What, really, is Aromatherapy? In the United States, common use of the term 'Aromatherapy' is a bit misleading. The practice has been given a 'touchy-feely', 'soft-science' status to the general public through mainstream media. In much of the rest of the world, however, the therapeuatic use of aromatic essential oils has a more elevated, scientifically-backed status. In France, for example, one can only purchase essential oils through a licenced Aromatherapist; this is due to the well-known, powerful interaction of essential oils and the human physiology.
At it's heart, Aromatherapy encompasses the entire branch of botanical medicine using volatile aromatic plant compounds for treatment of various medical conditions. The term was coined by a French scientist after his discovery of Lavender oil's healing effects on burns he had sustained in the laboratory. The practice of 'aroma' therapy - or the inhalation of essential oils to make one 'feel good' - is more a delightful side-note than the primary healing benefit essential oils can provide. Many important actions of essential oils don't even have to do with one's sense of smell. Beyond acting on the psyche through the limbic system (the 'emotional' center of the brain, immediately affected by the smell sense), many essential oils have proven antibiotic, antiviral, antispasmodic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, tissue-regenerative and other actions.
Effects of essential oils on the psyche, along with some biologic effects through the olfactory system, are an important aspect of their use; this should certainly not be discounted relative to the direct effects on the physiology. Many scientifically designed studies have confirmed the effects of aromatic oils on the mind and emotions. Your smell sense is the only one of the five senses directly connected to the brain - all other senses are routed first through the thalamus, then directed to the cerebral cortex and other brain regions. Each 'scent-sensing' cell is a sort of chemical receiver - every receptor in the nose reacts to some scents and not others. Each of these scent-cells is directly linked to the brain by one nerve fiber. It is difficult to sense an aroma and 'think' about it before having a response - the signal does not travel first to the thought centers. Because each sensing cell is in direct contact with the chemical being sensed, and the cell is in directly wired to the brain, the nervous system's response to smell is quick and powerful.
The olfactory sense is closely tied to the limbic system, which is the center of emotions, plays a significant part in the formation of memories, and affects our sexual responses. The olfactory region also connects to the hypothalamus, which in-turn controls the entire hormonal system through it's influence of the pituitary gland. One can easily imagine an olfactory sense receptor being stimulated by the mist of an essential oil resulting in downstream stimulation of the brain in a certain way - stimulating, sedating, relaxing, or otherwise - depending on the molecular form of the oil.
The beneficial effects of essential oils reach far beyond that of the olfactory sense and limbic system - bringing into view the true potential of Aromatherapy. The most promising use of oils is in the treatment of infectious illness, notes Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt, America's leading medical aromatherapist. Modern medicine is falling short in this area; overuse of antibiotics has lead to chemically-resistant 'super bugs', and a series of antibiotics tends to throw the delicate symbiotic natural balance of microorganisms in the human digestive system out-of-whack for some time. Oregano and Cinnamon oils are some of the most broad-spectrum antibacterial known - and while their use demands practical knowledge due to their powerful nature, they do not seem to create resistant bacterial strains or upset our own system's balance. Other oils (which are generally less sensitizing) work very well on some strains of bacteria and not as well on others - here, the practitioner's ability to match the proper oil with the patient's symptoms plays a critical role in the therapy's efficacy, as with any medical treatment. The proven effects of essential oils also goes beyond these illnesses - essential oils have
As the acceptance of healing with natural means continues to grow in the US, the concept of aromatherapy for many individuals will expand to include these important and exciting facets. More certified practitioners will be available to utilize essential oils to their true potential, and more 'end users' will aquire the knowledge to heal themselves with these incredible gifts from nature. Or should we simply push to change the name? Phytomedicinal Oil Therapy? It does have a ring to it...Hmmm...
*The FDA has not evaluated the statements on this website. The information presented here is for educational purposes of traditional uses and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases.