Smells can often lift our mood. Walking into a room that smells of fresh flowers can instantly relax us. Certain smells like ginger and mint are know to ease nausea. So, can we use certain smells to help us cope with anxiety and stress?
In this article, we try to understand what benefits aromatherapy can have for cancer patients and how you can use it at home.
What is aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils extracted from plants to improve health and wellbeing.
For cancer patients, aromatherapy is used to reduce stress and create a feeling of relaxation. Some patients experience a reduction in side-effects like nausea, vomiting as well.
Aromatherapy is not a ‘cure’ for any disease, including cancer. It is a way of reducing anxiety and stress and to help with relaxation.
How does aromatherapy work?
Aromatherapists believe that the essential oils work by binding chemicals present in the oil to the receptors in the part of the brain that deals with smell (olfactory bulb). This in turn affects the emotional centre of the brain (limbic system).
What types of oils are used in aromatherapy?
The oils used for aromatherapy are fragrant essential oils made from different parts of plants like flowers, leaves, roots and bark. The most popular oils used are eucalyptus, lavender, rosemary, camomile, peppermint, ylang ylang, lemon, jasmine etc.
These oils are usually available in concentrated form. They are sensitive to air and light and lose fragrance quickly if left exposed.
How can I use aromatherapy at home?
Usually, aromatherapy involves inhaling the fragrance of the essential oils, either through a room diffuser or an inhaler. Other times, the oils are diluted using a carrier oil and then used to gently massage the patient.
Not all fragrance oils can be used in aromatherapy. The oils have to be suitable for inhalation and for use on the skin surface and this requires them to pass certain quality checks for health and safety purposes.
The label on the essential oil will confirm if it is safe for use in massage and for inhaling.
It is possible to use essential oils at home to aid relaxation, induce sleep, reduce nausea and uplift your mood. However, it is best to consult a qualified aromatherapist before doing so.
You can use essential oils at home in the following ways.
- Add a few drops of your preferred essential oil to water in an oil burner or vaporiser for relaxation.
- Add it to warm bath water to induce sleep.
- Use aroma sticks to spread the chosen fragrance around your room to lift your mood.
Can aromatherapy be harmful in any way?
- Some people develop skin allergies after long term contact with essential oils.
- Avoid going out in the sun immediately after application of essential oils.
- Do not consume aroma oils or put it inside any part of your body (including your eyes, nose and ears).
Does aromatherapy really work?
There have been studies conducted on the effect of aromatherapy on nausea, vomiting, anxiety and other health related conditions in cancer patients. Some studies observed that aromatherapy helps cancer patients by reducing anxiety, nausea and pain, while also improving their mood and helping them sleep well during chemotherapy.
However, there have also been studies that showed that there was minimal to no effect of aromatherapy on cancer patients. The results, therefore, are divided, and you may need to check for yourself whether aromatherapy will work for you.