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Lavender: Nature's Anxiolytic
The lavender plant, endemic to the Mediterranean, has long been cherished for its scent, therapeutic qualities and cooking uses. Essential oil of lavender is referred to as the "mother" of aromatherapy oils by essential oils teacher Salvatore Battaglia. Lavender's flowery, yet gentle, scent is subtle and supportive. Unlike rose or jasmine flower essential oils, lavender's aroma is not overbearing but instead buoys the spirit and assists in the rebalancing of physical and mental bearings. These reasons make lavender an excellent plant for overcoming symptoms of stress.
The term lavender is derived from its Latin root levare, which means "to wash," because of its time-honored use as a bathing herb. French cooking has long incorporated lavender flowers in its bountiful cuisine, primarily in the medley herbes de Provence. The flowers also provide a unique pollen source for local bees, resulting in widely-sought lavender honey. This simple evergreen has also developed a name for itself globally as an indispensable medicinal aid in a variety of therapies. True lavender, and its relatives lavandin, maritime lavender and spike lavender, are now grown in countries ranging from Japan to Russia to Italy.
Lavender is, by far, the most widely used and multifaceted of the common essential oils. Culling essential oil of lavender involves extracting lavendulol and ester lavendulyl acetate from the plant's delicate violet flowers. Whether cultivated at high altitudes or gathered in lowland meadows, true lavender is the most aromatic and powerful of the species and can be used with great effect in all essential oil applications. The plant's energetic qualities of balancing the nervous system make it a powerful oil for soothing nervous exhaustion, and its ability to cool the body enables lavender to combat fiery emotions, such as frustration and agitation.
Lavender's versatility has long been acknowledged by aromatherapists and naturopaths, but current scientific research is verifying lavender's ability work as an axiolytic, or anxiety-combatant plant. A recent study, published by the University of Central Lancashire, employed lavender as an anxiolytic therapy during a test conducted on participants watching an anxiety-provoking film clip. Lavender was taken orally in 100 or 200 microl doses. Researchers found lavender was responsible for reducing symptoms of anxiety in both male and female test subjects. Women were especially affected by lavender in 200 microl doses. Female heart rates were more controlled, and men elicited positive electrodermal response readings. Scientists concluded that decreased stress responses due to lavender indicate the plant is efficacious in dealing with low-stress stimulation.
"High stress" can certainly be an individual definition, yet a frequently shared experience of anxiety is waiting for dental or medical work. In a test developed by a medical school in Vienna, one hundred people, ranging in age from 18 to 77 years old, were given lavender aroma before a dental procedure. The resulting changes in anxiety symptoms suggest lavender can be a powerful, natural anxiolytic during times of worry over personal safety. The Kumugaya Geka Hospital in Japan conducted its own study on lavender in relation to patients preparing for gastroscopy. Researches established what they felt was an ideally calming atmosphere, including giving patients their own essential oil diffuser for use prior to and during the gastroscopy. Those patients using lavender elicited decreased anxiety levels, especially lowered blood pressure, again confirming this plant's ability to work in higher stress situations.
Recovering from medical procedures can also be extremely mentally and physically grueling. In order to test lavender's ability to combat post-procedural stress and recovery, NYU Medical Center implemented a test on twenty-five women receiving breast biopsies. Subjects were given aroma of lavender in their oxygen supply during post-procedural recovery. A promising relationship was noted between how satisfied patients were with their pain recovery and the use of lavender aromatherapy. This is significant, as control group subjects seemed to experience more discontentment with pain management post-surgery. A second study, at the same university, sought to determine whether lavender could be an effective pain management tool in laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding. Traditionally, opioids and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are administered to combat post-operative pain. In this study, lavender was used in conjunction with these medications to again test its efficacy as a pain-management tool. Researchers found lavender aroma lowered patient's dependence on traditional medicines, offering hope that this plant could be used with other medical procedures.
