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Aromatherapy for the Body and Mind

January 7, 2009 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

Feelings and memories are often tied to particular scents. There’s a well established connection between what our nose detects and the stimulation it causes within our brains. The smell of a floral perfume may remind you of your wife. The aroma of a pumpkin pie baking in the oven could evoke memories of the holidays. The pathway from your nose to your brain is a route that can be used to help promote better states of mind and body.

Aromatherapy is a practice that uses specific essential oils to benefit the mental and physical states of those being treated with it. Essential oils are the fatty, aromatic elements of flowers, leaves and roots of any number of plants. They are usually extracted by steam distillation, cold-pressing or through the use of natural solvents. After the extraction, all that is left are the highly pungent oils. All the water-based components of the plants and all the fiber is removed.

These essential oils can then be used in a number of ways. They can be included in products like disinfectants, lotions, mouthwashes and shampoos. Another option is that they can be inhaled to provide a specific effect. In today’s blog, I want to explore both the topical and olfactory (smelling) applications of this holistic practice.

Lavender - Beautiful Inside & Out

Sniffing Out the Science in Aromatherapy

One of the most popular essential oils is lavender. This should not come as a surprise, because lavender not only possesses a very sweet, floral scent but it’s also widely regarded as a powerful calmative agent. Two recent studies attest to its benefit with regard to improving sleep quality.

In the first study, a group of mothers and their infants were asked to take a bath that was supplemented with unscented bath oil or lavender oil. The mothers in the lavender baths reported feeling more relaxed. It was also noted that the infants spent a greater amount of time making eye contact with their mothers while in the lavender baths.

When the researchers tested the infants’ and mothers’ stress hormone levels, they found a decreased amount in the lavender oil group. They also noted that these infants cried less during the night and “spent more time in deep sleep”.

In another experiment, Korean scientists undertook a study on the effects of lavender on depression and sleep quality in female college students. 42 college insomniacs enrolled in the lavender trial. Improvements were seen in the amount of time needed to fall asleep, in the quality of sleep and in the severity of depression.

More to Lavender Than Meets the Nose

Powerful opiods and anti-inflammatory medications are often used to manage post-surgical pain. And while these medications are often very dangerous, they still need to be used to help surgical patients cope with the aftermath of surgery. As a result, a study was conducted to see if the use of lavender oil could reduce the need for these powerful medications.

54 patients took part in the study. Half of them were treated with lavender oil (applied to their oxygen face masks) and half were treated with unscented baby oil (used as a placebo). All the patients were treated with morphine. Here are the results:

  • Only 46% of the lavender group required additional postoperative pain medications. As compared to 82% of the placebo/baby oil patients.
  • In addition, the lavender group required approximately 45% less morphine than the placebo group.

Breathe Deeply and Choose Wisely

It’s important to do your own research or consult an expert before using any alternative medicine. Aromatherapy is no exception to this rule. An example of this can found in a recent British study.

144 healthy volunteers were tested to see what their response would be to two popular essential oils: peppermint oil and ylang-ylang. The researchers were interested in any changes relating to brain function and mood. To that end, they performed various scientific tests to see if any statistically significant changes would be brought about by these oils. The results were interesting.

In the volunteers, peppermint oil improved memory. But, ylang-ylang actually negatively impacted their memory. Ylang-ylang also slowed down “processing speed”. It made them think slower!

The peppermint oil was also found to improve the subjects’ alertness and mood. Once again, ylang-ylang did the exact opposite. The authors do note however that ylang-ylang may be helpful in promoting calmness.

In yet another study conducted at the University of Ohio, lemon oil was discovered to have a mood-elevating effect. The authors comment that there’s, “robust evidence that lemon oil reliably enhances positive mood”.

Your Brain on Essential OilsTopical News

Finally, here’s an example of essential oils being used transdermally (through to the skin). Before I go on, I want to issue a cautionary statement. Essential oils are very powerful. Most of time, it’s not advisable to apply them directly to the skin. Aromatherapists typically combine a small amount of the essential oils with a larger amount of a “carrier oil’. A carrier oil is a non-aromatic, mild oil that is suitable to apply to the skin. A few examples of carriers oils are: almond oil, olive oil and sunflower oil.

The following trial takes us to Hong Kong. 59 seniors with “moderate-to-severe knee pain” (arthritis) were treated with six sessions of massage (over a 3 week period). Some of the seniors were massaged with olive oil only. Others were massaged with olive oil and a small amount of ginger and orange essential oils.

After the treatment period was finished, the researchers tested for pain and stiffness. The group that received the ginger and orange oil massage showed greater improvements in physical function and less pain one-week after the treatment was completed.

The authors of the study concluded, that the “aroma-massage therapy seems to have potential as an alternative method for short-term knee pain relief”.

