You smell it in spas, holistic healing centers and maybe even your own home. That familiar scent of lavender or some other herbal extraction perks up your olfactory senses and lets you know they’re nearby — essential oils. These liquid extracts have taken a foothold in the world of natural remedies and spread to the public eye, but the question remains for many of us: “What do they actually do?”
As with many other holistic approaches to medicine, essential oils and aromatherapy don’t have enough research behind them to give a truly definitive answer. But there have been a handful of studies from which we can glean some insight. Let’s take a look at the facts about essential oils and aromatherapy.
Aromatherapeutic massage may lessen anxiety and depression
Although aromatherapeutic massage should only be used as a complementary treatment for anxiety and depression, there have been some results worth mentioning. In one case, a control group was massaged with normal vegetable oil while the test group was massaged with essential oils. After six massages (one every two weeks) the test group reported a notable improvement in their depression and anxiety. Another study of 103 cancer patients showed similar results with essential oil massages improving anxiety and depression more so than a traditional massage.
The right blend could improve quality of life and sleep
In a recent study, a blend of lavender, marjoram and clary sage was regularly diffused for a group of working women in an effort to improve quality of life and sleep. A separate group of women received diffused lavender oil, another group had acupressure massage and the final group received a placebo (nothing). As it turned out, the women who received the blended oil diffusion reported a better quality of life and sounder sleep than any other group. So essential oil could help you catch some z’s afterall.
It’s bad for asthma and might trigger an attack
AAFA (The Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America) explains “the strong odors emitted by essential oils contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs).” They go on to say that breathing these particles can make you sick with allergies and may even trigger an asthma attack. Long story short, people with asthma should just avoid essential oils rather than take an unnecessary risk.
Certain aromas may help short-term memory
Shakespeare mentions that rosemary is “for remembrance” in Hamlet — but is there any truth to that? Perhaps so. One study of teenagers ages 13-15 showed that when the essential oil of rosemary was sprayed, they had a significantly increased image memory compared to the control group. It suggested that by breathing the rosemary oil, the teens had an increased memorization of numbers as well.
When all is said and done, there are still many questions left to be answered about the effectiveness of essential oils and aromatherapy. The most important thing to remember before experimenting with homeopathic remedies is to talk to your doctor first. They can offer an expert opinion and leverage their knowledge with your health history to determine the next best move. What’s your experience with essential oils? Have you found any benefits or drawbacks? Let us know in the comments below!