The central nervous system, both the parasympathetic and sympathetic systems, respond powerfully to lavender's soothing qualities. Because it affects the entire nervous system, lavender is capable of alleviating symptoms of stress ? raised heart rate, frustration, worry ? without interfering with our capability to deal with stressors that require immediate action. Anxiety and stress often find their sources in situations which are not always related to actual threats or emotional turmoil, but are instead simply turnings of the mind in response to feelings or helplessness or heightened expectations or fears. Discovering ways of calming stress responses is imperative for creating harmony in the body and mind. Lavender penetrates the central nervous system, making it a perfect plant for working with daily stress and also for pacifying our nerves at the end of a long day, when we so dearly need our sleep.
Lavender oil is easily combined with a variety of carrier oils for massage application, to create compresses, for dermatological use and as a salve or balm. As its Latin root implies, it is excellent when used in bathing, and it can also be used with youngsters. It creates a heavenly mood when used in a vaporizer or diffuser in your home, office or car, and won't likely offend others with its gentle scent. Lavender buds can also be tossed into gourmet cooking and add an intriguing aroma to herbal decoctions. And don't forget those delightful flax and lavender eye pillows ? if insomnia plagues your nights, lavender is your best ally. For daytime stress, keeping a bottle of lavender essential oil in your car or bag can neutralize a wide variety of symptoms that keep you from functioning at your best. Just stop, breathe deep and let this beautiful oil show you how to regain your footing once more.
Aromatherapy Research Update: Essential Oils Can Help With Your Smarts
Scientific research regarding health and medical applications of essential oils is going on regularly at universities and other facilities around the world. Many of these studies are immediately applicable to aromatherapy practitioners for improved health and well-being, while others spark interest in the potential of essential oils as a part of future medicine protocols. Modern scientific research is regularly confirming aromatherapy's practical medical applications! Here's a look at two important journal publications just released about direct effects of essential oils in the brain, reviewed by the staff at Ananda Aromatherapy of Boulder, Colorado.
These two are really interesting studies, as inhalation of many essential oils have been considered sharpening to our mental capacities. These have been thought to be more esoteric effects of aromatherapy, like the aroma just makes us feel good so we are a little more mentally clear. Now some of the biochemical mechanisms of these effects are being elucidated, proving it's not just all in our minds! Rosemary and Lemon are two very common, inexpensive oils researched for their ability to directly impact test scores of university students (in Japan at least), and reduce errors made by office workers (also in Japan -- thankfully, Japanese scientists are into aromatherapy). These oils are readily available, inexpensive, safe, and can be used in nebulizing diffusers (which output therapeutic concentrations of essential oil vapor).
In the first study, perfomed at the Institute for Environmental Sciences at the University of Shizuoka Japan, Tarragon, Inula, Lavender and Holy Basil were tested for their ability to inhibit acetylcholinesterase (AChE) activity. In other words, their ability to prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, the primary information-handling neurotransmitter. Supplements with this action are becoming more and more popular with regular folks trying to increase their smarts, and are used to treat dementia (Alzheimer's) by increasing the amount of acetylcholine in the brain.
Of the essential oils tested, Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) produced in France had the highest inhibition of acetylcholinesterase, though all the oils tested showed significant AChE inhibitory activity. All the oils were analyzed by GC/MS to find the individual natural chemical constituents of the oils which produced this effect. Of real interest is that 1,8-Cineol had the greatest inhibitory activity of all the constituents examined. Why this this interesting? Rosemary essential oil has long been considered a mental stimulant (we find in the office to be particularly brightening) and has been studied for this effect, improving mental focus in humans through a variety of tests. The primary component of Rosemary essential oil is 1,8-Cineol (it is also a major constituent of Eucalyptus oils, used for invigorating massages and steam treatments).
Also of great interest was that the effect of these constituents relative to their amounts in the complete natural essential oil was not very high -- meaning the complete essential oil, with nature's balance of the chemical constituents, was synergistically more effective than the singly-extracted molecules. This is a theme in aromatherapy: that the complete natural essential oil will generally have more benefits than a single 'active ingredient' extracted in a laboratory -- Therapeutic grade oils are those that retain the natural balance of the plant's, with proper harvesting and distillation methods.
