Aromatherapy, according to John Hopkins Medicine, involves the inhalation or absorption of essential oils which travel to the brain through the olfactory nerves. This can affect the amygdala, the part of the brain that processes emotions. Essential oils are extracted from plants to produce a fragrance targeted at a state of well-being.
Aromatherapy has been used as a form of alternative medicine for centuries. But you may be wondering, does this popular health trend actually work?
“I’m all for aromatherapy as long as it makes the patient feel better. People should not expect it to be a cure-all for all medical conditions, but I do believe there is a place for essential oils in the setting of depression, anxiety and insomnia,” says Dr. William Seng Tan, a family medicine physician at Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, IL.
Lavender oil is the most extensively tested essential oil in clinical trials.
“A lot of people tend to know that there are the calming effects of lavender. Depression, anxiety, and insomnia are difficult conditions to deal with, and a multifaceted approach should be taken to address them. There isn’t a one size fits all approach, as we are all individuals. You should come up with a solid comprehensive plan with your doctor,” Dr. Tan says.
Dr. Tan says aromatherapy can be a useful alternative to prescription medicine in some instances.
“I recently had a young patient who benefitted from aromatherapy after having abdominal pain and anxiety-inducing palpitations,” says Dr. Tan.
Clinical trials have revealed varied results. Some people experienced less anxiety, depression, nausea, increased appetite and better sleep after aromatherapy. However, some people did not experience any health benefits.
Diffusers, inhalers and sprays are just some ways to try aromatherapy. Since essential oils can also be absorbed through the skin, aromatherapy body wash, oils and lotion are commonly used.
You should check with your care physician before trying aromatherapy.