Aromatherapy is complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) technique in which various essential oils (including essences and extracts) derived from plants, flowers, fruits, leaves, herbs, stems, shrubs or trees are utilized to promote healing of the body, mind and the spirit, and to encourage health and well-being of the individual. Aromatic oils have been utilized in healthcare since ancient times by the Egyptian civilization and the Arabs. Modern aromatherapy was given special interest in France.
The French found that oils had several anti-septic properties and hence could be utilized to reduce infections. Some of the physicians in France administer essential oils. Certain guidelines mentioned in the ‘aromatogram’ help the physician to decide which essential oil has to be utilized. The patient’s sample of tissues or body fluids is cultured in the laboratory. Different essential oils are added to the growing cultures. The specific essential oil that inhibits growth of the microorganisms is identified and utilized.
Essential oils are substances similar to hormones (or chemical messengers) present in the body, that play an important role between cells. It contains about 200 to 3000 different compounds. Studies suggest that they can play a role against cancer, and have other effects such as stimulation (lime), calming (lavender), analgesic (clove), anti-spasmodic and cough suppressant (lavender). On the skin, it seems to have an antiseptic (tea tree), astringent (lemon grass), protectants (sandal wood), stimulant (rose) and cooling (Chamomile) effect.
Aromatherapy can be administered in several forms such as skin or external applications (including cosmetic use and applications over the hair), inhalation, and internal consumption. External applications of essential oils involve applying the agents on the skin through baths, massages, friction, compresses, cosmetic use (in the form of creams, masks, compresses, lotions, ointments, etc), hair applications, etc. Such applications help in relaxation, stimulating the skin and make the individual feel more energetic and lively.
Several toxic substances and metabolic wastes present on the skin are inactivated and destroyed. It also helps to reduce body aches and reduce swellings. Rarely (5% of the cases), the individual may develop inflammatory disorders of the skin (such as dermatitis), and experience symptoms such as irritation, rashes, pruritis, etc. In such circumstances, the treatment should be discontinued. Internal consumption of essential oils may be required to treat several disorders involving the internal organs (such as the digestive tract).
However, some of these oils may damage the liver. Hence, they have to be administered strictly by a physician, and the patient’s condition should be monitored. The essential oil can also be administered utilizing a diffuser or nebulizer (through inhalation). The oils can be utilized to treat several breathing or lung disorders, and to improve mood. The molecules of the essential oils can enter the body through the nose, gain access through the lungs, from where it can diffuse into the bloodstream.
It can remain in the blood for 30 minutes to several days. Sprays are also available which provide effect for a short period. Aromatherapy has emerged as a separate branch of science and profession because of the huge benefits. Lavender may increase brain wave functions related with relaxation and stress-release (Balac, 1992). Chronic smokers felt a reduced urge to consume tobacco with aromatherapy (Rose & Behm, 1994). The quality of life in individuals with cancer and anxiety improved after being administered Chamomile (Wilkinson, 1995).
Stevenson (1994) demonstrated that heart patients requiring surgery felt better when their feet were being massaged with neroli oil. Post-operative patients had reduced nausea and needed fewer painkillers after inhaling peppermint oil (Tate, 1997). In fact aromatherapy can be utilized to treat several conditions such as infections (such as Herpes Zoster Virus, Herpes Simplex Infections, etc), arthritis, skin disorders, musculoskeletal disorders, sleeplessness, anxiety, distress, anticancer therapy problems, anorexia, body aches, etc.
Any individual can learn about aromatherapy by reading books, attending seminars or going to school that train in aromatherapy. The National Association of Holistic Aroma-therapists (NAHA) is setting up standards for giving licenses and administering training. The individual who wants to become an aroma-therapist should have a good knowledge and practice of chemistry, botany, human physiology, etc. The aroma-therapist is responsible for administering treatment sessions on the patients such as massages.
During the patient’s first session, he/she will ask the questions to get a detailed outlook of the past and present medical history. According to the patient’s complaint and the diagnosis of the condition, he/she will prepare essential oils using different individual components. The massages are similar to the Swedish and the Sports methods. The aroma-therapist also gives complete details of the procedure to the patient, advices about any precautionary measures to be taken and educates the patient about the benefits and risks of the procedure.