While a single chemical from an essential oil may show a specific effect in a biochemical pathway, these molecules don't smell very interesting. A really fine, wildcrafted Rosemary essential oil is a pleasure to breathe in. Other studies have shown stress reduction (along with mental stimulation) occurs when Rosemary is inhaled, and it's well known that our brains perform more accurately when not under stress. The bottom line is that while it's a regular practice for researchers to examine single components of a natural substance to find the 'active ingredient', in general in natural medicine, and in particular with aromatherapy, the whole natural extract will be better for our health.
The second study very much ties in with the first, as it demonstrates the ability of Lemon essential oil to directly prevent dementia (Alzheimer's). The causes of dementia are not well understood, though some pathways are clearly documented. Toxicity from certain chemicals may lead to a breakdown in neurotransmitter systems, resulting in dementia symptoms. In research performed at the Laboratory of Nutritional Biochemistry in Shizouka, Japan, Lemon essential oil was shown to inhibit memory impairment from scopolamine exposure, preventing dementia. AND, as a final note of the study, the combined primary constituents of Lemon essential oil were shown to inhibit acetylcholinesterase activity! Lemon essential oil both prevents dementia and increases acetylcholine stores in the the brain.
How can you benefit from these studies? The best method is to find a cold-air nebulizing diffuser. These employ no water or other carrier, and make a very fine mist of essential oils that easily evaporate into your room. These are the only diffusers that create high concentrations of essential oils in the air -- enough to show measurable biochemical effects. A 'warming' diffuser or other non-nebulizing style will allow you to smell the aroma, though the concentration will be significantly lower. At Ananda Aromatherapy we've been trying Lemon and Rosemary together, along with a little sweeter oil like cold-pressed Orange, Tangerine or Mandarin. Lavender or Ylang Ylang might go well with this too, for a calming effect at the same time. One can set the diffuser up on a timer so it runs ten minutes every hour and run it all during the day. The oils can always be changed to other 'brightening' aromas, as they will likely have similar effects -- getting the mind sharp and staying sharp!
The Incredible Benefits of Lemon Essential Oil Aroma
Simple Lemon essential oil
is often overlooked for it's aroma-therapeutic effects, mostly as it's not very exotic. Lemon..."ho-hum, I've got lemons in the 'fridge"...but the idea of Frankincense or Helichrysum sounds like it might do us more good ~ in a mysterious sort of way. But all essential oils have their use, and lemon is at the front of the pack in terms of supporting mental and emotional health.
Lemon essential oil has long been used as a mental stimulant and brightener of the mind. Now scientific investigators have demonstrated some of the mechanisms for this effect. In Japan, a study has shown that lemon oil vapor (as produced by a nebulizing diffuser) has anti-stress effects by modulating both the Serotonin and Dopamine neurotransmitter systems. The conclusion was that lemon oil aroma has both anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effects. Other research performed in Japan years ago showed a significant improvement in mental accuracy for office workers inhaling the aroma.
Also recently published by other Japanese researchers shows that lemon oil actually limits the toxicity of scopolamine ~ a natural plant alkaloid with medicinal effects at low dosages, that shows neurotoxicity at higher dosages. Scoploamine overdose can cause dementia and memory loss. Lemon oil prevented these effects from occuring.
Lemon oil is easy to use, and very safe. It's aroma can be enjoyed from any diffuser, though it would be best to use in a cold-air unit due to the delicate nature of citrus essential oils in general. One can simply just enjoy the aroma as frequently as you like. Here are the studies:Study: Components of lemon essential oil attenuate dementia induced by scopolamine.
Zhou W, Fukumoto S, Yokogoshi H.Laboratory of Nutritional Biochemistry and G-COE Program in the 21st Century, Graduate School of Nutritional and Environmental Science, University of Shizuoka, Shizuoka, Japan.