There are so many natural healing options out there. And we’re all the better for it. Because someone who is resistant to using acupuncture, may be willing to try aromatherapy or vice-versa. If you’ve never considered aromatherapy before, I hope today’s blog will help open up that possibility to you. And if you have tried it, I’d really like to hear your personal experiences with it. Please drop me a line and let me know what you know.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Be well!


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Posted in Alternative Therapies, Bone and Joint Health, Mental Health

7 Comments & Updates to “Aromatherapy for the Body and Mind”

  1. julie Says:

    your research confirms my intuition… breathing deeper and with more awareness – thanks!!

  2. JP Says:

    You’re most welcome, Julie.

    Thank you for visiting my site!

  3. JP Says:

    Update: The latest review about the health benefits of bergamot oil …


    Front Pharmacol. 2015 Mar 2;6:36.

    Citrus bergamia essential oil: from basic research to clinical application.

    “Conclusion: Bergamot essential oil has been traditionally used in Italian folk medicine for magisterial, handcrafted, and homemade preparations that are intended for topical use as antiseptics for the disinfection of skin and as aids for healing minor wounds. BEO is generally well tolerated, but it possesses photosensitive properties because of the presence of furocoumarins, especially 5-MOP. Therefore, in topical preparations, psoralen-free essential oil was used in recent decades. As a consequence of this and because of safety concerns related to furocoumarins, the use of high quality controlled psoralen-free BEO is recommended as a general precaution. However, although the oil has been used extensively for many years, there have only been a few reports of phototoxic reactions to bergamot aromatherapy oil.

    Several biological activities of BEO were shown, such as antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antiproliferative, and analgesic effects, including effects on the central nervous and cardiovascular systems. Even though these effects indicate potential clinical applications for BEO in the future, to date, only clinical studies investigating aromatherapy effects have been published. The latter were carried out primarily to investigate anxiolytic effects and the reduction of stress responses. They indicate that treatment with BEO in aromatherapy can be useful to reduce anxiety and stress effects.”

    Be well!


  4. JP Says:

    Update 04/20/15:


    BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2015, 15:93

    Comparison of the efficacy of aroma-acupressure and aromatherapy for the treatment of dementia-associated agitation

    Background: One of the most common symptoms observed in patients with dementia is agitation, and several non-pharmacological treatments have been used to control this symptom. However, because of limitations in research design, the benefit of non-pharmacological treatments has only been demonstrated in certain cases. The purpose of this study was to compare aroma-acupressure and aromatherapy with respect to their effects on agitation in patients with dementia.

    Methods: In this experimental study, the participants were randomly assigned to three groups: 56 patients were included in the aroma-acupressure group, 73 patients in the aromatherapy group, and 57 patients in the control group who received daily routine as usual without intervention. The Cohen-Mansfield Agitation Inventory (CMAI) scale and the heart rate variability (HRV) index were used to assess differences in agitation. The CMAI was used in the pre-test, post-test and post-three-week test, and the HRV was used in the pre-test, the post-test and the post-three-week test as well as every week during the four-week interventions.

    Results: The CMAI scores were significantly lower in the aroma-acupressure and aromatherapy groups compared with the control group in the post-test and post-three-week assessments. Sympathetic nervous activity was significantly lower in the fourth week in the aroma-acupressure group and in the second week in the aromatherapy group, whereas parasympathetic nervous activity increased from the second week to the fourth week in the aroma-acupressure group and in the fourth week in the aromatherapy group.

    Conclusions: Aroma-acupressure had a greater effect than aromatherapy on agitation in patients with dementia. However, agitation was improved in both of the groups, which allowed the patients with dementia to become more relaxed. Future studies should continue to assess the benefits of aroma-acupressure and aromatherapy for the treatment of agitation in dementia patients.

    Be well!


  5. JP Says:

    Update 05/30/15:


    Iran Red Crescent Med J. 2015 Apr 25;17(4):e25880.

    Lavender fragrance essential oil and the quality of sleep in postpartum women.

    BACKGROUND: Labor and delivery is a stressful stage for mothers. During these periods, sleep-related disorders have been reported. The problems of inadequate sleep include decrease in concentration, judgment, difficulty in performing daily activities, and an increase in irritability. Even the effects of moderate sleep loss on life and health quality can be similar to sleep deprivation. some research aggravated by aromatherapy on sleep quality in different periods of life so might be useful for the improve of sleep quality in postpartum women.

    OBJECTIVES: This study aimed to determine the effect of aromatherapy on the quality of sleep in postpartum women. The sample was recruited from medical health centers of Zanjan University of Medical Sciences.

