Click play above to hear The Nurse Practitioner Show Podcast Episode 31 CAM: Aromatherapy – An Interview with Joyce Harrel, RN
It was stressful balancing the demands of going back to school full-time with working full-time. I looked forward to the weekends when my family and I would go to the New York Botanical Garden. I jokingly referred to these weekends as “horticultural therapy.” Eventually, I longed to be at the NY Botanical Garden more than time allowed. It truly did seem relaxing to be surrounded by nature. My interest blossomed (pun intended) into terrariums and transitioned into incorporating aromatherapy. I truly didn’t know if there was any science to support the benefits of aromatherapy, but who doesn’t love a good fragrance?
One day I had a severe headache and decided to try peppermint. Doubtfully, I placed a dab of peppermint on each of my temples, placed a few drops on a cotton ball and sniffed away (and prayed my co-workers wouldn’t see me inhaling a cottonball!) for about 20 minutes. I couldn’t believe it. Although my temples felt a bit tingly, my headache was gone! That evening my teen daughter, the lover of neuroscience, said it made perfect sense. She continued by describing how research has revealed the therapeutic benefits of aromatherapy through the olfactory nerve’s pathway to the brain.
For over 6,000 years the ancient Chinese, Indians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans used the therapeutic benefits of essential oils for hygiene, spiritual ceremonies, and in their medicines, perfumes and cosmetics. A French chemist, René-Maurice Gattefossé, discovered the healing properties of lavender after using it on a burn acquired from a laboratory explosion. This peaked his interest in essential oils; therefore, he continued to study their chemical properties used to treat World War I soldiers’ wounds, skin infections, burns, and gangrene. As a result, Gattefossé founded the science of aromatherapy. Although aromatherapy began to be used in the 1950’s by massage therapists, beauticians, physiotherapists, nurses, physicians, and other health care providers, it was not until the 1980’s that aromatherapy began to be more widely used in the United States.
Plant oils are extracted and distilled to create the highly concentrated oils, called essential oils. Essential oils are either inhaled or applied to the skin via lotions, bath salts and massage. Indeed, research studies indicate essential oils effect brainwaves and alter behavior. Aromatherapy most likely works by stimulating smell receptors in the nose sending messages through the olfactory nerve system. These messages are received in the limbic system of the brain that controls emotions. According to the Mayo Clinic, essential oils used for aromatherapy may help symptoms of anxiety, depression, and improve quality of life for those with chronic health conditions. Aromatherapy has been defined as “the holistic therapeutic application of genuine and authentic plant derived essential oils for enhancing the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health of the individual.” Used professionally and safely, aromatherapy can be of great benefit as an adjunct to conventional medicine or as alternative medicine.
According to the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy, the most commonly used essential oils are:
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis):
indicated for respiratory congestion, bronchitis, colds/flu, expectorant, expands and deepens the breath, energizing, clears the mind, sinus congestion, circulatory stimulant
Aromatherapy is frequently intertwined with massage and by chiropractic practitioners. In addition, aromatherapists may have training in other forms of therapy and healing. As with any contemporary alternative or holistic medicine, there are limited research studies in comparison to pharmaceuticals. However, the research is promising towards their therapeutic benefits. Albeit rare, consult with your provider regarding potential side effects of essential oils with specific conditions. Although aromatherapists are not required to take certification boards or to be licensed, many aromatherapists are members of professional organizations. You may contact the National Association of Holistic Therapy (www.naha.org) to search for an aromatherapist near you and to learn more about aromatherapy.
A special thanks to Gebauer’s Pain Ease for sponsoring this episode of The Nurse Practitioner Show™.
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