For most people, essential oils are room fresheners to set a mood. However, for many millions around the world, aromatherapy is believed to provide true healing properties.
The essential oils from trees, flowers, herbs, and even fruits have been used for millennia to treat countless ailments. For both mental health issues and physical conditions, aromatherapy is often recommended by alternative medicine practitioners.
If you have considered investing in a diffuser and some pure essential oils, then this guide will help you to understand the science behind aromatherapy, its efficacy as a treatment, and the best essential oils to use if you want results.
Controlled Studies into the Efficacy of Aromatherapy are Limited
Aromatherapy is popular and used around the globe. Even if you haven’t used aromatherapy for the treatment of a medical condition, you’ve probably used fragrances in your home. Familiar fragrances can influence mood, and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support this.
While anecdotal evidence should not be dismissed, controlled studies are better for gaining insight into whether it is worth investing in aromatherapy as part of your healthcare regimen.
Lemon and Lavender Essential Oils Could Help to Reduce Stress
A 2008 study published by the National Institutes of Health sought to understand the relationship between olfactory (scent) influences, and mood in humans. The study also looked at the relationship between essential oils and immune function.
The study looked at two of the most popular and purportedly the most powerful essential oils available: lavender and lemon. Results were compared between both essential oils and water as a control. 56 subjects, both male and female, were used in testing throughout three separate sessions.
To ensure that there was no bias on behalf of the participants, scents were not identified beforehand, effectively leaving the subjects blind.
The study resulted in some key findings:
- Lavender oil, despite being presented as a strong mood influencer, had no immediate impact on the test subjects. This was despite their previous expectancies and use of aromatherapy.
- When lemon oil was inhaled after being exposed to physical stress, it had a positive impact on patients, improving mood when lavender did not.
- While lavender didn’t immediately change the mood of patients, it was found to be effective at reducing stress hormone levels in the blood directly after testing.
The results are far from conclusive, but they do at least provide some evidence that both lemon and lavender can reduce stress directly through mood, or indirectly by reducing stress hormones. This supports some of the claims of homeopathic and alternative medicine practitioners.
2003 Study That Supports Aromatherapy as an Anxiety Treatment
Another study that lends supportive evidence to aromatherapy was published by the National Institutes of Health in 2013. This study was designed to determine whether aromatherapy would reduce blood pressure and anxiety and improve sleep quality for coronary intervention patients.
This study is particularly interesting because coronary conditions can heighten blood pressure in most patients. Heart disease is characterized by the narrowing or complete closure of arteries.
The study noted that coronary patients are particularly anxious due to factors like physical trauma or discomfort from medical procedures, an uncomfortable environment in the form of an intensive care unit, and separation from friends and family. Patients also develop anxiety due to the uncertainty of their condition and the outcome of treatment.
The study referred to the anxiety levels of coronary patients as severe, making these patients perfect for this research.
The study found that anxiety levels in the group exposed to aromatherapy were significantly lower than those in a control group. The aromatherapy group also scored much higher when testing for quality of sleep. The effect of this therapy on blood pressure was less drastic, although the aromatherapy group still measured lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure when compared to the control group.
Researchers used lavender, chamomile, and neroli oils when administering aromatherapy.
This study is much more conclusive when compared to the previous stress study, however, the body of research remains low. From these two studies we can see that aromatherapy can have a positive impact, but without further study, most medical professionals consider the evidence to be inconclusive.
One extremely positive takeaway from both studies is that patients didn’t suffer any negative side effects when exposed to essential oils through aromatherapy. This indicates that the practice is safe, even in clinical situations.
Key Takeaways from Both Studies
- Lavender and Lemon both seem to be able to improve mood and reduce stress.
- Lavender has more evidence to support its use for treatment of anxiety.
- Aromatherapy may reduce blood pressure related to anxiety.
- Lemon, lavender, chamomile, and neroli oils have been used safely in clinical settings without any negative side effects on patients.
Should You Try Aromatherapy Based on The Evidence of Two Studies?
Medication that ends up in your pharmacy has undergone months and sometimes many years of testing. It is regulated by the FDA, and generally accepted to be effective for its purpose. Aromatherapy doesn’t enjoy the same widespread research and development investment. Studies are sparse, and as can be seen with the two mentioned here, they are often limited in scope.
Aromatherapy has worked, to some degree, in both studies. That is a fact. However, there are so many variables that it is not known how effective aromatherapy would be in other situations, and there are literally hundreds of different essential oils which have not been tested in controlled environments.
Aromatherapy can be recommended as a supplemental treatment for stress, sleep problems, and even when recovering from surgery or illness. It has been proven effective in a clinical setting, and you may experience positive results in your home. The key thing to keep in mind is that while aromatherapy can help, it should not be used as a complete alternative to prescribed medication or any treatments recommended by a physician.