Some call them alternative therapies. In the American culture, alternative therapies are making their way into our lifestyles for situations such as labor and birth, sleep therapy and stress relief. Therapies such as aromatherapy are regularly integrated into health practices in other cultures. Aromatherapy is the use of pure essential and absolute oils derived from plants. The word "aromatherapy" was first used in the 1920's by a French perfumer named Rene Gattfosse. The use of the word "therapy" gives the impression of the need for treatment of an illness. Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils from plants.
Aromatherapy oils can not only be used as inhalants but they can also be massaged into the skin. The essential oils used in aromatherapy are concentrated extracts taken from the roots, leaves, or blossoms of plants. Each essential oil contains its own mix of active ingredients, and this mix determines the healing properties of the oil. Some oils promote physical healing-for example, some are able to relieve swelling. Others are used for their emotional value, such as lavender, as they may encourage relaxation or make a room smell nice. The essential oil derived from orange blossom, for example, contains a large amount of ester, an active ingredient thought to induce a calming effect.
It is not fully understood how or why essential oils produce the effects that they do. One obvious way that essential oils work is through the sense of smell. This sense is incredibly powerful-according to some estimates, about 10,000 times stronger than any other sense. The "smell" receptors in your nose communicate with two structures that are embedded deep in your brain and serve as storehouses for emotions and memories. These structures are called the amygdala and hippocampus. When essential oil molecules are inhaled, they affect these parts of the brain directly. Researchers believe that stimulation of these structures can affect our physical, emotional, and mental health.
It is also known that breathing in essential oils can affect the respiratory system. For example, certain oils from the eucalyptus plant are able to clear sinuses and prevent respiratory infections. Thus, the reason why Halls Mentholyptus and Vicks are so popular during cold and flu season.
Aromatherapy massage is a popular way of using essential oils, because it works in numerous ways at the same time: it produces benefits from absorbing the oils into the skin, from inhaling the oil's vapors, and from the physical therapy of the massage process itself.
Aromatherapy is used in a wide range of settings-from health spas to hospitals-to treat a variety of physical, mental, and emotional conditions. Burns, severe bacterial infections, irregular heartbeat, insomnia, depression, and high blood pressure are just a few of the conditions that can be treated with aromatherapy. Some studies have shown that people massaged with aromatherapy oils experience pleasurable feelings, lowered levels of anxiety and blood pressure, and heightened states of relaxation.
Allergies and irritations may be a concern. People with sensitive skin or lung conditions should not use essential oils as they may cause irritation. The essential oils sold in stores may be misleading. A consumer can't be sure that the amount of essential oil contained in the bottle, or even from dose to dose (if the oil is in capsules), is the same as what is stated on the label. A qualified aromatherapist can help decide which oils will be most effective, and suggest the high-quality products.
Little is known about the possible interactions between essential oils and conventional medications. Because the amount absorbed into the body is generally small, essential oils (when administered in the recommended doses) are considered safe. Some strong essential oils, such as eucalyptus and peppermint, can burn the skin if applied full strength. Most oils should be diluted with water or added to a base massage oil (such as almond, grape seed or sesame). Since there is a possibility of side effects, it is important to discuss the use of essential oils with a careprovider, especially if you are pregnant.
There is a wide range of cost for essential oils. Essential oil from rose petals, for example, retails at $133 per ounce-based on the 110 pounds of rose petals needed for a single ounce of essential oil. Other plants, such as lavender, lemon, and eucalyptus, yield much more essential oil and thus retail at much lower prices. Lavender oil, for example, can generally be purchased for about $30 an ounce.
If you would like additional information on aromatherapy, you might want to visit the web site for the Seattle based National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy. NAHA's mission is "to revive the knowledge of the medicinal use of aromatic plants and essential oils to its fullest extent and to restore aromatherapy to a truly holistic professional art and science. NAHA is the leader in promoting and elevating true aromatherapy through the active dissemination of educational material to the general public, trade/professional associations, business owners and practitioners."