What is Aromatherapy?

     Aromatherapy is an intervention that I not only use personally for myself and my family but also for my patients and clients. I wanted to share an excerpt from my new book that will launch an innovative dementia care model in Spring 2021, being published by Johns Hopkins University.

    ‘Aromatherapy is a relatively safe, all-natural use of essential oils to provide healing of the mind, body, and spirit. Essential oil use can be a form of olfactory, gustatory (taste), and tactile (touch) stimulation. Although research has shown that smell may decrease as Alzheimer disease progresses, the nose is still an entry way for the sensory stimuli of essential oils because the nasal cavity and nerve cells in the nasal lining are the closest entry to the limbic system. This connection between the sense of smell and the limbic system accounts for influence of essential oils on mood and memory. When using essential oils, they want to restore the body back to its natural balance. For example, if you’re feeling sad, they will help you feel content; if you are feeling anxious, they will help relax you. Essential oils work on a cellular level, entering the bloodstream, penetrating the cells in your body that need them the most and even stimulating release of neurotransmitters in the brain.

      Essential oils easily can be diffused in the air, placed on stoned jewelry, or applied to pulse points around the neck and wrist areas, like perfume or cologne. When diffusing them, always use distilled or filtered water in your diffuser. Diffusing breaks down the liquid into smaller particles, allowing them to pass through the blood brain barrier. We wouldn’t want the ‘stuff’ that’s in our tap water getting into our brain. When applying essential oils to the skin, mix them with a carrier oil before application to ensure safe and effective use. This cuts down on the likelihood of the most common side effect, which can be a rash, and it drives the oil deeper into the skin allowing for a faster and more effective reaction for the intent you are using the oil. If ingesting, research which essential oils can be taken orally, because not all oils should be ingested. However, ingesting is a great systemic benefit and has shown positive effects on certain neurotransmitters in the brain. Because some oils may interact with certain medications, and thus should not be used if a person is taking that medicine, it is best to work with someone who is very knowledgeable about using essential oils, just as you would work with a doctor when taking medications. Also, ensure you use a reputable product–do your research! Make sure the company is backed by the Aromatic Plant Research Center (APRC), which provides research, analysis, and testing services to medical, university, and broader essential oil communities around the world. When backed by the APRC, you, as a consumer, can look up exactly what is in each bottle before using. This ensures that what you’re using is the real thing.

         Essential oils work more quickly than medication taken by mouth. When inhaled, "the absorption of essential oils by the nose is as fast as an intravenous injection [of medication]," said Gerhard Buchbauer, a professor of pharmaceutical chemistry at the University of Vienna in Austria, who has researched and documented about the chemical compounds used in aromatherapy. Within 20 seconds of inhaling, an essential oil will start to do it’s magic. With skin application, it takes up to 15 minutes for essential oils to reach the bloodstream, which is also faster than most medications taken by mouth that have to go through the digestive system. With either use, the entire body will be treated within 10-30 minutes! Ingesting will work similarly to ingesting medications.

     Many clinical trials support the effectiveness of essential oils, including lavender and cedar for reducing anxiety, peppermint for stimulation, and rosemary for long-term memory Essential oils can also be used to entice appetite, reduce anxiety, help with sleep, increase energy, improve attention and concentration, and much more. You may be using an essential oil for one reason but then also receive upwards of 35 other health benefits. Medication is quite the opposite—you take medication for a particular reason but may also experience 35 side effects. A published review from 2019 provides an excellent summary of studies supporting the therapeutic use of essential oils in people with Alzheimer disease specifically.’

     If aromatherapy is of interest for yourself, family or patients, ensure you work with someone who knows about use and benefits. Essential oils can renovate your medicine, cosmetic, and cleaning cabinets!

                                                                                     -- Dr. Jennifer Stelter


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