Natural Health and Wellness – The Medicinal Use of Essential Oils in America

Therapeutic use of natural and organic essential oils for medicinal purposes is just now on the verge of being recognized as a valid tool to compliment the diverse tools of natural healing. A significant amount of resistance is still apparent, perhaps due to the pervasive image of Aromatherapy being ‘feeling nice from smelling something pleasant’. Most degreed aromatherapists do not even consider this the most important function of healing with essential oils! There use in treating infectious illness is considered the realm of medicine of where they may be of greatest importance – and the fight of their image may be one ‘behind the scenes’. Big pharmaceutical companies are under pressure to continually develop and market new drugs – many with questionable safety and efficacy – to meet the demands of stockholders. At the same time, many bacteria and viruses are becoming resistant to these companies products, with alarming results. Essential oils offer inexpensive, effective treatments to which microbes do not apparently easily develop resistance to. Whether the very limited and somewhat skewed presentation of Aromatherapy in the mainstream media is related to the pharmaceutical company’s demands remains to be clarified; in the meantime, you have the ways and means to include essential oils in your own natural health and wellness program.

The blatant derision of natural medicine is truly ironic, given that so many of today’s medicines are simple isolations of individual compounds of plants. There are HUNDREDS of plants that are known to contain anti-cancer compounds, for example. Many of these without the side-effects of chemotherapy (it takes a skilled, knowledgeable naturopathic doctor to develop an effective personal protocol for this type of work, but success is certainly possible). This brings us to the amazing derision placed upon the science of Aromatherapy. Aromatherapy is truly defined as the use of highly volatile plant compounds to treat physical and psychological disorders. It may be that the term ‘Aromatherapy’ lends itself to being pigeon-holed into mystical ‘new age’ hocus-pocus, but in reality, it is simply the practice of using a particular class of natural compounds to improve one’s health, wellness and well-being.

The irony of labeling aromatherapy as ‘fluff’, while producing research showing it as effective medicine is interesting. Take the recent ‘proof’ of enteric-coated capsules of Peppermint essential oil being extremely effective in treating the sometimes debilitating symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS. IBS is a result of unchecked growth of ‘unfriendly’ bacterial in a weakened digestive system. The modern conventional medical system has yet to uncover a useful treatment method. Enter the steam distilled essential oil of whole peppermint herb – taken in capsules as to be well tolerated by those with sensitive stomachs, and to be released in the region of most effect – the intestines. The treatment has been widely accepted mostly due to it’s ‘proven’ efficacy in controlled studies. Peppermint has the wonderful result of eliminating the disease-causing microorganisms, while leaving the natural and healthy ‘bugs’ in the digestive system to do their job.

Another widely-published effect of a particular essential oil is that of Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) for the treatment of oral and genital herpes. The herpes simplex virus, or HSV, is one that a patient is thought to have to live with for the rest of their lives once contracted. The virus remains dormant in the nervous system until times of stress reduce immune system function enough to allow recurrence of painful sores and legions. It’s not fun, nor is it considered ‘curable’ by the American medical establishment. However, in many university studies performed in Germany, Lemon Balm (as well as other combinations of essential oils containing the same ant-viral compounds) has been shown very effective at reducing the pain, duration, and frequency of outbreaks through topical application. One professor has even proclaimed that repeated use before and during outbreaks can lead to complete remission of the disease. Again, Aromatherapy to the rescue!

On the ‘soft side’ of essential oil use, that of inhalation or massage-based ‘aroma’ therapy, it is important first to note that MANY health professionals consider stress to be the number one cause of all disease. The body, lead by the mind, becomes overburdened in a variety of ways which lead to breakdown of particular systems (immune, circulatory, etc). Time and time again, Lavender and other essential oils have been reported by patients, even in controlled studies, to reduce stress levels. As the understanding of the mind-body connection to health and well-being grows, the importance of stress reduction techniques in natural health programs is coming to the forefront. Inhalation of essential oils is but one possible technique, but a powerful one at that. Upon comparison to Valium – the most ubiquitous of anti-stress agents in the Western world, a headline in the Journal of Essential Oil Research proclaimed “Lavender beats benzodiazepines” for stress reduction. This is one commonly-used anti-stress oil; others include the uplifting Citrus oils, and many other oils known to reduce stress and increase overall wellbeing.

Aromatherapy in a natural health, wellness and fitness regime is not a cure-all, miracle path to health, however. Like any other medicine or treatment, it has it’s place, and should be used when it provides the best combination of safety and efficacy. How do you find out if essential oils can help you, your friends or your loved ones? Educate yourself! There are several wonderful books available on medical and clinical aromatherapy. Some will deal mostly with the psychological aspects, others mainly in treatment of infectious illness, and others touch on every conceivable application. Buy them, get them from your library, borrow them from friends – but educate yourself as much as possible, and find a degreed practitioner if need be. But most of all, give Aromatherapy a chance. The particular class of plant compounds called ‘essential oils’, which just happen to smell nice, have as much validity as any other field of medicine, and deserves to be appreciated with the same respect. Whether they work for you is up to your own knowledge and dedication to the practice!