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Aromatherapy, or essential
oils therapy, is using a plant's aroma-producing oils (essential oils) to treat
disease. Essential oils are taken from a plant's flowers, leaves, stalks, bark,
rind, or roots. The oils are mixed with another substance (such as oil,
alcohol, or lotion) and then put on the skin, sprayed in the air, or inhaled.
You can also massage the oils into the skin or pour them into bath water.
Aromatherapy as used today originated in Europe and has been practiced there
since the early 1900s.
Practitioners of aromatherapy believe that
fragrances in the oils stimulate nerves in the nose. Those nerves send impulses
to the part of the brain that controls memory and emotion. Depending on the
type of oil, the result on the body may be calming or stimulating.
The oils are thought to interact with the body's
enzymes to cause changes in
blood pressure, pulse, and other body functions.
Another theory suggests that the fragrance of certain oils may stimulate the
body to produce pain-fighting substances.
promote relaxation and help relieve
stress. It has also been used to help treat a wide
range of physical and mental conditions, including burns, infections,
high blood pressure. But so far there is limited
scientific evidence to support claims that aromatherapy effectively prevents or
aromatherapy are not specially licensed in the United States. A wide range of
licensed health professionals (such as massage therapists, nurses, and
counselors) may have experience and training in aromatherapy. It is important
to talk with your medical doctor to see whether aromatherapy may be helpful and
safe for your specific health condition.
Do not swallow the oils
used in aromatherapy. Many of the oils are potent and can be dangerous if taken
Children younger than age 5 should not use
aromatherapy, because they can be very sensitive to the oil. Nor should anyone
use oils near the eyes or mouth, because irritation of the skin and membranes
People with certain chronic illnesses or conditions
should not use aromatherapy without first consulting a doctor. These illnesses
and conditions include:
Always tell your doctor if you are using an
alternative therapy or if you are thinking about combining an alternative
therapy with your conventional medical treatment. It may not be safe to forgo
your conventional medical treatment and rely only on an alternative
Other Works Consulted
Harris R (2011). Aromatherapy. In M Micozzi, ed., Fundamentals of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 4th ed., pp. 332–342. St. Louis: Saunders.
Buckel J (2009). Aromatherapy. In L Freeman, ed., Mosby’s Complementary and Alternative Medicine: A Research-Based Approach, 3rd ed., pp. 389–407. St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerKathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Current as ofMay 22, 2015
Current as of:
May 22, 2015
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
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