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Over the course of the last half-century, aromatherapy, which is also known as Essential Oil Therapy, has carved a very fragrant niche for itself within the diverse aspects of modern holistic medicine. The term is defined as the art and science of extracting natural essential oils from plants in order to create a non-invasive modality that promotes the human ability to balance, maintain and enhance the health of body, mind and spirit. Coupled with the correct application of essential oils, physiological, psychological and spiritual forces combine to enhance and unify the healing process.
What Are Essential Oils?
Simply put, an essential oil is the essence of a plant that is extracted into a highly concentrated form via water or steam distillation, cold pressing or by a process called effleurage. Essential oils are a vital force in nature that have an important role in the process of plant pollination. They are naturally occurring and can be found in the seeds, barks, stems, roots and flowers of many plants. These oils can be intoxicating and powerfully fragrant. Their exact nature can never be exactly duplicated.
The delicate ingredients always differ in some degree from plant to plant, species to species and region to region. In addition to their intrinsic benefits and their beautiful fragrances, essential oils have long been used for food preparation, beauty treatment, and health-care practices. In the words of Nada Milo, MD: “Essential oils include biological compounds like growth factors, hormones, and neurotransmitters that are concentrated from the plant. Because different essential oils come from different plants, these components (and their resulting effectiveness) tend to change from plant to plant.”
There are many variables that can affect the composition of even the purest essential oils and the failure of any one factor has the power to affect the overall final quality of the product. So much depends upon the time of day, season, geographic location, method and duration of distillation, the year grown, and the weather.
Essential oils are molecules that come from plants and transform from their solid or liquid state to a gas when exposed to room temperature. When first opening a bottle of many essential oils, the aroma is more intense and can even be discerned from some distance. These compounds, due to their physical and chemical composition, rapidly shift through the air and directly impact the olfactory sensors in the nose. There are nearly 100 identifiable essential oils known to date and each has its own health benefits.
Aromatherapy Origins and Uses
Concentrated plant extracts have been used medicinally to provide relief from anxiety, stress, depression, and a slew of other mental and physical ailments. Specific origins of aromatherapy have long faded into the mists of time, but it is known that the ancient Egyptians were knowledgeable about precious oils, which they extracted from certain plants that were used in their embalming and bathing rituals. They also are credited with having developed one of the world’s first distillation machines and a process known as infusion, which removed selected oils from aromatic plants. One of the earliest is believed to be frankincense, which they burned as an offering to Ra, the sun god, and myrrh was the standard offering to the moon.
According to Greek mythology, perfume was a gift from the gods and many fragrances were named to honor favored goddesses. It was Alexander The Great who popularized the use of perfume in the 3rd century while during his worldly exploits he sent large amounts of plants, spices and incense to Greece to be incorporated into fragrances. The Romans adopted much of their knowledge about medicine from the ancient Greeks. Their love of bathing, however, expanded the realm of aromatics to enhance the pleasures of this daily ritual that so dominated their culture.
It is historically unique that essential oils evolved independently within diverse cultures. It is believed that the use of infused essential oils as mood enhancers originated in China during the reign of Huang Ti, also known as the Yellow Emperor, around 2697 to 2597 BC.
Much later in the 16th century, the Conquistadores discovered and adopted the wealth of medicinal plants and aromatic oils blooming in Montezuma’s botanical gardens. The Aztecs were well known for their plant remedies.
The Birth Of Modern Aromatherapy
In 1937, a French perfumer and chemist named Rene-Maurice Gattefosse accidentally burned his hand while working in his laboratory and discovered that lavender oil helped to heal it. He coined the term “aromatherapie” with the publication of his book, Gattefosse’s Aromatherapie. The book revealed clinical findings relating to the application of essential oils for treating a range of physiological conditions and was intended to both differentiate medicinal from perfumery applications and expound upon the many uses of essential oils for holistic healing.
By the 1950s, massage therapists, beauticians, nurses, physiotherapists, chiropractors, doctors, dentists, and other health care providers began using aromatherapy, but it did not become mainstream until the 1980s.