The anti-dementia effects of s-limonene and s-perillyl alcohol were observed using the passive avoidance test (PA) and the open field habituation test (OFH). These lemon essential oils showed strong ability to improve memory impaired by scopolamine; however, s-perillyl alcohol relieved the deficit of associative memory in PA only, and did not improve non-associative memory significantly in OFH. Analysis of neurotransmitter concentration in some brain regions on the test day showed that dopamine concentration of the vehicle/scopolamine group was significantly lower than that of the vehicle/vehicle group, but this phenomenon was reversed when s-limonene or s-perillyl alcohol were administered before the injection of scopolamine. Simultaneously, we found that these two lemon essential oil components could inhibit acetylcholinesterase activity in vitro using the Ellman method.Study: Lemon oil vapor causes an anti-stress effect via modulating the 5-HT and DA activities in mice.
Komiya M, Takeuchi T, Harada E.Graduate School of Veterinary Science, Faculty of Agriculture, Yamaguchi University, Yamaguchi 753-8515, Japan.
We examined the anti-stress action of the essential oils of lavender, rose, and lemon using an elevated plus-maze task (EPM), a forced swimming task (FST), and an open field task (OFT) in mice. Lemon oil had the strongest anti-stress effect in all three behavioral tasks. We further investigated a regulatory mechanism of the lemon oil by pre-treatments with agonists or antagonists to benzodiazepine, 5-HT, DA, and adrenaline receptors by the EPM and the FST. The anti-stress effect of lemon oil was significantly blocked by pre-treatment with frumazenil, benzodiazepine receptor antagonist, or apomorphine, a nonselective DA receptor agonist. In contrast, agonists or antagonists to the 5-HT receptor and the alpha-2 adrenaline receptor did not affect the anti-stress effect of lemon oil. Buspirone, DOI, and mianserine blocked the antidepressant-like effect of lemon oil in the FST, but WAY100,635 did not. These findings suggest that the antidepressant-like effect of lemon oil is closely related with the 5-HTnergic pathway, especially via 5-HT(1A) receptor. Moreover, the lemon oil significantly accelerated the metabolic turnover of DA in the hippocampus and of 5-HT in the prefrontal cortex and striatum. These results suggest that lemon oil possesses anxiolytic, antidepressant-like effects via the suppression of DA activity related to enhanced 5-HTnergic neurons.
Study Confirms Synergistic Antimicrobial Effect of Natural Essential Oil Constituents
Here's wonderful evidence that nature is making balanced medicine ~ that the past ventures of western science to "isolate the active ingredient" in a natural substance, then use ONLY that is really not necessary. In fact, it's been somewhat wasteful in term of the energy requirements needed to single out the "active ingredient" rather than just use the whole natural substance itself...perhaps we're a litte biased here at Ananda :-) ...knowing that whole, true essential oils
are medicines, and made-made isolates rarely have the same wholistic therapeutic action.
In this study performed at Institute of Complementary Medicine in Zurich, Switzerland, the antimicrobial effects of the individual chemical constituents of Thyme essential oil were studied each individually, then together. It turns out their effects are additive, and the conclusion is that a natural balance of several active ingredients may have the greatest efficacy.
Study: Additive Antmicrobial Effects of the Active Components of the Essential Oil of Thymus vulgaris - Chemotype Carvacrol.
Iten F, Saller R, Abel G, Reichling J. at the Institute of Complementary Medicine, University Hospital Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.
Herbal remedies are multicomponent mixtures by their nature as well as by pharmaceutical definition. Being a multicomponent mixture is not only a crucial property of herbal remedies, it also represents a precondition for interactions such as synergism or antagonism. Until now, only a few phytomedicines are accurately described concerning the interactions of their active components. The aim of this study was to search for interactions within such a naturally given multi-component mixture and to discuss the pharmaceutical and clinical impacts. The thyme oil chosen for the examination belongs to the essential oils with the most pronounced antimicrobial activity. Antibiotic activity of thyme oil and single active components were tested against six different strains of microorganisms. The checkerboard assay was used to search for interactions. The time-kill assay was used to verify the observed effects and to get information about the temporal resolution of the antimicrobial activity. The degree of the detected interactions corresponded with the demarcating FICI measure of 0.5, which separates the additive from the over-additive (synergistic) effects. Therefore, the observed effect was called a "borderline case of synergism" or, respectively, "partial synergism". Partial synergism was observed only in the presence of KLEBSIELLA PNEUMONIAE. Additive antimicrobial activity was observed for the combination of the two monosubstances carvacrol plus linalool and thymol plus linalool as well as with the combination of the two essential oils of the carvacrol and linalool chemotypes. An increase of the carvacrol oil concentration from one to two times the MIC resulted in a considerable acceleration of the kill-rate. Thyme oil is composed of several different components that show antimicrobial activity (at least: carvacrol, thymol and linalool). The antimicrobial activity of thyme oil is partly based on additive effects, which might especially enhance the rapidity of the antimicrobial action. In addition, a mixture of several active ingredients that varies in its composition from year to year and from lot to lot as is the case with herbal remedies may be more stable concerning the antimicrobial activity than mixtures containing just a single active component.
