Are essential oils just pretty-smelling plant extracts, or do they actually have a positive effect on our health? They have been ascribed with powers to calm moods, lower blood pressure and relieve pain, but do they actually work? What do experts say?
What are essential oils, and how are they made?
Essential oils are extracts from different parts of plants, depending on the type of oil. They can be made by steaming flowers, bark, or leaves, or, by pressing the oil out of fruits to draw out the plant compounds that produce fragrance, or have other beneficial properties.
How does aromatherapy work?
Aromatherapy uses essential oils to provide therapeutic benefit to the body. They can be diffused to produce a scent that stimulates receptors in the nose, which then send messages to the limbic system, the part of the brain that controls emotions, and they can also be used topically, not just for the scent, but also for direct benefits to the body through the skin. .
Okay, so does Aromatherapy actually work?
Aromatherapy has been gaining traction in the medical community, and trials have been conducted to test its efficacy for alleviating various conditions. An overview published by the Department of Veterans Affairs summarizing results of numerous studies and trials concluded moderate confidence that aromatherapy “is potentially effective for pain in labor/childbirth; blood pressure reduction in hypertension; stress, depression, and sleep in hemodialysis patients; stress in healthy adults; anxiety in perioperative patients; and sleep quality in various populations...” The short answer is, yes, aromatherapy does help in relieving pain, stress and mood related issues.
More research is being done to pinpoint the effects of different oils by determining the compounds found in the extracts and examining the effects on these compounds on different physical conditions. This more focused assessment gives a better explanation of the composition of the oils and extracts and how they impact pain, wound healing, depression, sleep and other issues. The research is revealing positive effects of oils, and while not a standalone cure, essential oils can be used, when applied safely, to supplement other treatments and remedies to enhance positive results.
So yes, aromatherapy, both diffusion and topical application, can have a positive effect and can aid in relief of common conditions. Of course, in cases of severe disorders, medical attention is recommended, and should you choose to use essential oils particularly topically, it should be discussed with your doctor, as the extracts can affect the efficacy of traditional medicines, and oils can cause an allergic reaction.