Marcey Shapiro, MD
Aromatherapy is a well-established branch of healing that employs the use of essential oils extracted from flowers, leaf, bark, or roots of plants for physical and emotional health. The term aromatherapy was coined by the French chemist Rene Maurice Gattefosse in 1937 after he observed that topical application of dilute lavender essential oil greatly enhanced healing from burns he personally sustained, clearing a case of gangrene. This was in the era of medicine prior to the widespread use of antibiotics, so it was a profound discovery.
Essential oils have been utilized since ancient times in numerous lands and cultures, including China, Egypt, India, and Southern Europe. Essential oils of cedar, myrrh, clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg were applied to the dead as part of the embalming process. Their residues have been found in tombs over two thousand years old. Aromatherapy was advanced by French surgeon Jean Valnet, who read Gattefosse’s book and was inspired when medications were scarce, to use essential oils to treat injured soldiers during World War Two.
Smell is one of our primary five senses. It triggers powerful emotional responses. We process information from our sense of smell in an area of the brain adjacent to the limbic region, our area of emotional processing and memory recall. When the scent of an essential oil is inhaled, molecules enter the nasal cavities and stimulate a firing of emotional response in the limbic system of the brain. The centrally located limbic system influences many other areas of the body and brain, including the nervous system and many hormone-producing glands such as the adrenal glands, hypothalamus, and pituitary. These in turn regulate stress or calming responses such as heart rate, breathing patterns, production of hormones, and blood pressure. Aromatherapy oils have been demonstrated to assist all these systems.
Aromatherapy is not generally employed as a sole therapy for anxiety but is a wonderful adjunct, for some, in relief of anxiety and general mood support. There has been much scientific study of aromatic essential oils.
Here are a few popular oils to quell anxiety, and next month we will examine a few others:
Chamomile Roman, Chamaemelum nobile
Emotional: Longstanding use as a peaceful, calming scent; helps support sleep and inner harmony; decreases irritability, over- thinking, anxiety, worry; and generally soothes frayed nerves.
Physical: Alleviates muscle spasms, is a good antiviral, calms digestive upsets, menstrual cramps, and restless legs.
Safe, except some small risk of allergy, especially with persons who have allergy to ragweed.
Clary Sage, Salvia sclarea
Emotional: Uplifting, soothing, and slightly euphoric fragrance that enhances feelings of well-being and connection with others and with the natural world.
Physical: Helps alleviate fatigue and muscle spasms, including bronchial spasm, so it is often used in blends for asthma. Used in many women’s blends for hot flashes and menstrual cramps.
Safety: Generally safe but it can increase menstrual flow, so clary sage is not a good choice with heavy menses or during pregnancy; also avoid using in estrogen-dependent breast cancer unless under medical advice.
Geranium, Pelargonium roseum × asperum
Emotional: Used for alleviating anxiety and depression, restorative, with a calming and relaxing energy. Balances mood swings. Often used in combinations with citrus.
Physical: Helps vitality, is antiviral and antibacterial, decreases bloating and fluid retention, antispasmodic. Used often for PMS.
Safety: Widely considered safe for dilute topical use or inhalation
Excerpted from Freedom From Anxiety: A Holistic Approach to Emotional Well Being by Marcey Shapiro, MD, published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2014 by Marcey Shapiro. Reprinted by permission of publisher.
Stay tuned for more thoughts from Marcey Shapiro, MD, on “Transforming Health” and Heart Centered Living