THE BLOG

Aromatherapy: Allowing Scents to Heal Us

08/05/2013 12:13 pm ET

I find it interesting that although most of my patients are extremely open minded about alternative therapies, they very infrequently ask about aromatherapy. Often times, I think aromatherapy is only thought of for making our home smell nice or to enrich our luxurious spa experiences, but aromatherapy can be utilized in a medicinal fashion with tremendous healing benefits.

In my clinic of integrative medicine in San Jose, Calif., I definitely see the gamut of various health concerns, ranging from anxiety to high cholesterol to rheumatoid arthritis to insomnia to chronic pain to depression. In very few instances do patients actually inquire about aromatherapy, and this I find to be surprising. The reason I find this surprising is because I am asked about almost any and all other alternative healing modalities, so why not aromatherapy?

As I had previously mentioned, I think that too often, aromatherapy is thought of purely for sprucing up our home or to be used in spas... but that is not true. Aromatherapy can be used safely and sometimes quite effectively at home as a complementary healing modality as well. I am a huge fan of using healing modalities that may significantly help a patient with his or her health concerns, especially if it can be done with minimal adverse concerns.

Typically, I recommend patients use a diffuser at home and to make sure to keep up with maintenance of the diffuser to keep it clean. Patients may then choose various aromatherapy scents to address various health concerns that may arise.

Various scents trigger different emotions and sensations in different people. Most of us can attest to how our body and mood reacts to different scents and how it may transport us back to a memory of a pleasant or unpleasant time in our past. This amazing ability for a simple scent to bring about both a mind and body reaction is something we can use to our benefit when we are considering healing modalities.

When we are exposed to an aroma, the molecules are exposed to our olfactory epithelium, our nasal receptors. The transmission of this signal from the exposure of the fragrance molecule to our brain leads to interpretation of the scent in our brain centers, which involve memory, sensory perception, general processing center, and to a gland in our brain that mediates chemical secretion into our blood and other parts of our brain, just to name a few effects. With such intricacy of neuro-processing involved in our body's interpretation of a fragrance, it's no wonder that many patients eventually become staunch supporters of using aromatherapy to help them with a variety of daily health concerns.

If you are interested in aromatherapy, I know it can be a daunting task when you are first faced with so many scents that it is very difficult to figure out which one to use and for what symptoms. There are many aromas to choose from when we look at our options for aromatherapy. I always instruct my patients to try out the scents because as I had mentioned before, our perception of a scent is very personalized and has a lot to do with our prior experiences and memories.

In an effort to help you get started on this healing art, I will address a few common aromas for a few common health complaints. In order to simplify the listing of various fragrances for various health concerns, I will list the health concern separately and list some options for you to try in the store to see which one your body and mind resonate the most with in bringing you relief. The scents listed are by no means the only scents that will work for anxiety, if you find that another aroma triggers the desired effect for you since it is personalized to your memories and your special chemistry, you should ask your integrative practitioner on how to best put that scent into our healing regimen.

Anxiety: lavender, melissa, myrrh, bergamot, cardamom, chamomile, cypress, frankincense, rose, pine, vanilla, marjoram, neroli, nutmeg, patchouli, and orange/lime.

Depression: lemon, marjoram, neroli, peppermint, patchouli, rosemary, sandalwood, angelica, bergamot, cedarwood, jasmine, lavender, geranium, ylang ylang, and clary sage.

Fatigue: basil, angelica, cedarwood, clove, eucalyptus, jasmine, frankincense, lemon, neroli, marjoram, peppermint, patchouli, and vanilla.

Headaches: basil, chamomile, cinnamon, ginger, eucalyptus, lavender, lemon grass, melissa, marjoram, peppermint, thyme, ylang ylang, and clary sage.

Lung/sinus congestion: angelica, basil, cedarwood, clove, cypress, eucalyptus, fennel, ginger, hyssop, juniper, rosemary, tea tree, and marjoram.

Indigestion: lavender, juniper, lemon grass, lemon verbena, orange, peppermint, rose, rosemary, sandalwood, thyme, anise, fennel, ginger, and basil.

Menstrual cramps: angelica, basil, caraway, chamomile, ginger, clary sage, lavender, rose, rosemary, and sage.

Muscle soreness: bay, caraway, chamomile, eucalyptus, frankincense, ginger, geranium, juniper, lemon grass, lemon verbena, rosemary, sandalwood, patchouli and myrtle.

These are just some examples of potential fragrances or essential oils that may help with various health concerns and so are by no means the only options you have in regards to aromatherapy healing. I have to caution each and every one of you that if you do have any of these symptoms or any other health concerns, you must first seek evaluation from your physician for those issues to eliminate any major health concerns.

If you are told by your physician after a full work up of your symptoms that the symptoms are benign and potentially is something you will have to deal with in terms of lifestyle changes or management, then I would suggest seeking guidance from an integrative practitioner to help you with your aromatherapy options, as well as things you may need to do to alter your diet, lifestyle and supplemental regimen to best achieve an optimal healing outcome.

It may be surprising to you that most of us are already unknowingly experiencing aromatherapy benefits. As we go about our daily life, we are exposed to many scents throughout our day. Some create positive mood and thoughts for us while some provide the opposite response.

How many of you have smelled coconut or jasmine or roses and felt more relaxed and happy because of it? So, you see, aromatherapy is not so difficult of a concept to integrate into your regular healing regimen because your nose has been doing it for you all along as you are exposed to various fragrances on a daily basis. Now, all you have to do is to choose the specific scents that will help you achieve your specific goals for overall mind and body wellbeing... and your nose and brain will the do the rest.

References:

Keville, K and Green M. Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art. 2nd edition. Crossing Press. Berkeley, CA. 2009.

For more by Julie Chen, M.D., click here.

For more on personal health, click here.