As a board certified obstetrician/gynecologist, I was trained as a specialist in the field of Women’s Health the problems and conditions specific to that field and the particular parts of a women’s body. However, as I became a more experienced physician, I realized that the different parts and systems of our body do not work in isolation. We are made up of an integrated network of systems that are amazingly designed to work in balance together. As a result, my practice has become more holistic, treating the whole person instead of just one isolated part. I aim to address the root cause of the problem instead of just treating the symptoms with medication and then using another medication to treat the side effects of the first medication. I have learned how hormone balance, nutrition, exercise and stress play major roles in disease, and how a person feels. I have come to realize that there are strong mind, body and spirit connections, and we need to pay attention to all three of these to achieve optimal wellness.
That is why in addition to balancing hormones, my partner and I have incorporated a nutritionist, acupuncturist, massage therapist and aesthetician into our practice. I believe if you feel your best, you will want to look your best and if you look your best, you will feel your best. Stress, both good and bad, is a major influence on our health and how we look and feel. There are many approaches to dealing with stress: deep breathing, exercise, massage therapy, acupuncture, laughing and yoga, just to name a few. We all need to combine several of these into our daily lives for the best results. Aromatherapy and the use of essential oils are another valuable tool to include in our management of stress to improve our overall well-being and health. Essential oils and aromatherapy have recently become a big trend in the United States.
Essential oils are organic plant compounds that appear to have tremendous healing properties. They are extracted from the bark, flower, fruit, leaf or root of a plant and made into highly concentrated oils through a chemical process of distillation which steams and separates the oil and water components of the plant. Aromatherapy is the science that uses these naturally extracted oils with aromatic essences to balance and promote the health of body and mind.
Aromatherapy In the United States
For those of us in the United States, this is a relatively new therapy and did not become popular until the 1980s. However, for over 5000 years, many different cultures have used these healing plant oils for a variety of health conditions. Oils have been used by the Jews, Chinese, Indians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans in cosmetics, perfumes, for medicinal purposes as well as in spiritual rituals. In the Bible, when the Three Wise Men brought the new baby Jesus gifts of Frankincense and Myrrh, they were probably delivering medicine.
The French chemist, Rene-Maurice Gattefosse is credited with originating the science of aromatherapy in 1928. He used lavender oil to treat a burn on his hand, and the amazing healing results led him to further study essential oils and later use them to help injured soldiers in World War I. The use of essential oils then spread quickly throughout Europe as they began to be used by practitioners of alternative medicine, massage therapists, and the beauty industry. Although the practice of using essential oils for their medicinal purposes has been going on for centuries, there is little published research on it. However, clinical studies are currently underway in many countries including Australia, Japan, India, and Canada as well as in the United States and many parts of Europe. In addition, a lot of research on essential oils is also being conducted by the food and cosmetic industries. I expect we will be hearing many of these results in the near future.
Essential oils are already being used in hospitals for the treatment of anxiety, depression, and infections in patients. Essential oils have been shown to relieve anxiety, lessen pain, boost the immune system, help with insomnia and aid in digestion. Some essential oils have antibacterial and anti-fungal benefits, while others have even been used to fight cancer. Although this is an alternative medicine therapy, I believe it will become more mainstream and we will see it used more in traditional medicine as our research continues. How do essential oils work? First, they need to be taken into the body through either smell, absorption through the skin, or oral ingestion. Once inside, the oils interact with the limbic system which is directly connected to the parts of the brain that control blood pressure, breathing, heart rate, stress levels and hormone balances.
Let’s discuss each of these absorption methods in turn. Our nose communicates with our brain through the sense of smell. When we inhale things through our nose, messages are sent to our brain through a complex system of cells and nerves that ultimately send signals to the limbic system in the brain. Here, memory is used to recognize an odor. Have you ever smelled something that takes you back to some place in your childhood? As Helen Keller said, “smell is a potent wizard that transports us across thousands of miles and all the years we have lived.” Aromatherapy uses essential oils through inhalation: the oils can be inhaled directly or put into a diffuser. The tiny molecules of oil are carried from the nose to the lungs and are absorbed into the bloodstream and the brain. This explains how inhaling essential oils can have very profound physiologic and psychological effects.
How You Can Use Essential Oils
Essential oils can also be applied topically to the skin. Our skin is permeable and these oils are absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream much the same as other topical medicines we use, such as hormones, pain medications, and nicotine patches. A third way of using essential oils is by directly ingesting them, usually 1-3 drops mixed in water. As these oils can be very potent, this method should only be used under direct supervision of a knowledgeable and experienced practitioner as there could be potential drug interactions. Some oils may even be toxic to the liver or kidneys when ingested. Essential oils are powerful and concentrated, so they should be used with caution. For example, they are not recommended for use in pregnant women because some of them can affect hormones. They should also be avoided by people taking blood thinners as they can affect these medications. As with all medicines we use, quality is of utmost importance for safety. Not all essential oils on the market are certified “pure therapeutic grade.”
Unless you purchase appropriately certified oils, you may be buying synthetic products that are worthless to your health. Be sure to buy your essential oils from a company that you trust. There is so much more to be learned about essential oils and their healing properties. I look forward to sharing our continuing advances in science and research as we get a more clear understanding of their powers. As the Swiss physician and philosopher, Paracelsus said half a century ago, “The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician. Therefore, the physician must start from nature, with an open mind.”