Aromatherapy Essay

This essay has a total of 2479 words and 13 pages.



Aromatherapy is a “branch” of herbal medicine that centers on using fragrant
substances, particularly oily plant extracts, to alter mood or improve individuals’
health or appearance. The alleged benefits of aromatherapy range from stress
relief to enhancement of immunity and the unlocking of “emotions from past
experiences.” But skeptics cite a lack of credible supportive studies published in
reputable scientific or medical journals.

Scents of Well-Being?

“Aromatherapy” is a buzzword used by the cosmetics, fragrance, and
alternative-medicine industries. Although the method has ancient roots,
proponents did not call it “aromatherapy” before the 1930s. This expression
derives from the French word aromatherapie, coined by Rene Maurice
Gattefosse, a chemist whose book of the same name was published in 1928.
After a lab explosion Gattefosse conveniently plunged his badly burned hand into
a vat of lavender oil. He noticed how well it healed, and thus began the
development of modern aromatherapy, which French homeopaths Dr. and Mme.
Maury revived in the 1960s.

Proponents of aromatherapy maintain that the tools of the trade--wood-resin
distillates and flower, leaf, stalk, root, grass, and fruit extracts--contain
antibiotics, antiseptics, hormones, and vitamins. Some proponents have
characterized essential oils--i.e., oils that are volatile, aromatic, and
flammable--as the soul or spirit of plants. Indeed, one of the aromatherapy’s
premises is that essential oils have a “spiritual dimension” and can restore
“balance” and “harmony” to one’s body and to one’s life. One of its principles,
the “doctrine of signatures,” holds that a plant’s visible and olfactory
characteristics reveal its “secret” qualities. For example, because the
configuration of the violet suggests shyness, proponents hold that the scent of
violets engenders calmness and modesty.

Aromatherapy en-compasses topical applications of essential oils, bathing in
water to which essential oils have been added, sniffing essential oils, and even
ingesting them. Products marketed under the “aromatherapy” umbrella are
legion, including shaving gels, aftershaves, facial cleansers, bath salts, bath
soaps, shower gels, shampoos, hair conditioners, “body masks,” moisturizers,
sunscreen preparations, lipsticks, deodorants, candles, lamps, diffusers, pottery,
massage oils, massage devices, and jewelry.

“the most common aromatherapy field is aesthetic, the sense of well-being
derived from enjoying perfumes, scented candles, baths, and other fragrances,”
stated Jane Buckle, R.N.,M.A., who claims the world’s first master’s degree in
clinical aromatherapy, from Middlesex University in London. At the opposite end
of the spectrum, says Buckle, “is medical aromatherapy, also know as aromatic
medicine. Practitioners of medical aromatherapy include massage therapists,
naturopaths, nurses, and a smattering of medical doctors.”

The alleged beneficial effects of aromatherapy are numerous. Supporters claim,
for example, that essential oils from lavender or peppermint clears “negative
energy”; that essential oil from bergamot normalizes emotions; that essential oils
from roses or sandalwood increases confidence; that essential oils from
eucalyptus alleviates sorrow; and that patchouli creates a desire for peace.
Essential oils can have side effects, however, and even proponents warn about
risks. Essential oils from cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger can burn the
skin; ingestion of essential oils from pennyroyal can cause miscarriage.

Rapheal d’Angelo, M.D., is a Colorado family practitioner who began
incorporating aromatherapy into his practice over two years ago. D’Angelo uses
eucalyptus oil and peppermint oil adjunctively in treating respiratory disease. He
alludes to “studies indicating these oils not only have soothing properties, but
reduce mucous production, as well as possessing antiviral and antibacterial
properties.” But these studies, he adds, “were conducted in Europe, and the
degree of scrutiny and peer review they underwent was not necessarily as high
as the usual degree of such in the United States.”

Can You Trust Your Aromatherapist?

Outside the U.S. aromatherapy is widely accepted. In France, medical students
are taught how to prescribe essential oils; in Britain, hospital nurses use
aromatherapy to treat patients suffering anxiety and depression and to make
terminal-care patients more comfortable.

But the science behind aromatherapy is meager, and in the United States no
legal standards exist concerning education in aromatherapy, certification therein,
or the occupational practice of aromatherapy. Dr. d’Angelo is taking courses
offered by the Australasian College of Herbal Studies, a nonaccredited
correspondence school in Oregon who six-lesson aromatherapy course leads to a
“Certificate in Aromatherpy.” The school also offers certificate courses in
homeopathy; Homeobotanical Therapy, which centers on the use of botanical
tinctures that purportedly have been prepared homeopathically; and
iridology---so-called iris diagnosis. According to Dorene Peterson, the school’s
principle: “In the last 18 months, we’ve had a seventy-five percent increase in
aromatherapy students.” Peterson holds a “Diploma in Acupuncture” (“Dip
ACU”) and two degrees: a baccalaureate and a “Diploma in Natural
Therapeutics” (“DNT”) from New Zealand. She says her school has 400
enrollees, ranging from age 18 to 68 and including “professionals adjuncting an
existing career”: medical doctors, registered nurses, licensed massage
therapists, and some radiologists. Other students are planning on jobs in beauty
salons, in health food stores, and in the fragrance industry.

The American Aromatherapy Association, also nonaccredited and in Oregon,
offers certification based on attendance at two three-day meetings and
submission of a paper that includes case histories. The association’s courses
covers the use of essential oils as internal remedies. Another nonaccredited
organization, the International Association of Aromatherapists, offers an
11-month correspondence course leading to certification as an “Aromatherapist

Business Stinks?

As director of his Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, in
Chicago, neurologist and psychiatrist Alan Hirsch, M.D., specializes in treating
people with smell disorders. His passion, however, is investigating how odors
affect behavior. Hirsch's most attention-getting study focused on whether an
odor could affect weight. Hirsch had noticed that, after losing the sense of smell,
people's weight increased. He theorized that people would eat less if they were
subject to odors more often. For the study, 3,193 people were given an inhaler
that imparted an odor somewhat reminiscent of corn chips. At the outset of the
study the subjects' average weight was 217 pounds; some subjects weighed
nearly 600 pounds. Hirsch found that the more often the subjects sniffed the
odor, the more weight they lost. The average weight loss over six months was
30 pounds. Some subjects sniffed the odor more than 200 times daily and lost
more than 100 pounds.
Most researchers are skeptical of Hirsch's work. They complain that he doesn't
publish in respected scientific journals, that his studies therefore do not undergo
rigorous peer review, and that his experiments are not well controlled. Hirsch
concedes: "At this point, I wouldn't use aromatherapy myself, as a physician to
deal with disease. I don't think we're there yet. If I saw a physician using
aromatherapy, rather than tranquilizers, I'd say that's inappropriate at this
point." But Hirsch predicts that by 2010 aromatherapy will be a part of
mainstream medicine. "In the future, odors may be used to diagnose disease,"
he says. "If we ever find the odor associated with the greatest impairment, we
could potentially use that to diagnose the recurrence of disease."
Hirsch also describes more mundane purposes: "Maybe ten minutes before you
wake up in the morning, the alarm clock will spray a scent to make you more
alert. You'll go to the kitchen, where an odor will be released to increase or
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