Joining the Medical Aromatherapy Explosion
As consumers, we are truly embracing the natural health movement. We've taken a good hard look at our medical system, and realize there must be something better -- and it turns out that Nature has been offering it this entire time in the myriad forms of plant medicine. Using plants and herbs for healing has been happening the whole during the whole of human civilization. Researchers have now even discovered animals in the wild eating particular plants to cure their ills. We are now seeing an explosion of interest in "aroma medicine", the use of pure and natural essential oils as powerful healing tools. And these tools are readily available to you and your family to improve your health and wellbeing.
The body of scientific research regarding the healing actions of essential oils
has grown vastly over the last 20 years. A search on Pub Med, an on-line database of the US National Library of Medicine
, for "essential oil" returns 8808 results as of April 10th, 2009. The very first listing describes the anti-dementia (Alzheimer's) effects of Lemon essential oil
! The diversity of actual medical applications of essential oils is truly incredible -- more diverse than just the plants themselves, as many essential oils have multiple applications. The inhalation of lemon has been shown to improve mood, improve mental accuracy and even act as an antimicrobial, perfect for general household cleaning.
A few other very notable scientific results: Clove essential oil
has the highest ORAC value (an assay of anti-oxidant activity) of any plant material ever tested, with a figure of over 100,000 -- most "superfoods" are in the 5,000 to 20,000 range. Many, many studies have confirmed the stress-reducing effects of essential oils: Lavender repeatedly shows a calming effect, it helps folks sleep as well as the most prevalent prescription sedative drugs, and actually lessens animal aggression. In case you don't care for Lavender, Sandalwood has these same effects with a more earthy aroma. The simple inhalation -- what many of us might really think of when we hear the term "aromatherapy" -- of Lavender and Rosemary essential oils results in lower Cortisol (stress hormone) levels and increased quenching of oxidative radicals by our own body's defense systems. The complimentary effects are amazing: just the scent of these natural aromatics reduce physical markers of stress AND increase the action of the body's anti-aging protection mechanism.
Perhaps the most important effects of all are those seen in the treatment of serious illnesses. Many modern medical aromatherapists believe the greatest promise of essential oils still lay in the development of protocols for treatment of infectious disease. The MRSA "superbug", referring to one of several strains of Staphylococcus bacteria that are resistant to the powerful antibiotic drug Methicillin, has become an overwhelming problem in the world's hospitals. Folks go in for care of one condition, and while their immune defenses are low, they come down with an infection that's very hard to cure (because man-made antibiotics don't work). Enter essential oils: Pub Med is filled with studies showing the efficacy of essential oils like Tea Tree
against MRSA (particularly when combined with another potent natural antibacterial, Grapefruit Seed Extract).
Future medical applications even include treatment of Cancer, the most feared disease of all. Natural medicine doctors have been admonished for years by proclaiming that "nature has a cure", yet the body of evidence continues to grow with the many studies showing the anti-tumorial action of oils like Frankincense
. These plants have been used for centuries for healing -- now, the essential oils offer us very concentrated medicine that happens to be very compatible with our physiology. Essential oils easily penetrate our cell membranes, travel safely through our bloodstreams, and can play a dual role of eradicating tumors while enhancing the ability of our immune system to do its job (other studies are showing essential oils actually "tune" the electrical state of our white blood cells such that they do a better job of removing unwanted microbes from our bodies).
