New study evaluates efficacy of aromatherapy

A new study finds that aromatherapy has nothing to do with physical healing, but achieves much when it comes to moral and emotional well-being.

The study leader, Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, director of the Division of Health Psychology at Ohio State University advises everyone to think before spending a large sum of money on aromatherapy, because it’ll hardly change physiology or influence health.

Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine that uses volatile liquid plant materials, known as essential oils (EOs), and other aromatic compounds from plants for the purpose of affecting a person's mood or health.

The consensus among most medical professionals is that while pleasant scents can boost relaxation and may have related benefits for patients, there is currently insufficient scientific proof of the effectiveness of aromatherapy in general. Scientific research on the cause and effect of aromatherapy is limited, although in vitro testing has revealed some antibacterial and antiviral effects and a few double blind studies have been published.

The latest study took for its key point a drug-specific mechanism, implying that scents work like drugs do.

Researchers examined two odors - lemon, which is alleged to improve mood, and lavender, which is claimed to relax and assist when one has sleeping problems. Distilled water was used as a control.

Fifty-six people took part in this study after a profound analysis of their smell abilities. One group received an envelope that explained the scent they were about to smell and what to expect. The other one was told that there would be a variety of fruit and floral odors.

For the duration of the tests the research team taped cotton balls with either lemon oil, lavender oil or distilled water below the participants' noses. Further there were conducted a number of measurements - blood pressure and heart rate - and taken a number of samples - blood samples. The blood samples were analyzed for changes in different biochemical markers.

The researchers also used a standard test in which tape is applied and removed repeatedly on a specific site on the skin. The scientists also tested the volunteers' reaction to pain by placing their feet in 32-degree water. The final touch was standard psychological tests to determine the level of stress.

Lemon oil turned out to give positive results – it enhanced mood, while lavender oil neither had pleasant smell, nor influenced any of thebiochemical markers for stress, pain control or wound healing.