Aromatherapy is a subgroup of nature-based complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies, which includes herbal medicine. Aromatherapy is the medicinal use of essential oils derived from plants to improve physiological, psychological, and spiritual well-being. Aromatherapy is generally adopted by cancer patients as a form of supportive care for overall well-being. It is also used as a herbal treatment for cancer. It helps cancer patients enhance their quality of life by reducing stress, anxiety, pain, nausea, and vomiting associated with the disease and its treatment. Aromatherapy is done in combination with other alternative treatments such as massage and acupuncture, as well as with conventional symptom management treatments.
Essential oils are the aromatic (fragrant) parts of many plants that are located beneath the surface of leaves, bark, or peel. If the plant is crushed or a particular steam treatment is performed, the aroma is released. Essential oils are quite concentrated. For example, 1 pound of lavender essential oil involves approximately 220 pounds of lavender flowers. When essential oils are exposed to the air, their scent quickly fades.
Essential oils are made up of a diverse group of chemical components, including metabolites found in a variety of plant sources. Monoterpenes, esters, caryophyllene, limonene, alcohols, and phenols are the main chemical components of essential oils. They are volatile and can produce distinct aromas. Different types of essential oils contain different concentrations of each of these components, which are claimed to give each essential oil its aroma and medicinal properties. Every plant’s essential oil has a unique chemical composition that influences how it scents, absorbs, and affects the body. It is important to note that essential oils are chemically distinct from (fatty) oils like those used in cooking. Aromatherapy uses essential oils from Roman chamomile, geranium, lavender, tea tree, lemon, ginger, and cedarwood, among many others.
Aromatherapy has been shown to help with a wide range of symptoms and diseases. Aromatherapy treatments for anything ranging from acne to whooping cough are suggested in a book on aromatherapy for children. Aromatherapy’s psychological benefits (as a stress reliever or an antidepressant agent) and its application as a topical treatment for skin-related illnesses have been the focus of many research studies. On the influence of fragrances on the human brain and emotions, a considerable body of research studies has been conducted. Essential oils have been studied for their effects on mood, attentiveness, and stress and anxiety in healthy people in a few studies. Such researches have consistently demonstrated that fragrances have unique effects on human cognitive and autonomic function, as well as the ability to influence mood, general health, and alertness. These findings show that fragrances may be useful in the treatment of stressful and depressive psychological disorders.
Ways of using aromatherapy
Aromatherapists use a variety of techniques to apply essential oils, including the following:
1.) Indirect inhalation through a room diffuser or droplets of oil put near the patient (e.g., on a tissue), or within a vial filled with soaked cotton.
2.) Using a personal inhaler for direct inhalation (e.g., a small amount of essential oil floated on top of hot water to aid a sinus headache).
3.) Aromatherapy massage, in which essential oils are diluted in carrier oil and applied to the body.
Combining essential oils with bath salts and lotions, as well as applying them to bandages, are other direct and indirect techniques of aromatherapy. Distinct aromatherapy practitioners may have different recipes for treating certain ailments, which may include a variety of essential oil mixes and application methods. The types of essential oils used and how they are mixed differ depending on the aromatherapist’s expertise, knowledge and training.
History of aromatherapy
Aromatherapy has been practiced by humans for thousands of years as nervous system enhancers or sedatives, as well as therapies for a variety of different ailments. Aromatic plant components were used as resins, balms, and oils by ancient societies in China, India, Egypt, and other places. These organic compounds were utilized for medicinal and religious purposes. They were thought to offer physiological as well as psychological advantages. It has been used in cancer and complementary therapies as well.
Uses and benefits of aromatherapy
Aromatherapy has been used in particular hospital settings such as cancer wards, hospices, and other locations where patients are severely sick and require palliative care. Aromatherapy offers several advantages. It is claimed to:
- Manage pain and inflammation.
- Improve sleep quality.
- Lower agitation, anxiety, and stress.
- Relieve aching joints.
- Reduce chemotherapy side effects.
- Enhance digestion.
- Combat bacteria, virus, or fungus.
- Increase immunity.
Conditions it may treat
Aromatherapy can treat a wide range of conditions, including:
- Respiratory problems.
- Psychiatric disorders and psychological states such as mood, anxiety, and tension.
- Smoking withdrawal symptoms.
- Pain, discomfort and inflammation.
- Chronic kidney diseases.
- Menstrual irregularities.
Studies to prove the effects of aromatherapy in cancer patients
A randomized controlled trial looked at the benefits of aromatherapy massage on 103 cancer patients who were randomly assigned to undergo massage with carrier oil infused with Roman chamomile essential oil. Two weeks post the massage, there was a significant reduction in anxiety and improvement in symptoms in the aromatherapy massage group. The group that only had massage without aromatherapy did not have the same benefit.
A randomized controlled trial of lavender and tea tree oil in adult patients receiving outpatient chemotherapy found that lavender essential oil decreased trait anxiety and sleep quality, with tea tree oil having the greatest effect on sleep quality.
Patients with newly diagnosed acute myeloid leukemia who were hospitalized for vigorous chemotherapy inhaled an essential oil through a diffuser overnight for three weeks. Patients were offered the option of lavender, peppermint, or chamomile essential oils. Sleep, fatigue, lethargy, reduced appetite, sadness, anxiety, and well-being were shown to be improved.
In a trial of people receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer, inhaled ginger essential oil reduced acute nausea but did not reduce vomiting or persistent nausea.
In a trial of cancer patients who had needles implanted into a central venous port catheter and inhaled lavender essential oil, eucalyptus essential oil, or no essential oil, patients who inhaled lavender essential oil reported reduced pain.
When used as intended, essential oils have relatively few side effects or hazards, according to safety testing. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has accepted most essential oils as additives in food and perfumes, and they are branded as GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) by FDA.
However, some precautions should be taken when using them, as well as potential negative effects to be aware of, especially if you use prescription medications. It is not advisable to consume huge amounts of essential oils.
When essential oils come into touch with the skin for an extended period, they can cause allergic responses and skin irritation. When citrus or other essential oils are applied to the skin before going out in the sun, sun sensitivity may arise. Lavender and tea tree essential oils have been shown to have estrogen-like actions and to inhibit or reduce the effect of androgens (male sex hormones). In one study, application of lavender and tea tree essential oils on the skin for an extended period was associated with breast growth in males who had not yet entered puberty. Children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should use essential oils with caution and under medical supervision.