Aromatherapy Basics

Whether you want to soothe your spirit, or protect your body, the nose knows when it comes to aromatherapy.

The positive effects of aromatherapy have been known for thousands of years.

Using essential oils extracted from flowers, leaves, branches, or roots, aromatherapy is used to treat everything from infections, insomnia, impotence, arthritis and skin disorders, to stress and immune system deficiencies.

In fact, some aromatherapists even claim the oils have the power to heal problems of the ovaries, kidney, and veins, among others.

However, successful aromatherapy treatments of these ailments have not been scientifically proven, and the world of medicine has been slow to embrace this alternative approach. Until now.

Researchers at the University of California-Davis have now released findings that suggest some smells, such as basil, rosemary, and cinnamon can actually protect the body against disease by acting as anti-oxidants — protective agents often found in fruits and vegetables. It is believed that anti-oxidants may reduce the risk of developing conditions such as cancer and heart disease by helping destroy free radicals, which are known to damage a cell's DNA.

In addition, a report this summer from the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry showed that aromatherapy with lemon balm oil has a significant calming effect for patients who are suffering from dementia. And though more research is needed, scientists are optimistic that more reports will follow.

Understanding Scents

There are many theories as to how aromatherapy works.

Many advocates suggest that the scents trigger a "feel-good" effect in the brain. Aroma molecules may enter the part of the brain that is responsible for memory and emotion and induce emotional responses which can immediately calm or energize the body.

Other proponents believe the scents stimulate certain glands to produce hormones that fight pain and inflammation.

Whatever the case may be, aromatherapists assign specific oils to treat certain conditions. Here are some of the more common claims:

Chamomile: Relieves stress; reduces swelling; treats allergic symptoms; relieves insomnia; useful in treating digestive problems.

Lavender: Relieves depression, inflammation, spasms, headaches, respiratory allergies, muscle aches, nausea, menstrual cramps; lowers blood pressure.

Rosemary: Decongests the chest; increases circulation, relieves pain, indigestion, gas, and liver problems; lessens swelling; fights infection; helps alleviate depression.

Lemon Balm: Relieves anxiety, depression, hypertension, insomnia, migraine, nervous tension, shock and vertigo. Also may be helpful for asthma, bronchitis, coughs and colds; quiets racing of the heart and slows an overactive thyroid.

Eucalyptus: Lowers fever; clears sinuses; has antibacterial and antiviral properties; relieves coughs.

Peppermint: Alleviates digestive problems; cleans wounds; decongests the chest; relieves headache, neuralgia, and muscle pain; useful for motion sickness.

Thyme: Relieves digestive problems; lessens laryngitis and coughs; fights bladder and skin infections; relieves pain in the joints.

Inhale or Apply

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