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Depression and Aromatherapy (Therapy)

Aromatherapy involves using the concentrated oils of medicinal herbs to energize or relax the body. These volatile oils (those that evaporate when exposed to the air) can be easily absorbed through inhalation or application on the skin.

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Effect of Aromatherapy (Therapy) on Depression

In aromatherapy, chemical compounds in oils are absorbed in the body through skin application and/or inhalation. Oils in certain herbs contain chemical compounds that activate the limbic system, releasing antidepressant neurotransmitters (i.e., serotonin, endorphin, and norepinephrine)1.

Read more details about Aromatherapy (Therapy).

Research Evidence on Aromatherapy (Therapy)

Rosemary, lemon, bergamont, jasmine and clary sage have been shown to have stimulating properties which can alleviate depressive symptoms of fatigue, lack of concentration, despair, and grief. Rose, lavender, ylang-ylang, neroli and sandalwood have been shown to have sedating properties which can reduce depressive symptoms of restlessness and sleep disturbance. These essential oils stimulate the raphe nucleus, which produces serotonin. Parsnip, parsley, and nutmeg contain the chemical myristicin, which has been shown to act as monoamine oxidase inhibitor3.

Perhaps the most conclusive evidence of the efficacy of aromatherapy is that it has been used in many ancient healing traditions for thousands of years6. A report discussing the antidepressant properties of essential oils by Perry and Perry notes that some studies have shown aromatherapy improves mood in healthy adults7. Yet there are very few sound clinical trials on the effects of aromatherapy specifically on clinically depressed persons. However, aromatherapy is seen as a potentially effective treatment for a range of psychiatric disorders and given it has few adverse side effects, further methodologically sounds research is clearly warranted.

How to Use Aromatherapy (Therapy)

To inhale, place a few drops of herbal oil on a cotton ball, tissue, or gauze. Then hold it a few inches from the nose and mouth and breathe normally. Doing this for about 15 minutes allows the chemical compounds to enter the blood and nervous system. For prolonged or nighttime exposure, a room diffuser can be used to spread chemical compounds into the air2.

To absorb though the skin, dilute the oil in a carrier oil such as vegetable oil, grape seed oil, sesame oil, aloe vera, or jojoba. Mix 2-3 drops of the essential oil with a half tablespoon of carrier oil. Then massage into skin to enhance relaxation.

Before applying a full application on the skin, place a drop of the essential oil on a forearm and cover with a band aid for 20 minutes to gauge sensitivity. Do not use the oil if there is irritation, indicated by any redness, swelling, and/or itching2.

Store essential oils in tightly capped amber bottles away from air and light exposure to prolong effectiveness of chemical compounds.

Lists of specific essential oils and their general function in the treatment of depression follow.

Essential oils for depression symptoms of irritability and insomnia:

  • Clary Sage
  • Ylang-Ylang
  • Camomile
  • Lavander
  • Sandalwood

Essential oils for depression symptoms of apathy and sleepiness:

  • Bergamot
  • Geranium Rose

Essential oils for depression symptoms of anxiety and panic:

  • Neroli
  • Jasmine

Safety Issues

Essential oils can be toxic when taken internally, producing unpleasant and even fatal effects. Toxicity studies have not been performed for many essential oil products, and maximum safe dosages remain unknown. 1 Infants, children, seniors, and people with severe illnesses should not use essential oils internally except under the supervision of a physician; healthy adults should only use well established products (such as peppermint oil) for which safe dosages have been determined.

Inhaled or topical use of essential oils is much safer than oral use. However, allergic reactions to inhaled or topical plant fragrances are not uncommon. 2 Furthermore, when applied to the skin, some essential oils might also promote sunburning (photosensitization), raise the risk of skin cancer, or be absorbed sufficiently to cause toxic effects. 3 In addition, one report suggests that a combination of lavender oil and tea tree oil applied topically caused gynecomastia (breast enlargement) in three young boys. 4

Other Uses

Aromatherapy has been shown to be compatible with other herbal therapies and acupuncture.

References

  1. Lis-Balchin M. Possible health and safety problems in the use of novel plant essential oils and extracts in aromatherapy. J R Soc Health. 1999 Dec;119:240-243.
  2. Weiss RR, James WD. Allergic contact dermatitis from aromatherapy. Am J Contact Dermat. 8(4):250-1.
  3. Stevensen CJ. Aromatherapy in dermatology. Clin Dermatol. 16(6):689-94.
  4. Henley DV, Lipson N, Korach KS, Bloch CA. Prepubertal gynecomastia linked to lavender and tea tree oils. N Engl J Med. 356(5):479-85.
  5. Lis-Balchin M. Possible health and safety problems in the use of novel plant essential oils and extracts in aromatherapy. J R Soc Health. 1999 Dec;119:240-243.
  6. Weiss RR, James WD. Allergic contact dermatitis from aromatherapy. Am J Contact Dermat. 8(4):250-1.
  7. Stevensen CJ. Aromatherapy in dermatology. Clin Dermatol. 16(6):689-94.
  8. Henley DV, Lipson N, Korach KS, Bloch CA. Prepubertal gynecomastia linked to lavender and tea tree oils. N Engl J Med. 356(5):479-85.

1 Fischer-Rizzi, S. (1990). Complete Aromatherapy Handbook: Essential Oils for Radiant Health. New York: Sterling Publishing Co.

2 Shannon, S. (2002). Handbook of Complementary and Alternative Therapies in Mental Health. San Diego: Academic Press.

3 Tisserand, R. & Balacs, T. (1995). Essential Oil Safety: A Guide for Health Professionals. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.

4 Diego MA et al. (1998). Aromatherapy positively affects mood, EEG patterns of alertness and math computations. International Journal of Neuroscience. 96(3-4), 217-224.

5 Buchbauer G et al. (1993). Fragrance compounds and essential oils with sedative effects upon inhalation. Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. 82(6), 660-664

6 Gunther, R.T. (ed.) (1959). The Greek Herbal of Dioscorides (translated by John Goodyer in 1655). New York: Hafner

7 Perry, N., & Perry, E. (2006) Aromatherapy in the Management of Psychiatric Disorders: Clinical and Neuropharmacological Perspectives. CNS Drugs (20) 257-280.

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