Aromatherapy in its simplest definition is the smelling of vapours for health & well-being effects, howsoever gained. This article examines a cross-section of the art and proposes a future course of direction for those professionals not wishing to be tarred with an aromatherapy brush.
Of course the fragrance of a nice perfume will leave you in a better frame of mind than the smell of rotting cadavers. The general intuitive appeal of a nice smell (etc) has launched a blind universal hype on essential oils, the mainstay of aromatherapy. Over the years it has attracted a large following of uncritical persons eager to believe good news. By contrast it has produced research well beyond the scope of aromatherapy.
Much opposition has been levelled against the wild claims that border on or even cross the line of fraud. Where there’s money to be made, there is opportunism. The truth is often the first casualty.
Then there is the medical profession. They are the stalwarts to uphold and defend the medical truth. Unfortunately there is opportunity to denigrate the practice of aromatherapy for motives other than altruism, leaving academia to the rescue. Disappointingly, much academic research is in effect unavailable to the general public as good research papers can be expensive.
Deserved or otherwise, alternative medicines such as Acupuncture, Ayurveda, Chiropractic, Homeopathy, Kinesiology, Light Therapy, Phrenology, etc. have been slow to gain traction in mainstream medicine. Within each field there may be something worthwhile. There is risk of throwing the baby out with bathwater.
Aromatherapy by semantic definition is in lockstep with things smelled, the nose being solely equipped to perceive things smelled. Thus aromatherapy armoury consists solely of essential oils. “Essential” not because we can’t live without them but because essential is merely the adjective from the noun “essence” being a vapour from a liquid at a low boiling point.
This semantic deception taken together with people such as those involved in routinely claiming these potions to cure things like ADHD, arthritis, high cholesterol, lupus, asthma, migraines, cancer, fibromyalgia confuses even more. It is there, on offer, all without the rigours of scientific validation. Long Live The Placebo!
Then there are the others making ambiguous claims that leave lots of wiggleroom such as “cleanses air of negative energies”, “restoring harmony and balance between the mind and body”, “restore psychic energy flow”, “return to one’s centre and chakra”. These and more have become aromatherapy’s articles of faith in some circles. Most are seen as nonsense to the mind versed in scientific methods.
Contrast these with Moss et al in the peer-reviewed paper “Aromas Of Rosemary And Lavender Essential Oils Differentially Affect Cognition And Mood In Healthy Adults” where they showed the efficacy of Lavender and Rosemary oils. 144 persons took part in the study and no one was informed of the study nature. Before and after inhalation tests included 15 words to be flashed on a screen for 1 second and participants were asked to remember as many words as they could in the space of 60 seconds. More tests were done using 20 photographs enabling researchers to test recall and reaction time.
Nominal recall improved from 5.5 for the control group to 6.2 for the Rosemary and showed little change for the Lavender. Nominal reaction time improved from a score of 246 for the control group to 259 for the Lavender. Little change was reported for the Rosemary tests. They concluded that essential oils can significantly affect aspects of cognitive performance.
Worth considering is a paper by Sayorwan et al, who, using electroencephalography (EEG), measured the changes in blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate before and after Rosemary oil inhalation by uniformed groups of subjects and controls. Their findings provided evidence that brain wave activities, autonomic nervous system responses, and mood states could all be modified with Rosemary oil inhalation.
Aromas may well have a placebo effect and as such it is a good thing. However it is not the smell that gives essential oils their efficacy but the compounds that comprise the oils. Compounds such as Eugenol, Carvacrol, Thymol, Geraniol, and Menthol appear to stimulate while Linalool appears to calm or relax. Then there is Eugenol, a very powerful antioxidant as well. These compounds can enter the bloodstream via the olfactory system and the lungs through breathing. The bloodstream can also be fed via the skin by massage and contact patches. Other possible routes are ingestion and intravenous injections. The latter are subject to much more research than currently appears in the literature.
In conclusion, the subject of essential oils is therefore a much wider field, rich with potential discovery. Thus it is important that practitioners who prescribe the use of essential oils in their practice divest themselves of any stigma that has grown around aromatherapy. A whole new name for their practice would help to distance themselves from any hint of quackery and dogma.
The general public may well be sceptical as a result of conflicting opinions. The misnomer “essential” does not help. Volatile Oil Therapy (VOT) as a name may engender some trust especially if the practitioners of VOT confine themselves to proven effects.