What is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is the art and science of utilizing naturally extracted volatile aromatic oils, called essential oils, from plants to promote the health of body, mind and spirit. It is a natural, non-invasive treatment system designed to affect the whole person not just the symptom or disease and to assist the body's natural ability to balance, regulate, heal and maintain itself by the correct use of essential oils (National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy definition).
We can have both direct and indirect physical and emotional responses to the volatile substances that are essential oils. Inhaled aromatics exhibit physical effects when they are absorbed into the blood stream by thin membranes of the nose, bronchioles and lungs. This is one way in which the medicinal properties of essential oils are able to reach our internal organs. Essential oils can also be absorbed through the skin (as with massage aromatherapy) and ingested. Ingestion of essential oils is less frequent in the United States and requires qualified medical knowledge when used as a therapy. Aromatherapists are generally not qualified to administer essential oils internally. There is also a growing trend to use essential oils in cooking.
A direct route to our psyche is via the olfactory system and the limbic structures of the brain. The olfactory bulb is an extension of the brain at the top of the nose with nerves ending at small hairs inside the top of the nasal cavity. These cilia hairs react to smell (aromatic molecules) with chemical and electrical activity that relays nerve messages to the limbic system. The limbic system of the brain is the center of emotional behavior and is responsible for anger, fear, sorrow, pleasure, affection and sexual feelings. The limbic system also has a lot to do with the formation of memories. This direct connection means that an aroma sets off an immediate emotional reaction in the brain. The human olfactory & limbic system can distinguish and form memories of more than 10,000 different odors. It is interesting to note that the olfactory system is the only part of the brain in which brain cells regenerate. It suggests the critical evolutionary importance of smell for survival.
There is a growing body of scientific evidence for the mechanisms of particular essential oil reactions with the body to alter mood, heal skin, and act as effective anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agents. We will be presenting some of those studies in upcoming Tambela newsletters. The long history of aromatherapy begins at least 5000 years ago with early Egyptian and Chinese medicine and spiritual life. Such a long history of use brings with it a considerable record of anecdotal evidence.
Anecdotal evidence is viewed by scientist and medical practitioners with skepticism, and for good reason. When a treatment and a good result happen in close proximity people have a tendency to remember that and associate the event with the good result. This may be in spite of the fact that the majority of the time the treatment has an unsatisfactory result. More reliable evidence is gained through scientific studies in which the results of particular treatments are evaluated impartially and in random, double blind studies. A random, double blind study is one in which treatments are assigned randomly to patients and neither the investigator nor the patient know what treatment is being used on the patient until after the all the results have been tallied.
We believe that there is ample evidence to support the benefits of many aromatherapy practices and essential oil uses, however, we also strongly believe that aromatherapy should be practiced as a complimentary therapy, not as a substitute for the care of a physician. Aromatherapy won't cure cancer or diabetes, but it may help alleviate some of the symptoms of those or other diseases and improve mood and quality of life. The properties and actions of particular essential oils may also aid with injury and burns, respiratory congestion, anxiety, fatigue, and low spirits, dry, oily or rough skin, and infections among other complaints. We look forward to exploring some of these properties with you in future newsletters. But aromatherapy should never be substituted for the advice of your doctor!
When recommending therapies, an aromatherapist considers the whole person including their medical history, diet, exercise habits, state of mind and personal preferences. You might find an aromatherapist recommending stress reduction through meditation, suggesting that you take a walk every day for exercise and stress reduction or offering help with an improved diet. This, in addition to recommending a blend of essential oils to help you with your complaint. You might also find that the treatment changes from visit to visit as you and your aromatherapist work to find the best combination of oils for your personality and body. Many oils exhibit either synergistic or damping effects and the treatment may depend on the interaction of particular oils with each other. Effects may also be influenced by other physical or psychological complaints of the patient that may change as the treatment progresses. Depending on the condition being treated, most aromatherapists will also recommend that you consult your physician regularly and let them know what is going on.
Aromatherapy is generally a very safe and mild approach to enhancing your mental and physical condition. Essential oils are very concentrated and should always be diluted before use and kept away from children unless you have specific knowledge to do otherwise. Consult with your physician before using essential oils if you have kidney problems or are pregnant. Some essential oils are recommended and may aid some of the soreness, anxiety, and other difficulties that come with pregnancy, however, it is important to know what can be safely used and when. If you suspect you are having an allergic reaction to an essential oil application, stop using the oil at once and consult a physician. Everyone is different and some oils may cause an allergic reaction or skin sensitivity in some individuals, although, many allergy suffers have found that they can enjoy aromatic skin care and perfumes by substituting natural essential oils for synthetic fragrances.