Aromatherapy refers to the medicinal or therapeutic use of essential oils absorbed through the skin and olfactory system. Essential oils, derived from plants, are used to treat illness as well as to enhance physical and psychological well-being. Although the use of distilled plant materials dates back to medieval Persia, the term "aromatherapy" was first used in the early 20th century.
Most research has focused on the use of essential oils to manage depression, anxiety, muscle tension, sleep disturbance, nausea, and pain. Some studies suggest that olfactory stimulation related to aromatherapy can result in immediate reduction in pain, as well as changing physiological parameters such as pulse, blood pressure, skin temperature, and brain activity. It is for these reasons many patients and healthcare providers use aromatherapy for its calming effects.
The autonomic nervous system includes sympathetic and parasympathetic activity. When people feel anxious, experience stress or increased heart rate; sympathetic activity is increasing, while parasympathetic activity is decreasing. Essential oils appear to help achieve a balance in the autonomic nervous system, thereby helping with stress reduction.
One study of aromatherapy massage Hur et al. showed a significantly lower total menopausal index after one massage a week for eight weeks, compared with a control group. These findings show that aromatherapy can be an effective treatment of menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, depression, and pain in climacteric women.
*Information gathered from multiple sources.