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Aromatherapy — Does it Work?

By Andreana Chou

Passing by the mouth-watering scents from local restaurants after a long day can often evoke memories of comfort food at home. But are scents universally effective across different people and powerful enough to cause significant health changes?  

While commonly regarded as a holistic health treatment, aromatherapy and its reported effects are a growing area in scientific research. Aromatherapy uses plant materials, particularly essential oils, to alter one’s physical or psychological well-being. Essential oil scents can range from the fruity citrus of the melissa plant to spiciness of nutmeg. The oil molecules are supposedly absorbed in the lungs, where they then enter the bloodstream.  

In the study “Linalool odor-induced anxiolytic effects on mice” published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, scientists found a notable correlation between scents inhaled and psychological effects.

Linalool is one of the components of lavender, a purple flowering plant known with reported calming properties. Mice who inhaled linalool experienced reduced anxiety, while mice with an induced blocked sense of smell did not. In addition, the linalool-tested mice did not experience anxiety-reducing medication side effects, which include headaches, sexual dysfunction, and dizziness.  

The effectiveness of linalool on mice presents a chance that linalool may also be effective in reducing anxiety in humans. Given that at least 40 million U.S. adults suffer from anxiety, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, aromatherapy may provide an alternative treatment with fewer side-effects than standard drugs.

Studies on aromatherapy come with mixed results — some conclude that essential oils have inconsistent or no effects on people, other studies confirmed that certain oils were effective in treating nausea or migraines. The linalool-mice experiment also has its limitations, since only male adult mice were tested and were exposed to the linalool odor for 30 minutes.  

There are plenty of difficulties in conducting aromatherapy research. One major factor is that essential oils are not standardized for they come from different plants, regions, and processing methods. Therefore the variability in oils makes it difficult to ensure standardized, valid research. The administering of oils can also range from oral application, massaging, or inhalation for various periods of time.

Since aromatherapy research is relatively new, each finding and method is instrumental in building a foundation for more clinical approaches of treating human conditions with essential oils. A great deal of research still needs to be done to conclude whether aromatherapy overall is an effective treatment.  



Essential Oils Directory: Essential Oil Properties, Uses, and Benefits. AromaWeb. Retrieved from https://www.aromaweb.com/essentialoils/default.asp on 2018, November 26.

Harada, Hiroki & Kashiwadani, Hideki. (2018, October). Linalool Odor-Induced Anxiolytic Effects in Mice. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience Vol. 12. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnbeh.2018.00241/full on 2018, November 26.

Hunt, Ronald. (2013, September). Aromatherapy as Treatment for Postoperative Nausea: A Randomized Trail. Anesthesia and Analgesia Vol. 117(3). Retrieved from https://insights.ovid.com/pubmed?pmid=22392970 on 2018, November 26.

Rodriguez, Tori. Essential Oils Might Be the New Antibiotics. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/01/the-new-antibiotics-might-be-essential-oils/384247/ on 2018, November 26.

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