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Clinical aromatherapy fills gaps in health care.

Jane Buckle, PhD, RN, first became interested in aromatherapy as an intensive care nurse.

"I wanted to communicate with my patients through touch and smell," she says. "There is so much sensory deprivation in the intensive care unit. Scents and gentle touch offer an important way to communicate."

Based on her many years of experience and research, in 2015 Buckle published Clinical Aromatherapy: Essential Oils in Health Care, a peer-reviewed, evidence-based book on the clinical uses of essential oils. Clinical aromatherapy is the controlled use of essential oils for specific, measurable outcomes. Essential oils are distilled from aromatic plants, and the essential oil is about 100 times more powerful than the plant itself.

"In health-care settings we look at clinical outcomes such as reduction in insomnia, alteration in perception of pain, reduction of nausea postoperatively or during pregnancy," Buckle says. "These are the sort of things you can measure on a scale of 0 to 10 to see whether something has improved. The general public often perceives aromatherapy as a nice massage with a pleasant smell, and that sort of recreational aromatherapy definitely has its place. However, in hospitals today we observe significant positive clinical effects through the use of essential oils."

Her book is divided into 20 chapters that include clinical topics such as "infection," "insomnia," and "pain and inflammation" as well as clinical specialties such as "oncology," "mental health," "pediatrics," and "dermatology." Each chapter is followed by pages of specific clinical references. The contents page at the start of the book lists the academic experts who reviewed each chapter.

Any health-care practitioner who wishes to deepen their understanding of clinical aromatherapy will find a wealth of resources here. "I can't be an expert on every field, so I asked experts to review each chapter and let me know if it could be improved," Buckle says. "Most chapters only needed one rewrite, but I had to amend part of one chapter eight times."

Aromatherapy for All of Us

The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy, by Valerie Ann Worwood, summarizes an enormous amount of information on the practical uses of aromatherapy. Worwood, an international consultant on the clinical use of essential oils, has been chair of research for the International Federation of Aromatherapists, so she knows the subject in great detail. In this recently published book she organizes information about essential oils using clear language that's suitable for all of us. For example, she has written chapters on "gentle touch for babies and children and teenagers," "oils for sport and dance," "essential help in the maturing years," "major health concerns," and "fragrant care for your home."

One chapter describes a "Basic Care Kit" of 10 essential oils that are useful for a wide range of conditions. "Essential oils are versatile," Worwood writes. "The 10 essential oils in the Basic Care Kit will manage a huge number of problems." She has carefully chosen oils that are readily available and reasonably priced: lavender, geranium, thyme linalol, Roman chamomile, rosemary, peppermint, cardamom, lemon, Eucalyptus radiata, and tea tree oil.

In conversation, Worwood emphasizes the benefits that aromatherapy offers when combined with conventional care. "We now realize that the essential oils, once dismissed as old-fashioned, are in some cases more effective for certain conditions than even the newest of drugs," she says. "I believe in allopathic and complementary medicine working together, hand in hand."

For example, when we look at drug-resistant bacterial infections, we are close to running out of effective antibiotics. Essential oils can supplement pharmaceuticals, Worwood says. "First you look at the pharmaceutical medications and then tailor the essential oil formula to that particular patient, making sure nothing could interact with the pharmaceuticals."

Usually many different essential oils could be used to treat a given condition, so you can choose the best oil to fit a particular situation. "You can change the oils to suit the patient's condition," Worwood says. "If one doesn't work, you can try another, or you can blend oils so you end up with a mix that is appropriate for this person."

The 'M' Technique Soothes Severely III Patients

As an intensive care nurse, Buckle wanted to communicate with her patients through touch. She took a training course in conventional massage, but found it was not suitable for very sick patients in intensive care. "So I started to devise my own method of safe touch, watching the monitors, seeing what would happen to blood pressure, pulse, oxygen levels, and respiration," Buckle says. "Over a period of time I found the minimum number of strokes and the pressure that was most suitable for these patients."

She named this form of touch the 'M' Technique. 'M' stands for "manual," to distinguish this method from conventional massage. "This is a very simple method; anybody can learn it," she says. "It's very repetitive, hypnotic, and simple. Everything is done three times, with a relatively light pressure. In an intensive care unit, you basically want to calm, reassure, and relax the patient."

Plants Have Unique Chemical Profiles

Buckle emphasizes that each essential oil has its own chemical profile. "There are 100 different lavenders," she says. "Which one do you want? A stimulant, one that is effective against MRSA, or one that is calming? If I wanted an oil for sunburn or wounds, I would probably choose Lavandula angustifolia. If I wanted a calming, relaxing oil, I would choose this lavender that is grown at high altitudes. I can't emphasize enough that each essential oil has its own chemistry."

Worwood agrees. "When you are dealing with certain infections, it's very important to get the particular species that is known to be effective, since each plant species has slightly different chemical components."

Buckle herself routinely carries tea tree, lavender, and peppermint oils, because they are useful in so many situations. "They're always in my handbag," she says. "When I'm travelling on a plane or a bus I wipe down the surrounds with a mixture of those three oils, because it will kill every virus, fungus and bacteria, and it also smells nice."

Both Buckle and Worwood emphasize the importance of knowing specific plant varieties when using essential oils. After talking with them, I went to a local store to start putting together my own household kit--but none of the available oils were labelled with exact botanical names.

Buckle explains that clinical aromatherapists are able to buy botanically identified oils from specialized suppliers. "The best ones tend to supply only certified clinical aromatherapists, not the general public," she says. Now that I've learned how effective essential oils can be, I'm hoping that over the next few years this will change, so that consumers also will be able to find and buy the best, most effective essential oils."

In these two books, Worwood and Buckle are sharing information that they have each gathered after a lifetime of clinical practice and research. Using these resources, all of us can discover essential oils to help us deal with many everyday problems. However, Buckle emphasizes that to use essential oils effectively in a clinical setting, it's important to pursue a thorough training program. The company she founded, R.J. Buckle Associates LLC, offers courses in clinical aromatherapy as well as training courses and educational materials on the 'M' Technique.


Clinical Aromatherapy: Essential Oils in Health Care, published by Churchill Livingstone.

The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy, 25th Anniversary edition, published by New World Library.

See Websites for Additional Information

Elaine Zablocki has been a freelance health-care journalist for more than 20 years. She was the editor of Alternative Medicine Business News and CHRF News Files. She writes regularly for many health-care publications.


Please note: Some tables or figures were omitted from this article.
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Title Annotation:Pathways to Healing
Author:Zablocki, Elaine
Publication:Townsend Letter
Date:Dec 1, 2016
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