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Aromatherapy did not become popular in the United States until the 1980s. Today, many lotions, candles, and beauty products are sold as "aromatherapy." However, many of these products contain synthetic fragrances that do not have the same properties as essential oils.

How does aromatherapy work?

Researchers are not entirely clear how aromatherapy may work. Some experts perceive that the human sense of smell may play a role. The "smell" receptors in the human nose communicate with parts of the human brain (the amygdala and hippocampus) that serve as storehouses for perceived "emotions" and memories. It is thought when someone breathes in essential oil molecules, some researchers believe that they stimulate these parts of the human brain and influence physical, deemed "emotional", and mental health. For example, lavender is perceived to stimulate the activity of human brain cells in the amygdala similar to the way some sedative medications work. Other researchers think that some molecules from essential oils may interact in the blood with hormones or enzymes.

Aromatherapy massage is a popular way of using essential oils for the reason that it works in several ways at the same time. Human skin absorbs essential oils and it is also breathed in. Plus, people experience the physical therapy of the massage itself.

What happens during an aromatherapy session?

Professional aromatherapists, nurses, physical therapists, pharmacists, and massage therapists is capable of providing topical or inhaled aromatherapy treatment. Warning: Only specially trained professionals are capable of providing treatment that involves taking essential oils by mouth.

At an aromatherapy session, the practitioner will ask about your medical history and symptoms, as well any scents you may enjoy. You may be directed to breathe in essential oils directly from a piece of cloth or indirectly through steam inhalations, vaporizers, or sprays. The practitioner may also apply diluted essential oils to your skin during a massage. In most cases, the practitioner will tell you how to use aromatherapy at home, by mixing essential oils into your bath, for example.

What is aromatherapy beneficial for?

Aromatherapy is used in a wide range of settings, from health spas to hospitals, to treat a variety of conditions. In general, it seems to relieve pain, improve mood, and promote a sense of relaxation.

Several clinical studies suggest that when essential oils (particularly rose, lavender, and frankincense) were used by qualified midwives, pregnant women felt less anxiety and fear, had a stronger sense of well-being, and had less need for pain medications during delivery. Many women also report that peppermint oil relieves nausea and vomiting during labor.

Massage therapy with essential oils (combined with medications or therapy) may benefit people with depression. The scents are thought by some to stimulate positive emotions in the area of the brain responsible for memories and deem "emotions", however the benefits seem to be related to relaxation caused by the scents and the massage. A person' s belief that the treatment will assist also influences whether it works.

In test tubes, chemical compounds from some essential oils have shown antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. Some evidence also suggests that citrus oils may strengthen the immune system and that peppermint oil may help with digestion. Fennel, aniseed, sage, and clary-sage have estrogen-like compounds, which may help relieve symptoms of premenstrual syndrome and menopause. However, human studies are lacking.

Conditions for which aromatherapy may be helpful include:

Alopecia areata (hair loss)
Agitation, possibly including agitation related to dementia
Constipation (with abdominal massage using aromatherapy)
PMS and Menstrual Cycle Related Problems
Pain: Studies have found that humans with rheumatoid arthritis, cancer (using topical chamomile), and headaches (using topical peppermint) require fewer pain medications when they use aromatherapy
Itching, a common side effect for those receiving dialysis
Ought to anyone avoid aromatherapy?

Pregnant women, humans with severe asthma, and humans with a history of allergies ought to avoid all essential oils.
Pregnant women and humans with a history of seizures ought to avoid hyssop oil.
Humans with high blood pressure ought to avoid stimulating essential oils such as rosemary and spike lavender.
Humans with estrogen-dependent tumors (such as breast or ovarian cancer) ought to not use oils with estrogen-like compounds such as fennel, aniseed, sage, and clary-sage.
Humans receiving chemotherapy ought to speak to their doctor before trying aromatherapy.

Always inform your physician if you are using an alternative therapy or if you are thinking about combining an alternative therapy with your conventional medical treatment. It may not be safe to forgo your conventional medical treatment and rely only on an alternative therapy.

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