Printer Friendly


Smells can initiate physiological responses affecting our entire body and mental outlook. Such responses form the basis for an ancient healing tradition now called aromatherapy--the use of essential oils to cause positive changes, physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually.

In the July 2000 PN, Research Review addressed aromatherapy's ancient origins and modern uses. The information below continues with specific applications, including some for people with spinal-cord injury/dysfunction (SCI/D).

How Essential Oils Enter the Body

Although numerous ways exist to administer essential oils, the most common are through the nose and skin.

Nose. Volatile oils can affect the body through the highly sensitive olfactory system. When cells located in the upper part of the nose capture odor molecules, signals go to the brain's limbic region, a primitive portion of the brain. This region controls the body's basic survival functions, in part, by influencing key hormone-secreting glands affecting the entire body. Hence, a smell can quickly influence your whole body.

These actions are below the threshold of consciousness. Hence, the most important functions necessary to our survival are powerfully affected by smell--and we don't know it. You don't need to be aware of the smell at all to be affected.

The same is true for odors that bring disharmony and imbalance. For example, the pheromones of fear and violence can trigger the same responses in another person, increasing violence.

You can inhale essential oils in many ways: Several drops can be placed in bath water, in a near-by bowl of warm water, on a humidifier or light bulb, in the melted wax surrounding a lit candle, or on a handkerchief. You can also purchase inexpensive diffusion devices.

Skin. Oils absorbed through skin pores and hair follicles enter bloodstream capillaries and circulate throughout the body. Because you smell the fragrances as the oil is rubbed on your skin, it is difficult to separate from inhalation the synergistic effects due to topical administration.

Unlike many chemicals or drugs, essential oils do not accumulate and are quickly excreted from the body. Although some medications must be swallowed and systemically absorbed, locally applied essential oils bypass the stomach and liver and, therefore, are not compromised by metabolic alteration. They go directly to the spot (e.g., sore muscle, bruise, etc.) where they are needed most.

Because essential oils are highly concentrated, they are usually diluted before being applied to the skin through oil-based mixtures such as salves, creams, or lotions; alcohol- or water-based tinctures; or with a compress (a water-soaked cloth).


In psychoaromatherapy, essential oils either stimulate or relax the brain. Some oils can have calming and tranquilizing effects; others are energizing and can help relieve depression. These oils can relieve stress and anxiety and promote a general feeling of well-being.

In therapeutic aromatherapy, essential oils treat medical conditions. For example, they reportedly can fight infections, promote wound healing, reduce inflammation, affect hormonal levels, stimulate the immune system, heat the skin in a liniment, promote blood circulation and digestion, and lessen sinus or lung congestion.

Aesthetic aromatherapy focuses on beauty issues such as hair and skin care.

Aromatherapy can treat many ailments, including those frequently associated with spinal-cord dysfunction. For example, Aromatic Thymes magazine (Spring 1999) published a case study in which aromatherapy was used to enhance the health of a quadriplegic in the acute-injury phase.

Specifically, essential oils were used to prevent respiratory infections, promote mucus clearing, fight depression, and promote sleep. Although a few applications are listed below, the resources at the end of this article give particular remedies relevant to your needs.

Specific Aromatherapy Applications

Pain. Often applied through massage oils, lotions, liniments, or compresses, essential oils reduce pain by different mechanisms:

* Numbing: Some oils--such as clove bud, frankincense, chamomile, lavender, and lemon grass--dull pain by numbing nerve endings.

* Anti-inflammatory: Oils such as chamomile, geranium, juniper, lavender, marjoram, myrrh, rose, and tea tree diminish pain through anti-inflammatory actions.

* Heat: Some oils--e.g., bay laurel, bay rum, black pepper, cinnamon, clove bud, ginger, juniper, peppermint, and thyme--relieve pain by producing heat and increasing circulation.

* Brain: Some oils--such as frankincense, ginger, and lemon grass--interfere with the brain's processing of pain signals.

* Neurotransmitters: Oils such as birch (containing aspirin-like compounds), cayenne, and ginger hinder production of neurotransmitters that carry pain messages from nerve endings to the central nervous system.