Industry Background And Statistics
Combined with burgeoning consumer disposable incomes, increased aromatherapy applications and the rapid expansion of food, beverage and personal care industries, the demand for fragrances and flavors made with essential oils is expected to greatly affect market growth over the studied forecast period of 2014 to 2024. Public clamoring for products such as basil, asafetida, jasmine, rose, cardamom, chamomile, grapefruit, lavender, mustard, thyme, menthol and other essential oils are steadily increasing across the globe. Other industry segments occupy over 40% of the total market share in terms of revenue.
The global Aromatherapy and Essential Oils Market was valued at over $7.5 billion in 2015, $4 billion of which concerned sales in the United States alone. In 2016, this US market was valued at $6.63 billion, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.7%. By 2022, essential oil revenues for the United States are estimated to reach more than $11 billion. High levels of urbanization and industrialization in China, Brazil, India and Mexico have influenced the extensive use of and increased the demand for aromatic essential oils. Burgeoning consumer awareness regarding numerous suggested health and sanitation benefits is expected to increase market growth in the coming years as well.
Some Studies Concerning Aromatherapy
Although essential oils are garnering new attention as an alternative treatment for infections, stress, and other health problems, strong scientific evidence is still lacking. Despite the inconsistency of findings as indicated below, researchers do believe that some studies have indicated that aromatherapy does work in some instances.
Recent research has indicated that sniffing aromatic flowers along with rosemary reduced stress in graduate nursing students during exams. Another study, however, found the sweet-smelling scent showed few signs of reducing anxiety in dental patients dreading upcoming procedures, though it did seem to lower anxiety in those experiencing more immediate stress. To confuse matters more, one of the largest studies on aromatherapy to date found no evidence of lavender’s stress-reducing properties when measuring heart rate, blood pressure, stress hormones, and immune function.
On the other side of that same aromatherapy coin, several clinical studies have suggested positive results. One study focusing on neroli found that this oil helped reduce blood pressure and pre-procedure anxiety among people undergoing a colonoscopy. Another concerning qualified midwives found that when essential oils (particularly rose, lavender, and frankincense) were used during delivery, pregnant women experienced less fear and anxiety, had a stronger sense of well being, and had less need for pain medications. Many women also reported that peppermint oil relieved nausea and vomiting during labor.
Another study concerning the use of lavender oil resulted in the support of a smaller previous one that indicated the 20 participants studied experienced significant decreases in blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature. A larger study also found that inhaling lavender oil for 30 minutes a day for women during the time of their period did reduce the severity of menstrual cramps. It has also been known to aid in improving sleep patterns.
Aromatherapy, Essential Oils And Their Place In Modern Medicine
Today, aromatherapy is practiced in many diverse settings that range from emergency rooms and urgent care facilities to health spas, hospitals, orthopedic, dental and medical offices. They are used to treat a wide range of emotional and physical applications. Depending on user experience and the desired benefit, essential oils can be used alone or in combination with others. In general, they are said to relieve pain, improve mood, and promote a sense of relaxation. Several essential oils, including lavender, rose, orange, bergamot, lemon, sandalwood, and others have been shown to relieve anxiety, stress, and depression to some degree.
According to Dr. Alex Tauberg, a chiropractor based in Pittsburgh, PA, “When you work in the pain relief profession, mindset plays a huge part in getting patients better. By providing my patients with scents that help them to relax it can play an important part in their overall treatment. Scents such as lavender have been shown to help people to relax and get them in a more positive mood. There is no question that one’s mindset plays a role in their recovery from pain or injury. Using scents to help get patients in the right mindset is one tactic that I believe is effective.”
Further, as reported by the Mayo Clinic, aromatherapy does have some health benefits. These include: relief from depression and anxiety, improved sleep patterns, and with use of lavender oil specifically, the reduction of pain from both kidney stones and osteoarthritis of the knee. The most studied aspect of aromatherapy concerns its ability to reduce or eliminate stress. Essential oils associated with this feature are: lemon oil, lavender, bergamot, peppermint, vetiver and ylang ylang. While each of these can be delivered individually, they are also blended to create unique layered ambient scents.