It's important to note that essential oils don't just effect serious medical conditions -- they have a place in our everyday lives, too. Tea Tree essential oil is a wonderful, effective antibiotic, especially useful when combined with soothing Lavender
for childhood cuts and scrapes (if you're tough, just use the Tea Tree to prevent infections). Essential oils have been shown to reduce bacteria in the mouth which reduce tooth decay. Helichrysum essential oil is one of the most profound pain relievers and inflammation-reducers for muscular injuries, and makes small kitchen burns heal almost instantly (just a drop on that little hot spot and you'll be quickly convinced!). Sea Buckthorn
heals wounds and reduces wrinkles. Chamomile
have been used for years in Europe to soothe the traumas of childhood, and lend a hand to parental sanity. The scent of many pure essential oils just makes folks happier (and it's important to note this same results do not occur with "fragrances", a term for man-made smells -- they do not have the same make-up as natural plant aromatics do -- and in fact, many people are allergic to them).
So how do you get started? Which are the best oils for you and your family? There are a great many books on the subject
, and you can find a general theme to get yourself started: Medical Aromatherapy and Advanced Aromatherapy are titles by Doctor Kurt Schnaubelt, many books by Valerie Worwood help you enrich your life and the lives of your children with essential oils. There's books for blending for skin care, hair care, pet care, home care, emotional healing and more. Further, if you or someone you know is truly ill, seek out a skilled, knowledgeable practitioner that can help you develop an aroma-therapy protocol (which, with all of natural medicine, will work in combination with diet and lifestyle changes to bring about optimum health and wellness). Someone with many years of experience with essential oils will be your best ally in making your world a better place with the brilliant healing powers of essential oils -- at the same time, getting started is fun and easy just by picking a few oils that sound right for you, and introducing them into your life just as you need them.
A Great New Carrier Oil: Fractionated Coconut
Ananda Aromatherapy has just added a wonderful carrier oil
with a very diverse list of applications: Fractionated Coconut oil. Yes, our reaction was a little strange too: "Fractionated"? Is that good? Yes, now we can use this excellent carrier oil ~ which is typically solid at room temperature ~ for all our aromatherapy needs.
Fractionation is simply the process of separating the shorter and longer molecular chain 'fractions' of the oil. In the case of coconut, we keep the shorter chains, which then remain liquid at temperatures we use for therapeutic needs. These shorter chains are technically called 'Medium Chain Triglicerides'. These molecules are the most stable of all in coconut oil, and have a virtually limitless 'shelf life' ~ a great benefit when blending, as your natural perfumes or therapeutic creations will retain their freshness for some time.
Coconut oil has a long list of health benefits: it is an excellent skin moisturizer, suitable for most skin types. It is very hydrating and easily absorbed ~ particularly the 'medium chain fraction'. The oil is beginning to be used by Naturopaths for dermatitis of all types, and used generally for dry skin. Interestingly, it has been noted that the oil is very similar to human subcutaneous fat; its processing actually makes it closer to our own body's natural makeup! Consuming the oil as a nutritional supplement has been a practice of athletes for many years, as it actually increases the body's rate of fat burning.
Coconut also has a lovely light feel, fast becoming appreciated by massage therapists. It doesn't leave stains on fabric after washing, so when used in your topical aromatherapy blends, there's no need to worry about oil on your clothing (though some essential oils
like Rose Absolute
, Blue Tansy
or Sea Buckthorn Berry
are naturally pigmented, so you might want to check these out individually if using a deeply colored essential oil).
Fractionated coconut oil is THE carrier of choice for natural perfumers. It has virtually no aroma of its own, and with the light clear texture and long shelf life, makes a perfect vehicle to 'carry' your aromatic creations. (Jojoba oil is also an excellent choice, particularly if seeking an oil that will be a little thicker ~ though it too has little aroma of its own and is very stable).
Use Fractionated Coconut in your topical aromatherapy massage blends, reflexology formulas and other therapeutic recipes as you would any other carrier. It will blend with other carriers with specific therapeutic uses as well, like Tamanu, Rosehip seed and the like.