Information About Aromatherapy
Remember the heady fragrance of an herb or flower garden on a hot summer’s day, or the crisp smell of an orange as you peel it? These odors are the fragrance of the plant’s essential oils, the potent, volatile, and aromatic substance contained in various parts of the plant, including its flowers, leaves, roots, wood, seeds, fruit, and bark. The essential oils carry concentrations of the plant’s healing properties — those same properties that traditional Western medicine utilizes in many drugs.
What is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy simply means the application of those healing powers — it is a fragrant cure. Professional aromatherapists focus very specifically on the controlled use of essential oils to treat ailments and disease and to promote physical and emotional well-being.
The basic elements of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen combine to form the different organic molecular compounds that produce aromas. So far, more than 30,000 of these molecular compounds have been identified and named. Most individual essential oils consist of many different aromatic molecular compounds. In fact, the essential oil from just one plant may contain as many as one hundred different fragrance molecules. In nature there are thousands of plants, all with unique fragrances that are comprised of different combinations
Aromatherapy doesn’t just work through the sense of smell alone, however. Inhalation is only one application method. Essential oils can also be applied to the skin. When used topically, the oils penetrate the skin, taking direct action on body tissues and organs in the vicinity of application. They also enter the bloodstream and are carried throughout the body. Of course, when applied topically the fragrance of the essential oil is also inhaled.
There are three different modes of action in the body: pharmacological, which affects the chemistry of the body; physiological, which affects the ability of the body to function and process; and psychological, which affects emotions and attitudes. These three modes interact continuously. Aromatherapy is so powerful partly because it affects all three modes. You choose the application method based on where you most want the effects concentrated and on what is most convenient and pleasing to you.
Aromatherapy is actually an aspect of a larger category of healing treatment known as herbal medicine. Herbal medicine also utilizes the healing powers of plants to treat physical and emotional problems, but it uses the whole plant or parts of the plant, such as leaves, flowers, roots, and seeds, rather than the essential oil. Aromatherapy and herbal medicine can be used individually, or they can be used jointly to augment potential healing benefits.
Therapeutic Uses of Essential Oils
You can treat a wide range of physical problems with aromatherapy. Almost all essential oils have antiseptic properties and are able to fight infection and destroy bacteria, fungi, yeast, parasites, and/or viruses. Many essential oils also reduce aches and pain, soothe or rout inflammations and spasms, stimulate the immune system and insulin and hormone production, affect blood circulation, dissolve mucus and open nasal passages, or aid digestion — just to mention a few of their amazing properties.
Aromatherapy can also have a considerable influence on our emotions. Sniffing clary sage, for example, can quell panic, while the fragrance released by peeling an orange can make you feel more optimistic. Since your mind strongly influences your health and is itself a powerful healing tool, it makes aromatherapy’s potential even more exciting.
Many essential oils perform more than one function, so having just a half-dozen or so on hand will help you treat a wide range of common physical ailments and emotional problems. The beauty of aromatherapy is that you can create a blend of oils that will benefit both in one treatment. For example, you can blend a combination of essential oils that not only stops indigestion, but also reduces the nervous condition that encouraged it. Or, you could design an aromatherapy body lotion that both improves your complexion and relieves depression.
The Physiology of Scent
Essential oil molecules enter the body through the nose and the skin. Since these molecules are extremely small and float easily through the air, you can simply inhale them into your lungs, which then disperse them into your bloodstream. The blood quickly carries them throughout your body. Essential oil molecules are also small enough to be absorbed through the pores of the skin.
Once absorbed, some molecules enter the bloodstream, while others remain in the area of application or evaporate into the air. How much goes where depends on the size of the essential oil molecules, the method of application (massage increases absorption), and the carrier containing the essential oil, be it alcohol, vegetable oil, vinegar, or water. This makes essential oils perfect for healing a specific skin problem as well as the entire body.
The sense of smell has its own important mechanisms. High in the nose is the olfactory epithelium, two smell receptors about the size of dimes. The receptors pick up volatile and lipid-soluble molecules using tiny filaments called cilia, which may actually be able to identify odor molecules by their “shape.” It is believed that these odor receptors are coded by a huge family of genes to sense particular components of smell that produce a characteristic “fingerprint” pattern of activity in the brain.
From the olfactory mucus membrane, signals travel to olfactory bulbs that extend forward like tiny spoons from the brain. An electrical impulse then goes directly to the limbic system, which is part of what is called the primitive or “old” brain. Smell, it seems, was our first sense, and our old brain actually evolved from the olfactory stalks. Because recognition of smell moves directly into the old brain, it completely bypasses areas that control reasoning and the central nervous system.
Thus, it directly influences survival mechanisms such as “fight or flight” reactions and the autonomic functions of the body, including heartbeat, body temperature, appetite, digestion, sexual arousal, and memory — the functions we can’t control by will or reason. It also affects instincts such as emotions, attraction/repulsion, lust, and creativity. The senses of hearing and vision, by contrast, first stimulate the thalamus, which registers only warmth and pain. Furthermore, the old brain is directly connected to the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, and therefore to our immune system and hormones, which is why smell affects them so powerfully.
Damage to the limbic system of the old brain has been found to adversely affect memory and cause eating disorders and sexual dysfunction. Thus, medical researchers hope to someday treat such memory disorders as Alzheimer disease with fragrance. Other treatments being researched include those for fatigue, migraine headaches, food cravings, depression, schizophrenia, and anxiety.
There is so much more but i will blog on it more in the future.
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