Did You Know…aromatherapy can have serious health benefits?
Even open-minded people can be quizzical about the medicinal benefits of aromatherapy. Perhaps its association with luxury spas and candles has prejudiced us. But that is unfortunate, because according to integrative medical practitioners, aromatherapy can have tremendous healing benefits.
The ABCs of Aromatherapy
When we are exposed to an aroma, the molecules enter our olfactory epithelium—or nasal receptors. Those receptors introduce the aroma molecules directly to our brain centers, where the scent is interpreted. The process involves memory… sensory perception… and ultimately, a gland that regulates the release of certain chemicals into our blood.
According to aromatherapy researchers, the chemical responses triggered by certain scents can lead to emotional and physiological effects. The influence of aromatherapy reaches throughout your body, including your:
When Life Gives You Lemons, Smell ‘Em… and Cure Liver Cancer
A recent study done at the Ruhr University Bochum indicates that our olfactory receptors could assist with the diagnosis and treatment of liver cancer.
The Ruhr scientists found that monoterpene citronell could be used to identify and treat cancerous cells. Earlier studies showed that terpenes, which are responsible for the distinct smells found in many plants’ essential oils, can suppress cancer development.
The Ruhr team focused solely on citronell, which gives lemon its strong, citrus smell. Exposure to citronell reduced the proliferation of liver cancer cells. The researchers were able to pinpoint the exact receptor that picked up the citronell scent, and subsequently, sent the cellular signal that slowed the progression of cancer in the liver.
The researchers believe their findings serve as “yet another example of the significance of olfactory receptors outside the nose.”
Other documented effects of aromatherapy include…
- Improved sleep
- Alleviated pain
- Eased anxiety
- Reduced cold—and flu-related congestion.
Making Sense of All the Scents
If you’re interested in trying aromatherapy for yourself, you may wish to consider this list, shared by medical practitioner Julie Chen, M.D., on Huffington Post Healthy Living:
- Anxiety: lavender, melissa, myrrh, bergamot, cardamom, chamomile, cypress, frankincense, rose, pine, vanilla, marjoram, neroli, nutmeg, patchouli, and orange/lime.
- Depression: lemon, marjoram, neroli, peppermint, patchouli, rosemary, sandalwood, angelica, bergamot, cedarwood, jasmine, lavender, geranium, ylang ylang, and clary sage.
- Fatigue: basil, angelica, cedarwood, clove, eucalyptus, jasmine, frankincense, lemon, neroli, marjoram, peppermint, patchouli, and vanilla.
- Headaches: basil, chamomile, cinnamon, ginger, eucalyptus, lavender, lemon grass, melissa, marjoram, peppermint, thyme, ylang ylang, and clary sage.
- Lung/sinus congestion: angelica, basil, cedarwood, clove, cypress, eucalyptus, fennel, ginger, hyssop, juniper, rosemary, tea tree, and marjoram.
- Indigestion: lavender, juniper, lemon grass, lemon verbena, orange, peppermint, rose, rosemary, sandalwood, thyme, anise, fennel, ginger, and basil.
- Menstrual cramps: angelica, basil, caraway, chamomile, ginger, clary sage, lavender, rose, rosemary, and sage.
- Muscle soreness: bay, caraway, chamomile, eucalyptus, frankincense, ginger, geranium, juniper, lemon grass, lemon verbena, rosemary, sandalwood, patchouli and myrtle.
As you can see, many oils and benefits overlap. For instance, lavender can relieve anxiety and indigestion. Chen says these overlaps emphasize how highly personalized our perceptions of scents can be. That means your unique chemistry, in combination with your memories, will influence the effects a scent triggers in your body.
Whether you seek out an aromatherapist or experiment at home, be sure to do some research first. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate essential oils. Key considerations include:
The oil’s botanical name (not all lavender promotes relaxation, for example, so if that’s your goal, you want Lavandula angustifolia, not Lavandula latifolia).
The country of origin
Whether the manufacturer regularly tests for purity
If and how the oils are protected against oxidation