About Aromatherapy

 

Aromatherapy, also referred to as Essential Oil therapy, can be defined as the art and science of utilizing naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize and promote the health of body, mind and spirit. Essential oils are aromatic volatile liquids distilled from plant matter, such as stems, branches, fruits, seeds, roots, barks, needles, leaves etc. During the distillation process, the vapors are condensed, collected, and separated from the condensation water (the residual water contains traces of oil properties and are called “hydrosol”, having their own therapeutic benefits). Chemically spoken, essential oils are mixtures of hundreds of components that can subdivided into two distinct groups of chemical constituents: the hydrocarbons, which are made up almost entirely of terpenes, and the oxygenated compounds thereof, which are mainly esters, aldehydes, ketones, alcohols, phenols, ethers and oxides.

As an example, take a look at the Chromatogram report of the Lavender oil that Martina is using, provided by Dr. Pappas at Essential Oil University. There are about 60 identifiable components listed. As you can see the highest percentages of the components are “linalool” (a monoterpenol) and “linalyl acetate” (an ester), which have endless therapeutic properties, such as analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergenic, anti-bacterial, anti-rheumatic, and anti-spasmodic. The combination of linalool and linalyl acetate have significant sedative and anxiety relieving properties, which earlier studies have proven (ref.6).

Verifying Potency/Ensuring Purity 

Gas Chromatography (GC) is a method of separating the volatile compounds in essential oils into individual components (like “linalool”) and producing a linear graph that charts these components. Mass Spectrometry (MS) identifies each of these components and their percentages. The precise breakdown of the chemical components in individual oils is also important, because some of the therapeutic benefits and all of the safety considerations of essential oils are determined by their chemical makeup.

                                

There Are Two Main Routes of Absorption: Inhalation & Skin

Inhalation

Inhaling essential oils stimulates the olfactory system, and therefore the central nervous system.

Skin

Applying essential oils to the skin affects the skin directly, and is another method of introducing the oils into the bloodstream.


Inhaling essential oils stimulates the olfactory system, and therefore the central nervous system. Also, inhaled essential oils come in direct contact with nasal passages, sinuses, and lungs. Inhaling essential oils can treat respiratory conditions such as colds, the flu, sore throat, sinus congestion, environmental allergies, etc. Essential oils can cross into the bloodstream from the lungs. This is a quick way to deliver essential oils to the whole internal system of the body via the blood.

The internal lining of the respiratory system is a mucous membrane, which is thinner than external skin, therefore essential oil can cross the lining more quickly. Mucous membranes line just about all of the internal organs of the body, including the stomach, small and large intestine, and urinary bladder. On the other side of the mucous membrane are millions of capillaries. Because of the rich bed of capillaries and thinness of the membrane, essential oil constituents picked up by the mucous membrane via inhalation are quickly absorbed into the blood. From these capillaries, the constituents can travel throughout the body with blood.

 

Applying essential oils to the skin affects the skin directly, and is another method of introducing the oils into the bloodstream. 

The epidermis of thick skin has five layers as well as keratin, which acts like “skin glue.” In order for something to move through this tough barrier, it must be very small. Additionally, it must be attracted to lipids (fats), since the skin has many lipid components. Lipid soluble components will gain access via lipid-rich cell membranes, while water-soluble components will gain access via sweat ducts. Each layer of skin is made up of many individual cells. These cells stick together tightly, but tiny lipid-soluble (able to dissolve in oil or fat) molecules can work around these bounds. Also, hair follicles and sweat glands extend through several layers of skin, so some molecules can slide down a hair follicle. On the other side of your skin is a network of capillaries. Once essential oil components make it through the layers of skin, they are taken up by the blood and travel throughout the body. The ability of essential oils to penetrate the skin depends on the permeability of the skin. The more permeable the skin, the quicker the oils cross the layers and enter the bloodstream.

Balancing Body & Mind 

Essential oils act as plant hormones, regulating plant functions and orchestrating the production of vitamins and enzymes. They act as messengers and supervisors within the plant that help coordinate and initiate vital plant activities. Essential oils can also do the same when applied to humans. They can act as neurotransmitters, peptides, steroids, hormones, vitamins and other message-carrying molecules, which intelligently assist our bodily functions and help to restore or maintain wellness.

Essential oils are so complex it may never be possible to discover everything that is in them, and because of their complexity, essential oils do NOT disturb the body’s natural balance, also called “homeostasis” (the state where every vital biological process within a living organism is functioning as it should). They always work toward restoring and maintaining balance (first in the plants who create them, and then in the humans who use them). They can elicit complex responses from the psychosomatic networks of any one person. A holistic aromatherapy treatment aims at treating the whole person. A holistic approach may include identification and treatment of the disease, but it does not focus solely on symptoms, but on the development of well-being and enjoyment of life in a system of self-responsibility.

 Dr. C. Norman Shealy, M.D, Ph.D., noted that “Life energy is not static, it is kinetic.” Looking for natural ways to increase kinetic energy led to research and subsequent discovery of the power found in pure essential oils. Research indicates that kinetic energy of essential oils have the ability to help maintain and improve the body’s life force for optimal health.

Martina Steege
NAHA Certified Professional Aromatherapist
Business Member of NAHA (National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy)

References

  1. Hoffmann D. Medical herbalism. Healing Arts Press, Rochester, 2003
  2. Schnaubelt K. Medial aromatherapy, Frog, Berkeley, 1999
  3. David Stewart, Integrated Aromatic Science Practitioner, 2013
  4. Aromahead Institute, Black & Butje, Inc.
  5. Salvatore Battaglia, The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy Third Edition
  6. Itai et al. 2000, Shen et al. 2005b, Hwang 2006, Shen et al.2007, Field et al. 2008, Hoya et al. 2008, Linck et al. 2009, Woelf and Schlaefke 2010