Relaxation. Using chamomile, clary sage, lavender, lemon, lemon eucalyptus, lemon verbena, marjoram, melissa (lemon balm), myrtle, and petit grain (a citrus-related plant) may help relieve pain through relaxation.

Insomnia. Sleep-promoting oils--including bergamot, chamomile, clary sage, frankincense, geranium, lavender, melissa, mandarin, neroli (orange blossom), rose, sandalwood, and tangerine--can be inhaled, rubbed on the skin with massage oil or lotion, or used in bath water.

Headaches. When inhaled, a variety of oils--including lavender, melissa, peppermint, basil, chamomile, lemon grass, and marjoram--can relieve headaches of different origins.

Stress. Some oils--including bergamot, chamomile, lavender, lemon, melissa, marjoram, neroli, petit grain, rose, sandalwood, and valerian--relieve stress (even slowing brain waves).

Depression. Antidepressant qualities are found in some oils such as angelica, bergamot, cardamom, chamomile, cinnamon, clary sage, clove, cypress, lavender, lemon verbena, lemon, melissa, orange, neroli, petit grain, rose, and ylang-ylang (a tropical Asian tree).

Stimulation. Many oils--including angelica, basil, benzoin (from a southeast Asian tree), black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, cypress, ginger, jasmine, peppermint, rosemary, and sage--will stimulate and keep you alert.

High blood pressure. Oils that have been shown to lower blood pressure include neroli, orange, melissa, tangerine, rose, ylang-ylang, geranium, and clary sage.

Bacterial infections. Oils isolated from bay laurel, cinnamon, clove bud, garlic, oregano, savory, and thyme are powerful antibacterial agents (albeit potential skin irritants). More gentle antibacterial oils include bay rum, benzoin, cardamom, eucalyptus, frankincense, geranium, lavender, lemon, lemon grass, marjoram, myrrh, myrtle, pine rose, sage, and tea tree.

These oils can treat infections of the skin, bladder, bowel, ear, gum, sinus, skin, and throat. The infection's nature will determine whether the oils are inhaled or rubbed on the skin.

Urinary-tract infections (UTIs) can be treated with baths, sitz baths, and massages using certain essential oils. For example, a massage oil containing sandalwood or the tea-tree oils niaouli or cajeput can be rubbed into the abdomen and kidney region of the lower back.

Cuts and wounds can be treated with sprays or salves that contain essential oils isolated from eucalyptus, lavender, lemon, thyme, marjoram, rosemary, tea tree, or basil.

Viral infections. Often ingredients in cough drops and cold and flu medications, many oils also have antiviral properties. These oils include bay, bergamot, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon bark, clove bud, eucalyptus, garlic, geranium, holy basil, juniper, lavender, melissa, lemon grass, lemon, marjoram, myrrh, oregano, rose, rosemary sage, tea tree, and thyme.


Aromatherapy is a natural, gentle treatment that can be used as an adjunct and sometimes as an alternative to many conventional pharmaceutical medications. By expanding the healing armamentarium available to us, these oils have the potential to reduce our reliance on these pharmaceuticals and exposure to their side effects.

In other words, get well with smell!


The March, April, and May 2000 Research Reviews discussed magnetic therapy's various potential therapeutic applications. Although the side effects of such therapy appear minimal, experts believe certain individuals--(1) those with pacemakers or related electronic medical devices or (2) pregnant women--should not use magnetic products such as mattress pads.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the following:

Aromatherapy: A Lifetime Guide to Healing with Essential Oils, by V. G. Cooksley, Prentice Hall (1996)

Aromatherapy: The A-Z Guide to Healing with Essential Oils, by S. R. Masline and B. Close, Dell Publishing (1997)

Aromatherapy for Dummies, by K. Keville, IDG Books (1999)

Pamela Parsons, founder and editor of Aromatic Thymes magazine, helped develop this article.

Information for this column is provided by S. Laurance Johnston, Ph.D., 107656.2604@
COPYRIGHT 2000 Paralyzed Veterans of America
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2000 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Johnston, S. Laurance
Publication:PN - Paraplegia News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2000
Previous Article:MAKING SOMEONE'S DAY.
Next Article:Designed for Dignity.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |