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Aromatherapy: More Than Just a Pleasant Scent?
Date:4/25/2012

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, April 25 (HealthDay News) -- Aromatherapy is beginning to enter the medical mainstream, with groups as diverse as the American Cancer Society and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs touting the use of fragrance as a therapy that can complement traditional health care.

There's little evidence to suggest that aromatherapy can directly cure illness, but research has found it can help reduce a wide range of symptoms and side effects in some people.

"Many specific ailments can benefit from aromatherapy blends and treatments," said Monika Meulman, president of the Canadian Federation of Aromatherapists. "For example, insomnia, nausea, headaches and migraines, and aches and pains are often improved with aromatherapy -- just to name a few."

Aromatherapy involves the use of what are called essential oils, which are very potent distillations of the fragrant portions of plant life such as flowers, roots and bark, said Dr. Hal Blatman, medical director of the Blatman Pain Clinic in Cincinnati and a past president of the American Holistic Medical Association.

These oils are either applied topically to the body, through a cream or a soaking bath, for instance, or are inhaled after they've been diffused into the air in a room, Meulman explained.

Researchers believe that the oils trigger smell receptors in the nose, prompting the transmission of chemical messages along nerve pathways to the brain's limbic system, Blatman said. The limbic system is a part of the brain closely associated with moods and emotion.

"It's easy to see smells have an effect on the body," Blatman said. "Smells have deep emotional triggers in people."

Aromatherapists recommend using different oils for different effects. For example:

  • Lavender and rosemary oil are suggested for relieving muscle tension and anxiety.
  • Peppermint and ginger oil may relieve nausea a
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