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Essential oils for
health and wellbeing
NYR Natural News
Our sense of smell is one of our most ancient senses. It affects our lives and emotions in ways which scientists have only just begun to explore.
Throughout history highly concentrated oils extracted from flowers, herbs and animal sources have been used to calm or stimulate the emotions and enhance well being. The use of balms, ointments and scented oils is even documented in the Bible. Scent has historically been thought to have the power to heal and repel evil and as such has played a part in religious rituals across many cultures.
For the Egyptians, it was part of the burial ritual and a symbol of status. The Greeks believed fragrance connected them to the Gods. The Romans used perfumes for seduction and herbs as aphrodisiacs whereas in the Middle Ages perfume was used mainly to cover up the stench of disease.
The modern use of essential oils as a therapy, however, began in the 1930s when the French chemist René Maurice Gattefosse coined the term aromatherapy. Fascinated by the benefits of lavender oil in healing his burned hand without leaving any scars, he started to investigate the healing potential of other essential oils.
During the Second World War, a French army surgeon, Dr Jean Valnet, successfully used essential oils to treat wounded soldiers and patients in a psychiatric hospital. Not long afterwards, Marguerite Maury, an Austrian beauty therapist and biochemist, elevated aromatherapy to a holistic therapy when she began prescribing essential oils as a remedy for her clients. She is also credited with the modern practise of using essential oils in massage.
Today aromatherapy is something of a catch-all phrase for a wide range of healing techniques – from massage to hydrotherapy to creating a pleasing ambience in a room – that involve the use of highly concentrated oils derived from plants and flowers.
How does it work?
Essential oils are thought to affect the body in two ways. The first and most obvious is through their aroma. Humans have the ability to distinguish between more than 10,000 different smells. But smell is a complex sense that involves much more than the detection of odour. When we breathe in an odour we are taking in a mixture of chemicals and in recent years it has become apparent that these chemicals can affect us in many ways.
Of all the senses, smell has the most direct connection to the mind and emotions. All fragrances, natural and synthetic, are able to breach the blood brain barrier (the protective membrane that surrounds the brain) and gain direct access to the limbic system – the emotional switchboard of the brain.
Studies have shown that inhaling fragrances can cause changes in both the circulation and the electrical activity in the brain.
Apart from their direct effect on the brain aromatherapy oils can also enter the blood system through the skin (for instance when used in massage), through the lining of the lungs (when they are inhaled) and, more rarely, when taken orally (this is not a method which is advised unless under competent professional supervision).
Once absorbed into the blood stream, the medicinal properties of the oils – whether they are antifungal, antibacterial, anti-viral or antiparasitic – can begin to have an effect.