The bottom line seems to be that whatever the health benefits of aromatherapy are or are not, utilizing enjoyable scents can lift spirits, provide good positive feelings and aid in relaxation. One common routine employed at the Mayo Clinic is the use of lemon essential oil for headaches and mental fatigue, or mandarin orange to aid in restlessness, anxiety, nausea and insomnia.
How Does Aromatherapy Work?
Aromatherapy is believed to stimulate smell receptors in the nose, which then send messages via the nervous system to the sector of the brain that controls emotions. From emergency rooms, urgent care facilities, dentist and doctors’ offices to salons and health spas, essential oils are usually administered in one of three ways: inhalants, diffusers, and massage. Inhaling essential oils stimulates the olfactory system, which is the part of the brain connected to smell, including the nose and the brain. Molecules enter the nose or mouth pass into the lungs, and then to other parts of the body.
The claim is that they trigger positive emotions and calm emotional turbulence, but there is also the placebo effect to consider, as a person’s belief that the treatment will help goes a long way in influencing whether it will work. Deciphering which scents from which oils are worthwhile in each instance can get a little iffy (not to mention whiffy).
According to Tony Ferrari, a Ph.D in chemistry, “When you smell an essential oil, its constituents bind to receptor sites in the nose, which read the aroma molecules and send signals through the olfactory nerve to the limbic system and amygdala in the brain. ”There are more than 5,000 [aroma] compounds that make up commonly used oils, each of which binds in a different way to different receptors, so their effects can vary widely. In the words of Elizabeth Trattner, M.D: “Essential oils can be up to 100 times more potent than the plant itself. So their effects are visible with just a few drops.”
Ferrari goes on to say: “Oral ingestion results in ten times the amount of absorption into the bloodstream of an essential oil compared to topical application. This type of application is usually used for short-term treatment of more serious ailments, like bacterial infections. Some essential oils are effective against bacteria, viral infections and even cancer… Though this isn’t widely accepted by the medical community, there are actually quite a few studies showing that essential oils can cause cancerous cell lines to die via apoptosis. But lots—and lots—more research needs to be done before this kind of treatment can be considered viable.”
According to Nada Milo, MD, the ingredients contained within essential oils serve as triggers or switches inside the human body. She states: “An essential oil like lavender can stimulate olfactory nerves in the brain and cause downstream effects that slow down the central nervous system and induce a sense of calm. Essential oils can have complex biochemical interactions in the human body and different oils can create different reactions in our enzymes and hormones.” And just like a song can invoke a past memory, a certain scent is proven to trigger memories as well.
Air-Scent Air Care And Scent Machines
When dealing with the task of providing adequate air enhancement solutions to larger areas such as those found in lobbies, recreation areas, hospital emergency rooms, urgent care facilities, chiropractors, dentists and doctors’ offices, the size and scale of the intended commercial space will be the determining factor in the selection of effective ambient air care strategies. Elements of aromatherapy apply very well here, as the scents are strategically chosen from the finest essential oils to enhance the ambiance of an environment, dispel the concern and anxiety that usually accompanies visits to emergency care facilities and to combat unpleasant odors.
With 70-plus years of experience in the air freshening and scent creation industry, we have perfected the process of nurturing and the employment of essential oils to create the finest scents for the modern medical industry and have always remained a few fragrant steps ahead of the ambient air care game. We have developed three diffuser systems that can be tailored to any sized interior space. They are the Aroma Beam for medium to large areas, the Aroma Styler for larger areas and HVAC applications and the Aroma One, which is perfect for smaller spaces.
The Aroma Beam dry vapor fragrance diffuser system paired with Scentsia refill cartridges is an app-controlled, state-of-the art method that offers the best scent coverage on the market today for larger indoor spaces. Even more, performance intensity and time intervals can be adjusted to your preference simply through your mobile phone. This and other air-freshening diffuser systems with their aromatic fragrances comprised of the finest essential oils help to subtly transform any medical office, emergency room, doctor or dentist’s office into a less fearful, soothing and even calming place.
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