes. Other references of the use of oils through history also are mentioned in the bible. There are also multiple passages referencing to the usage of oils such as frankincense, myrrh and cinnamon. Most of the time which were used to protect against disease or anoint/heal the sick. (Cline et al., 2008) In the Americas, shamans believed that bathing patients in herbs and aromatics would transform their energy fields and activating their immune systems to prevent disease. Often times smoke from plants such as sage was blown over the patients during healing ceremonies. (Schiller & Schiller, 2008) Trade routes in the Middle East during the twelfth century introduced many new herbs, spices and exotic scents to Europe which lead to the progression of therapeutic plant remedies. Although there was such supporting evidence to the benefits of aromatherapy, it was forgotten about and ignored for years- but now is one of the fastest growing alternative therapies in the United States and Europe.

It was not until 1920 that the practices of aromatherapy were resurrected by a French chemist names Maurice-Rene Cattefosse. While working in his laboratory, he suffered third degree burns on his hand and forearm, he had plunged his hand into a vat of lavender oil thinking it was water which had caused the burning to stop. He continued to apply lavender oil to his burns for a few weeks, which completely healed the burn without leaving a trace of a scar. This incident has inspired him to continue to experiment with essential oils to treat burns, wounds and prevent gangrene. By 1937, the term aromatherapy was born.

Literature Review

Aromatherapy on Pregnant Women

In a randomized controlled trial conducted by Toshiko Igarashi, twenty pregnant women in their 28th week of pregnancy participated in a study to clarify the physical and psychological effects of inhalation aromatherapy in hopes of decreasing and/or eliminating stress and depression symptoms during pregnancy. A total of the 13 women were approved to participate within the study. Seven of the women were assigned to the aromatherapy group, while the remaining six were assigned to a control group. During this study they participant were seated in a resting position for 10-minute sessions. During the last five minutes the aromatherapy group was treated with essential oils such as lavender, petitgrain and bergamot. Before and after the session, the Profile of Mood States (POMS) of each patient were measured. The reduced level of Tension-Anxiety score (pAromatherapy Improvements on Moods: Stress, Anxiety, and Depression

A study conducted by Lin Huang and Lluis Capdevila the aim of the study was to analyze the efficiency of aromatherapy in reducing stress and improving work performance in the workplace. The sample consisted of 42 administrative university workers. The participants were randomly assigned into an aromatherapy groups and control groups. During the session, some oil diffusers were switched on and operated throughout the session. The Aromatherapy groups were exposed to petitgrain essential oil, while the control groups were exposed to a neutral almond oil At the same time the participants were asked to complete a computer task, once finished their performance time was recorded. Before and after the intervention, participants completed anxiety and mood state questionnaires using the Stait-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) and the Profile of Mood States (POMS). Researchers also measured Heart Rate Variability (HRV) before, during and after completing the computer task to analyze the autonomic nervous system regulation. The results showed that the aromatherapy group had completes the task on an average of 2.28 minutes faster than the control group. The two groups exhibited different in the HRV parameters, including a decrease from pre and post measures for STAI and POMS scales. Their research concluded that aromatherapy can improve performance in the work place as well as reduce stress levels.

In another randomized, controlled, double blind study conducted by Elizabeth Varney and Jane Buckle, they wanted to determine the effectiveness of essential oils such as peppermint, basil and helichrysum on mental exhaustion and moderate burnout. This study was made up of 13 woman and 1 man with self-assessed mental exhaustion or moderate burnout. Each participant was randomized to receive an inhaler of either essential oil blends or rose water. Data was collected three times a day (Monday-Friday) for three weeks using a qualitative questionnaire rating aroma and a questionnaire listing perceived stressors. The results showed that both groups had. Reduction in perception, the aromatherapy group displayed greater reductions. Thus, suggests that inhaling essential oils may reduce the perceived level of mental exhaustion and moderate burnout. Further researcher is warranted.

A study conducted by Tiago Costa Goes, Fa ́bio Reis Carvalho Ursulino, Thiago Henrique Almeida-Souza, Pe ́ricles Barreto Alves, and Flavia Teixeira-Silva, was aimed to evaluate the potential effects of Lemongrass essential oils on anxiety in humans. This study consisted of 40 males, who were randomly assigned to four different groups to inhale lemongrass oil (test group), tea tree oil (controlled group) or distilled water (controlled group). Immediately after inhalation, each participant was submitted to an experimental model of anxiety. Individuals in the test group displayed less anxiety than those in the controlled groups. Their results concluded that more investigations are necessary to clarify the relevance of the lemongrass essential oil, but overall this work does show the aroma has some perceived anxiolytic effects.

Adverse Effects

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) there are very few adverse effects and risks when essential oils are used correctly and generally considered safe. When essential oils are not used correctly, they can cause serious health problems. When certain medications are mixed with essential oils it can increase their effect or counteract each other, both of which can be dangerous. Oils with opposite effects, such as a soothing oil and a stimulating oil, should not be blended. It is advised that when practicing alternative therapies to always consult your healthcare provider to ensure there is no drug- essential oil interactions and discuss the best treatment options available.

Evaluations and Conclusions

The research basis for aromatherapy is still in its early stages. Although there has been much research performed, very few trials have been conducted with humans under clinical conditions. Many of the studies that have been conducted show a potential relationship between the usage of essential oils and elevation of symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. It still remains unclear whether or not the participants perceived reduced symptoms are direct cause of the essential oils. Many of the studies were inconclusive, involved small samples sizes, low quality research or had poor supporting evidence. Little is known at this time about interactions with convention medications or treatments. Further research is warranted.


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