|University of Iowa Health Science Relations and
Nicole Nisly, MD
Associate Professor of Internal Medicine
First Published: 2004
Last Revised: January 2004
Peer Review Status: Internally Peer Reviewed
Does the smell of pumpkin pie make you think of crisp autumn days? Does the smell of peppermint bring back pleasant childhood memories of the holidays? If so, then you already know a bit about the world of aromatherapy.
Aromatherapy uses essential oils, extracted from plants, flowers, herbs, and trees, to stimulate the sense of smell. “As one of the strongest senses we have, smell has the power to activate nerve cells that send impulses to the area of the brain associated with emotions and memory,” says Nicole Nisly, MD, who heads the UI Hospitals and Clinics Complementary and Alternative Medicine Clinic.
According to Nisly, the oils may be used in different combinations to enhance healing on several levels. “Mentally and emotionally, the scents may evoke a pleasant memory,” she says. “Physically, they may help to relieve certain conditions by stimulating the nervous, circulatory, or immune systems.” The technique also helps in relaxation because the scents produced can give a feeling of peace and calm.”
Aromatherapy has been found helpful in relieving stress, energizing the body, and promoting general well being. Recently, aromatherapy also has been found to ease the symptoms of dementia without the negative side effects of some medications.
It is believed that each oil has its own fragrance and personality, giving it its own unique healing action. The oils can be inhaled with a diffuser or added to bathwater, or they can be used in conjunction with massage to stimulate the mind and body simultaneously.
The oils used in aromatherapy are usually found in health-food stores or pharmacies, and the techniques of aromatherapy may be performed in your home. You also may chose to visit a trained aromatherapist who will help develop a mixture of oils specifically for you. If you are pregnant, an aromatherapist can help determine which oils you should avoid.
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