Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine that uses essential oils from plants to support and balance one’s mood, cognitive, psychological and physical wellbeing. Aromatherapists utilize blends of therapeutic essential oils that can be issued through topical application, massage, inhalation or water immersion to stimulate a desired response.
Essential oils (also known as volatile oils) are the basic materials of aromatherapy. They are made from fragrant essences found in many plants particularly the leaves, bark, root, flowers, berries, wood, seeds or peel. When essences are extracted from plants in natural ways, they become essential oils. They may be distilled with steam and/or water, or mechanically pressed. Oils that are made with chemical processes are not considered true essential oils.
Each oil contains its own mix of active ingredients, and this mix determines what the oil is used for. Some oils are used to promote physical healing — for example, to treat swelling or fungal infections. Others are used for their emotional value — they may enhance relaxation or make a room smell pleasant. Orange blossom oil, for example, contains a large amount of an active ingredient that is thought to be calming.
Each type of essential oil has a different chemical composition that affects how it smells, how it is absorbed, and how it is used by the body. Essential oils are very volatile and highly flammable so they should never be used near an open flame. They also evaporate quickly when they are exposed to open air. Some essential oils used in aromatherapy would be: chamomile, geranium, lavender, tea tree, lemon, cedarwood, peppermint, jasmine, bergamot, and coconut.
The use of essential oils for therapeutic, spiritual, hygienic and ritualistic purposes goes back to a number of ancient civilizations including the Chinese, Native Americans, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans who used them in cosmetics, perfumes and drugs.
Aromatherapy is rarely suggested as a treatment for cancer, but rather as a form of supportive care to manage symptoms of cancer or side effects of cancer treatment. More recently aromatherapy has been used by patients with cancer in hopes of improving quality of life and reducing stress and anxiety. Aromatherapy may be combined with other complementary treatments like massage therapy and acupuncture, as well as with standard treatments.
Safety testing on essential oils shows very few bad side effects or risks when they are used as directed. However, but very rarely sometimes aromatherapy may cause a rash, asthma, or a headache.
Now that we have a basic understanding of aromatherapy, let’s check out this study. Sixty-six patients with colorectal cancer were enrolled in a single-blind, randomized-controlled trial. The treatment plan for one group consisted of three light massage sessions with ginger and coconut oil over a 1 week period. The other (control) group received standard supportive care only.
The main finding was that lymphocyte (white cell) count was significantly higher in the treatment group than in the control group. The size of this difference suggested that aromatherapy with massage could boost lymphocyte numbers by 11%. The secondary outcomes were that fatigue, pain and stress were significantly lower in the massage group than in the standard care control group.
Researchers commented “Aromatherapy with light massage can be beneficial for the immune systems of cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy by increasing the number of lymphocytes and can help to reduce the severity of common symptoms.”