So How Does Aromatherapy Work?
Deep in our nasal passages lie two olfactory patches consisting of 5 or 6 million olfactory receptors, which make our sense of smell profound and discriminating. As many of us can probably attest to, scents often trigger emotional reactions. This makes sense from a physiology perspective because olfactory receptors are connected with the limbic system, a tiny part of our brain with great responsibilities such as regulating emotion, memory, body, balance, circadian rhythm, hunger, satiety, thirst and more. This is why some researchers hypothesize that aromatherapy works to alleviate stress by decreasing sympathetic nervous activity (‘fight or flight’) and increasing parasympathetic activity. This results in a more relaxed tone – lower blood pressure and slower heartbeat.
Aside From Stress, What Other Health Issues Can Essential Oils Help With?
There are numerous studies that now support the health and wellness benefits of essential oils. Researchers have used essential oils to decrease anxiety and feelings of depression in immune-suppressed patients such as those with HIV, different types of cancer or respiratory disease. The researchers saw an increase in white blood cells, which play an important role in immune response, when essential oils were used either by inhalation or topical massage.
What Are The Key Oils To Seek Out?
It depends on the context in which the oils are used. As we don't have enough scientific studies to support all of the health claims yet, at Anatomē we use aromachology instead of aromatherapy. Aromachology is underpinned by scientific evidence other than folkloric beliefs. These key oils are well known for remedying certain ailments:
Peppermint Oil: This is known to have a great effect on the gut. It has components that produce antispasmodic effects on the gastrointestinal tract and possesses antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anaesthetic qualities – all of which may be relevant for the treatment of a condition like IBS. There is some evidence suggesting these effects could also be applied to exercise, performance and muscle recovery. For this reason, we recommend using peppermint oil specifically to support physical recovery.
Lavender Oil: This is widely used as an anxiolytic (an anxiety soother). There are scientific studies showing lavender has a great impact on the brain. The two primary components of lavender essential oil are linalool and linalyl acetate, which may produce an anxiolytic effect, resulting in calming feelings and a more subdued state of mind. In our Recovery + Sleep range, we use four types of lavender – containing different concentrations of these components – to act together on the brain to trigger relaxing feelings and initiate sleep.
Lemon Oil: It’s described as an activating and mood-enhancing oil. It has also been touted as an inhalation remedy for respiratory tract infections. Lemon oil has been associated with increased heart rate and enhanced mental and physical task performance in human studies. This makes it a great mood-boosting option to try – perfect when you’re low on energy. That's also why citrus oils are often used and recommended to support muscle recovery and enhance physical performance day-to-day.
Frankincense Oil: Also known as olibanum, this has often been prized for its ability to treat stress, anxiety and reduce pain. Studies have shown positive results in cancer patients too, which is down to it being an anti-inflammatory agent.
Eucalyptus Oil: Feeling sick? Stuffy? Heady? Eucalyptus has a number of health benefits, but is particularly beneficial when it comes to treating colds and flu. You’ll find it’s effective at reducing aches and sore, painful limbs too.
Chamomile Oil: Along with lavender, chamomile is a great oil to use when you feel tired and need some invigoration. Blend it with peppermint or rose, or earthier ones such as geranium, black spruce and pine for balance and stability – it will really mellow you out.
How Should We Be Using Oils For The Best Results?
Typically, you rub them into the skin, directly onto the affected area, but you can inhale them too through steaming in a bowl of hot water. It’s often worth diluting them with a cream, bath oil or water to avoid any reactions. You can also add them to your bath – just be sure to fill the tub first, turn off the water and then add the essential oils. Otherwise, the hot running water will cause the essential oils to escape the bath itself, so you won’t reap the full benefits.
Finally, Is There Anything To Look Out For When Buying Oils?
Geography and weather conditions impact the benefits of oils. Focus on where they come from and make sure the process of extraction is the best available for keeping components intact. It’s important to remember that, while effective, aromatherapy is different for everyone. It’s best to find what works for you as an individual. Look out too for companies that state the purity of their essential oils.
*If you're keen to try aromatherapy oils, it's important to seek out advice from a medical practitioner or even your pharmacist first to ensure their safety. Especially if you're pregnant or suffer with exisiting conditions.