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Here's how aromatherapy works

health and fitness Updated: Jun 05, 2010 18:01 IST
Shikha Sharma Shikha Sharma
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AromatherapyAromatherapy is one of the oldest and most popular forms of gentle medicine. Physicians and tribal healers across civilisations have used it since ancient times, and this continues even today. It provides satisfying results without side effects. In this column, the first of a two-part series, I will discuss how aromatherapy works:

The human nose is capable of deciphering almost 10,000 different kinds of aromas. When we inhale the very fine micro particles of an aroma, they are trapped by the very fine cilia (hair-like structures) within the nose and dissolved in the mucous lining. The active compounds travel quickly to the brain and activate the neural pathways. The result is a particular response to the aroma. It could be joy (the aroma of mother’s cooking),attraction (to a particular scent), or any one other emotion.

Along with the effect on the neural transmitters, aromatherapy is also used on the skin where its micro particles are quickly dissolved in the skin cells. From there, it is carried through the body via blood vessels. On the skin, the oil has a cooling or warming effect (depending on the oil) and an antiseptic effect. In aromatherapy the raw material can be flowers, herbs, spices, special grasses and so on.

There are several methods of using aroma oils:

Directly on the skin in response to particular symptoms. For instance, if you have a headache, apply lavender oil on the inner side of the wrist, forehead and temples. If you suffer from premenstrual discomfort, apply rose essential oil around the navel. If you have stress-induced water retention, add chamomile or lavender essential oil to your massage oil. Use olive oil as your massage oil in this case, because it is light and won’t unbalance the delicate essential oils.

By swallowing a capsule of the essential oil. For instance, if you have gas or suffer from flatulence, you can take a capsule of peppermint oil. If you have irritable bowel syndrome you will also benefit from this oil, but it should be used prudently.

By inhaling the oil’s vapours. For instance, if you have a stuffy nose, use oil of eucalyptus.

Next week: Various aromatherapy oils and their benefits.