    PATIENTS AND METHODS: This study was a randomized clinical trial with the control group. A total of 158 mothers in postpartum period (with certain inclusion criteria) were enrolled in the study and assigned randomly to two groups of control and intervention. Lavender fragrance (made by Barij Essence Pharmaceutical Co.) was used by participants in the intervention group nightly before sleeping. The fragrance was dropped on cotton balls, which were placed on a cylindrical container at mothers’ disposal. Keeping the container at a projected distance of 20 cm, the participants inhaled 10 deep breaths and then the container was placed beside their pillow until morning. This procedure was done 4 times a week for 8 weeks. For the control group, the same intervention was done with the placebo. The instrument for collecting data was Pittsburgh sleep quality index, which was completed at the baseline, fourth, and eighth weeks after the intervention. Data were analyzed using independent t test and repeated measures analysis of variance calculated by SPSS16.

    RESULTS: Before the intervention, there were no significant differences between mothers in two groups (P > 0.05). After 8 weeks follow up, a significant improvement appeared in mothers’ sleep quality in the intervention group. Aromatherapy increased sleep quality mean score (±SD) from 8.2911 (± 2.1192) to 6.7975 (± 2.3663) (P < 0.05), but in the control group sleep quality mean score (±SD) changes from 8.4557 (± 2.3027) to 7.5696 (± 1.1464) (P > 0.05). Comparing sleep quality between control and intervention groups after 8 weeks from the beginning of the intervention indicated that aromatherapy was effective in the improvement of mothers’ sleep quality (P < 0.05). CONCLUSIONS: Considering the effects of aromatherapy on the improvement of mother's sleep quality during postpartum period, aromatherapy has been suggested as a non-pharmacological method for the improvement of the maternal health. Be well! JP

  6. JP Says:

    Update 06/10/15:


    Complement Ther Med. 2015 Jun;23(3):396-404.

    Effects of inhaled ginger aromatherapy on chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and health-related quality of life in women with breast cancer.

    OBJECTIVE: To assess the efficacy of inhaled ginger aromatherapy on nausea, vomiting and health-related quality of life (HRQoL) in chemotherapy breast cancer patients.

    DESIGN: Single-blind, controlled, randomized cross-over study. Patients received 5-day aromatherapy treatment using either ginger essential oil or fragrance-matched artificial placebo (ginger fragrance oil) which was instilled in a necklace in an order dictated by the treatment group sequence.

    SETTING: Two oncology clinics in the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia.

    MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: VAS nausea score, frequency of vomiting and HRQoL profile (EORTC QLQ-C30 scores).

    RESULTS: Sixty female patients completed the study (age=47.3±9.26 years; Malay=98.3%; on highly emetogenic chemotherapy=86.7%). The VAS nausea score was significantly lower after ginger essential oil inhalation compared to placebo during acute phase (P=0.040) but not sustained for overall treatment effect (treatment effect: F=1.82, P=0.183; time effect: F=43.98, P<0.001; treatment×time effect: F=2.04; P=0.102). Similarly, there was no significant effect of aromatherapy on vomiting [F(1, 58)=0.29, P=0.594]. However, a statistically significant change from baseline for global health status (P<0.001) was detected after ginger essential oil inhalation. A clinically relevant 10 points improvement on role functioning (P=0.002) and appetite loss (P<0.001) were also documented while patients were on ginger essential oil.

    CONCLUSION: At present time, the evidence derived from this study is not sufficiently convincing that inhaled ginger aromatherapy is an effective complementary therapy for CINV. The findings for HRQoL were however encouraging with significant improvement in several domains.

    Be well!


  7. JP Says:

    Updated 09/17/15:


    J Altern Complement Med. 2015 Sep 14.

    Effect of Lemongrass Aroma on Experimental Anxiety in Humans.

    OBJECTIVES: The objective of this study was to evaluate the potential anxiolytic effect of lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) aroma in healthy volunteers submitted to an anxiogenic situation.

    DESIGN: Forty male volunteers were allocated to four different groups for the inhalation of lemongrass essential oil (test aroma: three or six drops), tea tree essential oil (control aroma: three drops), or distilled water (nonaromatic control: three drops). Immediately after inhalation, each volunteer was submitted to an experimental model of anxiety, the video-monitored version of the Stroop Color-Word Test (SCWT).

    OUTCOME MEASURES: Psychologic parameters (state anxiety, subjective tension, tranquilization, and sedation) and physiologic parameters (heart rate and gastrocnemius electromyogram activity) were evaluated before the inhalation period and before, during, and after the SCWT.

    RESULTS: Individuals exposed to the test aroma (three and six drops), unlike the control groups, presented a reduction in state anxiety and subjective tension, immediately after treatment administration. In addition, although they presented an anxious response to the task, they completely recovered from it in 5 min, unlike the control groups. Physiologic alterations along the test were not prevented by any treatment, in the same way as has previously been observed for diazepam.

    CONCLUSIONS: Although more investigations are necessary to clarify the clinical relevance of lemongrass essential oil as an anxiety treatment, this work shows that very brief exposure to this aroma has some perceived anxiolytic effects.

    Be well!


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