Knowledge Bank

Is aromatherapy really good for our health?

A new children’s book has been launched ~ the first aromatherapy-scented one in which children are invited to inhale a whole range of delicious scents.

The author said she got the idea in a dream.

“I woke up with the idea for it in the middle of the night, four years ago,” said Margaret Hyde, author of the Mo’s Nose book series. “I got up, wrote the idea and wrote the first version of the first story. I even saw it illustrated in Japanese ink brush in my dream.”

Most of the six books focus on a dog using his nose to see a colour. In the latest installment, Mo Smells Pink, Mo smells things such as pink grapefruit bubble bath and pink peppermint ice cream.

Mo must be an incredibly lucky dog, though, to have such an enlightened owner! Pink grapefruit in the bath not only smells delicious, but its aromatherapeutic properties can also create a euphoric mood, is good for oily or congested skin, improves elasticity and has diuretic properties.

There are a whole host of other benefits attributed to pink grapefruit of which, along with other aromas, it has been discovered are good for our health. 

Aromatherapy is becoming hugely popular as people wake up to the power of fragrance.

Mostly, we just love to have a massage with scented oils because it is such a deliciously, luxurious almost decadent experience which helps to smooth away the stresses of the day. The aromatherapist will normally match the essential oils of a wide range of botanicals to our own personality and a good one will custom blend them to our own personal recipe.

Is aromatherapy good for our health?

But apart from the whole pleasure of the experience of being lovingly rubbed and massaged with aromatic oils, are there actually any tangible health benefits to the therapy?

Well, as is often the case, there is no scientific evidence that aromatherapy cures or prevents disease mainly because no financial investment has been put into finding such evidence. However, a few clinical studies have found that aromatherapy may be a beneficial complementary therapy to help people with cancer to reduce anxiety, depression, tension, and pain. There are also reports that inhaled peppermint, ginger, and cardamom oil seem to relieve the nausea caused by chemotherapy and radiation. But these reports are ancedotal ~ and no clinical trials have been undertaken to prove their efficacy.

Other early trials have found that aromatherapy may help patients cope with chronic pain, stress, and depression. A randomised clinical trial of patients with bald patches on their scalp or skin showed aromatherapy to be a safe and effective treatment for hair loss. In another controlled clinical trial, inhaling the vapours from black pepper extract appeared to reduce the craving for tobacco, and also improved patients' moods. And in a further controlled trial, 12 depressed patients were able to reduce their antidepressant medicine by the use of citrus scented oil.

In France, aromatherapy is regularly used alongside mainstream medicine for the assisting properties the essential oils provide with, for example, antiseptic, antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial treatments.

Aromatherapists claim that their therapy also helps to increase the production of serotonin which is partly responsible for how the brain regulates moods and reduces levels of stress. The oils absorbed by the body also work to enhance lymphatic drainage and stimulate the natural immune system and the massage itself breaks down levels of lactic acid around the arms, the spine and the shoulders.

How does aromatherapy work?

The aromas of the flowers and herbs are delivered to the body in different ways: by

•    aerial diffusion, for example burning oils to help fragrance a room
•    direct inhalation to aid decongestion and respiration
•    in vitro, via oral application, the rectum or the vagina
•    topical application, as used in massages, therapeutic skin care,                 compresses or in baths

Aromatherapy can work in one of two ways.

The first is the actual effect that the aroma has on the brain, especially the limbic system. The limbic system includes the functions of our emotions, behaviours and long-term memories. The second is the direct pharmacological effect, in other words, how the oils actually chemically affect the physical body. Different essential oils would affect different areas.

Are there any known side effects with aromatherapy?

The key issues with aromatherapy usually occur when the essential oils come into direct contact with the skin and body. In their undiluted form, essential oils are very strong and can easily irritate the skin. Generally, oils should always be diluted when being applied topically, such as for massage.

However, even in their diluted form you may be allergic to it and therefore the person applying the oil must always check first with a small amount of their diluted oil to see whether your skin is going to have an adverse reaction before starting the massage, so that they can choose a different oil if necessary.

It is not recommended that you ingest essential oils because, again, these can have very adverse effects as some oils are highly toxic to your internal organs. For this reason, aromatherapy oils should always be kept out of the reach of children.

To learn more about therapies, go to The Therapy Book.

To read more about Mo’s Nose, go to Reuters.

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