Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Aromatherapy - definition

Aromatherapy is a natural holistic approach to therapy using essential oils.  Professional Aromatherapy seeks to foster relaxation and refreshment (home and spa use), to promote beauty and health (salon use), to maintain and enhance physical and mental homeostasis (self care) and to alleviate physical and mental disorders and to restore normal health (self care, professional aromatherapy, nursing, medical and surgical use of essential oils)

Aromatherapy answers the central question of how a body may be rejuvenated when the natural mechanisms of the body are aged, aging or broken. All however can and do enjoy the aroma of the essential oils used in aromatherapy for their own sake through the sense of smell. Aromatherapy is a branch, one of the highest, of essential oil science and use. 

The most common uses of essential oils are as preservatives and to lend flavour to food and drink. Most essential oil produced is derived from the seeds, flower buds, bark and leaves of Spice trees. The most delightful oils are the floral oils of Rose, Neroli and Jasmine. Essential oils are generally reckoned to be stimulating or relaxing according to their components. Essential oils also have some measure of antiviral, antibiotic and antifungal use as a result of the natural chemicals they contain. As the body is well adapted to tolerating and metabolising most essential oil components they form for a safe and sustainable natural product which can be commonly found in health food shops, pharmacies and online. 

By the year 1600 some 60 essential oils were listed in european pharmacoepia. Few essential oils are today listed as synthetic and heavier products with more certain and replicable properties have taken their place. However a tradition of natural medicine sprang up in europe centred on the use of herbaceous plants of the Lamiaceae and the fruits of the Rutaceae families in particular which remains. Other plant families too yield an oil in sufficient abundance or of sufficient quality to obtain a marketable essential oil. Today 400 essential oils are described in the forthcoming 2013 edition of Essential Oil Safety by Robert Tisserand. Safety and use are seen as inseparable considerations by aromatherapists. 

This herbal tradition was scientificifically investigated as far as essential oils went in the 1930s and termed 'aromatherapy'. Aromatherapy became and remains a distinct more convenient form of herbalism with applications in cosmetics, wellbeing, pharmacy and limited but precious medical applications. 

All essential oils are described by aromatherapists in energetic terms as having 'energy' or 'life force' a subtle quality which can be felt but not measured. This takes us firmly into the world of belief which some deny but which undoubtedly makes the world go around. 

Aromatherapy was quietly integrated into western cosmetic and medical practice and in the home as natural and environmental awareness expanded in the 1960s. As that awareness expanded into renewed spiritual enquiry in the 1980s then aromatherapy came fully of age with a better scientific and religious appreciation of the traditional use of essential oils for psychosocial wellbeing. 

Aromatherapy blends aim to deal with multiple conditions of mind, body and spirit. Aromatherapy oils are also combined with therapeutic touch in aromatherapy massage in areas from beauty treatment to remedial treatments. In an era where touch is ever more taboo the natural therapies salon offering therapeutic massage is an enduring part of main street. 

The practice of aromatherapy and reflexology are often combined in aromatherapy education. Reflexology is seen by some as a diagnostic tool enabling the gifted practitioner to detect imbalances in the bodies energetic signature. Therapists often acquire competance in a number of therapies. A course of aromatherapy training, with its anatomy and physiology, massage and aromatherapy components is seen as part of a firm foundation to develop the knowledge and skills required of a professional natural therapies practicioner."
The steam distillation process used to derive most essential oils limits the compounds derived to those containing carbon, hydrogen and oxygen and with a maximum molecular mass of some 400u.  

The oil can contain upto 300 differant hydrocarbon or oxygenated hydrocarbon components.  We can therefore say that an essential oil can be scientifically described a hydrophobic liquid containing volatile terpenoid organic compounds derived, principally by steam distillation of the flowers and leaves of the Lamiaceae family.  The Lamiaceae family provides all the most famous aromatherapy oils Lavender, Melissa, Patchouli, Rosemary, Thyme.  Steam distillation or expression of the fruit rinds of the Rutaceae family is also an important source of essential oil yielding oils of Bergamot, Grapefruit, Lemon, Mandarin and Tangerine.  Other essential oils, vegetable oils and natural extracts now are used in aromatherapy and natural skincare.

Besides aromatherapy essential oils find considerable use in flavour and fragrance.  Aromatherapists use the freshly distilled oil, with nothing added or taken away, for therapeutic effect.  Aromatherapists use their knowledge of the properties of essential oils to assist their clients with a wide range of conditions.  

Finally let me stress there is no evidence that Aromatherapy is an alternative to medicine or sugery.  Aromatherapy is much more wonderful than that.  

Aromatherapy does not give pain relief in labour.  However diluted jasmine oil applied during labour may well assist with delivery and reduce the possiblilty of post birthing problems.  Aromatherapy may or may not assist in the management of anxiety or dementure. There is evidence that melissa and rosemary oils may well assist in a clinical setting.   Medicine and Surgery have their jobs to do.  Aromatherapy has its job to do. They are quite differant specialities one addressing physical blockages while another, in the main, energetic or mental blockages.  Essential oils do find use in pharmaceutical preparations and are available over the counter or medically prescribed for particular conditions particularly of the gall bladder and intestines but that is medicine not aromatherapy.  

Essential oils too form medicine's last line of defence.  Their reputation was made in dealing with the feverish symptoms of malaria, ague, plague and other infections. These conditions thanks to public health measures and modern medicine are much reduced where before they were commonplace.  Essential oils remain potent against outbreaks of infection in a way that antibiotics cannot.

Aromatherapy may however be a support to medicine particularly to Primary Care for example in supporting the anxiety and depression which accompanies undiagnosed symptoms of illness and in Hospice Care where Aromatherapy may or may not be able to assist in the management of symptoms of cancer.  Remember if you are ill see your doctor!  

I stress the views expressed here are my own and not that of any organisation.

Ian Brealey

Ian Brealey

Frankincense gum
per fume - literally through smoke
Frankincense being burned
Analysis of Lavender oils - besides the principal components
linalool and linalyl actetate are 100 smaller constituents.



To me, there are several aromatherapies, which may or may not be linked - see http://roberttisserand.com/2012/08/aromatherapy-the-big-picture/ I can't agree that aromatic medicine is not aromatherapy - it's just one aspect, perhaps the most important one. I would suggest that holistic aromatherapy has never been adequately defined though.

Where essential oils prevent disease from ever happening this is perhaps not "therapy", since therapy and medicine could imply that there is a problem, or disease to be tackled. Prevention is difficult to prove, but there is a very sound basis for believing that some major diseases can be prevented.

People like Marian Tavares and Saloni Malhotra have shown that essential oils can be extremely effective in managing end-of-life pain, infection, skin lesions, discomfort and anguish, with aromatherapy sometimes accomplishing what conventional medicine could not.

Essential oils can relieve anxiety in labor, can relieve pain in labor, and also surgical pain.

We are now witnessing the emergence of essential oil treatments for brain cancer, diabetes, asthma, and life-threatening infections.

So while some see aromatherapy as only complementary, I see it is often alternative as well.

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