Which side of the fence do you sit on aromatherapy?

The medical power of essential oils has been debated for centuries

Is aromatherapy all in the mind?

Have you ever wondered why two kings gave baby Jesus aromatic oils while the third gave him gold?

It’s easy to understand the benefits of having gold in your pocket, it’s less certain what Mary and Joseph would have done with frankincense and myrrh.

Historians have long debated whether the gifts brought practical benefits or simply had some symbolic value.

Practical benefits? Researchers at Cardiff University demonstrated that frankincense can assist in the treatment of arthritis, validating the long-held belief that this oil resin from the Boswella sacra tree was once a cherished herbal remedy.

Did the king from the east know this when he gave it to Jesus? If he did, why give it to a baby?

While essential oils have been used for therapeutic treatments for some 6000 years, perhaps this king’s gift was the first confirmation of the legitimacy of aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy is the use of plant materials and aromatic plant oils to improve psychological or physical wellbeing and, for centuries, experts have debated the medical benefits. Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans have extolled the virtues of oils for centuries, but the modern world is still divided on the subject.

Aromatherapy, by name, suggests treatment though inhalation, but oils can also be massaged into the skin. These oils are concentrated extracts taken from the roots, leaves, seeds or blossoms of a range of plants.

Popular oils include lavender, rose, orange, bergamot, lemon, peppermint, fennel, basil, aniseed, eucalyptus, sage, ginger, chamomile, citronella, clove and sandalwood.

Proponents of aromatherapy do not claim that oils can cure diseases. They do, however, believe they can assist conventional treatments by reducing nausea, aches, colds, stress, depression, fatigue, headaches, menstrual issues and hair loss.

True or false?

Dr Edzard Ernst, from the University of Exeter, published studies in 2000 and 2012 in which he examined the health effects of aromatherapy, in particular claims that it reduced hypertension and assisted in the treatment of depression, anxiety, pain and dementia.

He found no “convincing” evidence that aromatherapy did any good. “Aromatherapists claim that specific oils have specific health effects,” he said. “This, in my view, is little more than wishful thinking.”

Numerous other medical studies debunk the practice of aromatherapy, but for every critic, there is a supporter.

Some studies report that lavender oil improves pain tolerance, that ginger oil lowers levels of nausea following surgery and that lotions containing lemon balm can ease dementia.

Perhaps the benefits of aromatherapy rest in a mental component – if you think it will help then it will.

A study into aromatherapy by the University of Maryland concluded that a person’s belief that the treatment helped them perhaps influenced whether it actually worked.

The study added a warning however: “Although essential oils have been used for centuries, few studies have looked at the safety and effectiveness of aromatherapy in people. Scientific evidence is lacking, and there are some concerns about the safety and quality of certain essential oils. More research is needed before aromatherapy becomes a widely accepted alternative remedy.”

Be safe and seek advice from your doctor.

“Pregnant women, people with severe asthma and people with a history of allergies should only use essential oils under the guidance of a trained professional and with the full knowledge of your physician,” the study concluded.

Are you a believer? Do you have a favourite oil?

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    COMMENTS

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    VicCherikoff
    4th Jan 2018
    11:47am
    A somewhat cynical article pandering to the pharmaceutical industry. Placebo indeed.

    There are many good studies on the safety and functionality of essential oils.

    Lavender definitively improves sleep quality. Anise oil stimulates the learning/addictive centre of the brain (the nucleus accumbens) and many essential oils are antimicrobial, even in tiny concentrations.

    An Australian Innovation Award-winning product called Fresher4Longer or Herbal-Active is in wide use in the food industry here and overseas. It is also used in cosmetics and oral care products. It is based on a mixture of essential oils from culinary herbs and spices made soluble so that they dissolve in water. The essential oils make the cell walls of bacteria, yeasts and moulds more permeable to water and the simple influx of water into these cells ruptures them. Human cells are not affected in the same way making the product safe at recommended concentrations.

    Some claims as to the functionality of the 'essential' elements of plants will certainly be fabricated or push the placebo. Scammers will alway thrive when desperation feeds money to meet empty promises. Marketers pushing flower essences are stretching the boundaries of anything sensible in their claims of efficacy. These have been called bottled stupidity yet they persist in stealing money from the ignorant. The promoters circumvent authorities by suggesting that flowers soaked in water and left in the sun produce a concentrate that when vastly diluted and 'flavoured' with brandy will improve intuition, optimism or creativity. This sort of snake oil clearly needs to be banned by regulators.

    However, essential oils that are steam distilled or extracted with carbon dioxide from plants which have been selected for the quality of essential oils they contain (this can be highly variable leading to poor, good or best quality products) will have a biochemical effect once absorbed in appropriate doses. Toxicity is always a concern as with the liver-destroying effects of pure tea tree oil ingested as a 'cleansing' agent. Please. Our livers are cleaning organs. There is no such thing as a cleanse apart from fasting which stops giving the liver anything by way of inputs to 'clean' apart from our own metabolic wastes during the fasting.

    I urge people to investigate quality essential oils and see which ones help and which are flower essences. After all, we have an affinity for aromatic foods and the way they make us feel and this is from the essential oils (and oleoresins) they contain.
    Tzuki
    4th Jan 2018
    3:47pm
    Thank you for your comments. I thoroughly agree, and enjoyed reading your sensible, knowledgable input.
    ianjs
    8th Jan 2018
    3:46pm
    Hmmm is this a "A somewhat cynical comment pandering to the alternative therapy industry"?

    Seriously though, it's really a matter of who you want to believe - a billion dollar pharmaceutical industry that at least has some regulation and has to provide at least some proof of efficacy, or a completely unregulated billion dollar "alternative" (ie "not proven to work") industry where they have no evidence that their product does anything at all.

    4th Jan 2018
    4:49pm
    aroma therapy - new age rubbish
    all in the minds of the goof-balls
    Chris G
    4th Jan 2018
    5:05pm
    VicCherikoff, you have nailed it. Thank you.
    Raphael, you are commenting on something that you clearly know nothing about.
    I am a qualified Aromatherapist.
    Anonymous
    4th Jan 2018
    5:35pm
    Qualified aromatherapist huh
    You mean qualified snake oil sales-woman
    Supernan
    7th Jan 2018
    1:46pm
    I have yet to see proof any of this works. I have a genetically inherited disease, Rheumatoid arthritis. Seeing geneticist are still unable to turn of the gene causing it, not sure how smelling something could ! I also detest the icrease of over scented products in our community. Hand washes in toilets, deodorisers, over doses of personal perfumes, scented cleathing products, scented paper on greeting cards & magazines. Its impossible to avoid this over load of the senses. rather than having healing abiltities they create a lot of stress !


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