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Aromatherapy (Essential Oils)

Aromatherapy uses plant materials and aromatic plant oils, including essential oils, and other aromatic compounds for the purpose of altering one's mood, cognitive, psychological or physical wellbeing.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: Wikipedia)

About Essential Oils and Aromatherapy

Essential oils (also known as volatile oils) are the basic materials of aromatherapy. They are made from fragrant essences found in many plants. These essences are made in special plant cells, often under the surface of leaves, bark, or peel, using energy from the sun and elements from the air, soil, and water. If the plant is crushed, the essence and its unique fragrance are released.

When essences are extracted from plants in natural ways, they become essential oils. They may be distilled with steam and/or water, or mechanically pressed. Oils that are made with chemical processes are not considered true essential oils.

There are many essential oils used in aromatherapy, including those from Roman chamomile, geranium, lavender, tea tree, lemon, cedarwood, and bergamot. Each type of essential oil has a different chemical composition that affects how it smells, how it is absorbed, and how it is used by the body. Even the oils from varieties of plants within the same species may have chemical compositions different from each other. The same applies to plants that are grown or harvested in different ways or locations.

Essential oils are very concentrated. For example, it takes about 220 lbs of lavender flowers to make about 1 pound of essential oil. Essential oils are very volatile, evaporating quickly when they are exposed to open air. NIH - National Cancer Institute

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Aromatherapy for promotion of relaxation and sleep, relief of pain, and reduction of depressive symptoms in dementia

Aromatherapy is the use of pure essential oils from fragrant plants (such as peppermint, sweet marjoram, and rose) to help relieve health problems and improve the quality of life in general. The healing properties of aromatherapy are claimed to include promotion of relaxation and sleep, relief of pain, and reduction of depressive symptoms. Hence, aromatherapy has been used to reduce disturbed behaviour, to promote sleep, and to stimulate motivational behaviour of people with dementia. Of the seven randomised controlled trials that we found, only two trials including 186 people had useable data. The analysis of these two small trials showed inconsistent effects of aromatherapy on measures of agitation, behavioural symptoms and quality of life. More large‐scale randomised controlled trials are needed before firm conclusions can be reached about the effectiveness of aromatherapy for dementia.

Aromatherapy for pain management in labour

Aromatherapy draws on the healing power of plants with the use of essential oils to enhance physical and mental wellbeing. The oils may be massaged into the skin, in a bath or inhaled using a steam infusion or burner. The pain of labour can be intense, with tension, fear and anxiety making it worse. Many women would like to labour without using drugs, or invasive methods such as an epidural, and turn to complementary therapies to help reduce their pain perception Many complementary therapies are tried and include acupuncture, mind‐body techniques, massage, reflexology, herbal medicines or homoeopathy, hypnosis, music and aromatherapy. The review identified two randomised controlled trials of aromatherapy. One trial involving 513 women compared one of Roman chamomile, clary sage, frankincense, lavender or mandarin essentials oils with standard care. The aromatherapy was applied using acupressure points, taper, compress, footbath, massage or a birthing pool. The second trial involved 22 women randomised to bathe for at least an hour in water with either essential oil of ginger or lemongrass added. All women received routine care and had access to pain relief. The trials found no difference between groups for pain intensity, assisted vaginal birth, caesarean section or the use of pharmacological pain relief (epidural). Overall, there is insufficient evidence from randomised controlled trials about the benefits of aromatherapy on pain management in labour. More research is needed.

Aromatherapy and massage for symptom relief in people with cancer

People with cancer may experience symptoms such as pain, anxiety, or distress. Massage with or without aromatherapy (using essential oils, which are natural oils that may have the odour of the plant from which it was extracted) may help relieve these symptoms. Massage involves working and acting on the body with pressure. Massage is given using a carrier oil (base oil or vegetable oil) with or without essential oils. Massage with essential oils such as rose or lavender oil is known as aromatherapy massage.

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Summaries for consumers

Aromatherapy for promotion of relaxation and sleep, relief of pain, and reduction of depressive symptoms in dementia

Aromatherapy is the use of pure essential oils from fragrant plants (such as peppermint, sweet marjoram, and rose) to help relieve health problems and improve the quality of life in general. The healing properties of aromatherapy are claimed to include promotion of relaxation and sleep, relief of pain, and reduction of depressive symptoms. Hence, aromatherapy has been used to reduce disturbed behaviour, to promote sleep, and to stimulate motivational behaviour of people with dementia. Of the seven randomised controlled trials that we found, only two trials including 186 people had useable data. The analysis of these two small trials showed inconsistent effects of aromatherapy on measures of agitation, behavioural symptoms and quality of life. More large‐scale randomised controlled trials are needed before firm conclusions can be reached about the effectiveness of aromatherapy for dementia.

Aromatherapy for pain management in labour

Aromatherapy draws on the healing power of plants with the use of essential oils to enhance physical and mental wellbeing. The oils may be massaged into the skin, in a bath or inhaled using a steam infusion or burner. The pain of labour can be intense, with tension, fear and anxiety making it worse. Many women would like to labour without using drugs, or invasive methods such as an epidural, and turn to complementary therapies to help reduce their pain perception Many complementary therapies are tried and include acupuncture, mind‐body techniques, massage, reflexology, herbal medicines or homoeopathy, hypnosis, music and aromatherapy. The review identified two randomised controlled trials of aromatherapy. One trial involving 513 women compared one of Roman chamomile, clary sage, frankincense, lavender or mandarin essentials oils with standard care. The aromatherapy was applied using acupressure points, taper, compress, footbath, massage or a birthing pool. The second trial involved 22 women randomised to bathe for at least an hour in water with either essential oil of ginger or lemongrass added. All women received routine care and had access to pain relief. The trials found no difference between groups for pain intensity, assisted vaginal birth, caesarean section or the use of pharmacological pain relief (epidural). Overall, there is insufficient evidence from randomised controlled trials about the benefits of aromatherapy on pain management in labour. More research is needed.

Aromatherapy and massage for symptom relief in people with cancer

People with cancer may experience symptoms such as pain, anxiety, or distress. Massage with or without aromatherapy (using essential oils, which are natural oils that may have the odour of the plant from which it was extracted) may help relieve these symptoms. Massage involves working and acting on the body with pressure. Massage is given using a carrier oil (base oil or vegetable oil) with or without essential oils. Massage with essential oils such as rose or lavender oil is known as aromatherapy massage.

See all (17)

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