Monday, January 28, 2008

Scents that Destress - Aromatherapy Winter Wellness #3

It's not just superstition that essential oils can help reduce your stress level. Scientific studies have shown that oils such as lavender can create a relaxed state in your body that can combat anxiety and help you achieve that glowing state of wellness to which we all aspire.  

We'd all love to look like we just meandered back from a week at a spa - beatific, mellow, and free from cares.  It shows in your face when you feel like this.  To arrive at this state even in the midst of everyday stress takes a little help, namely aromatherapy.

Lavender has been used traditionally for relaxation for centuries. Lavandula Angustifolia is the species of plant that you will most commonly see associated with aromatherapy. The essential oil of L. Angustifolia has been found to contain at least 30 different chemical constituents. (1) This is just a sample of why essential oils are a much more sophisticated and complex aroma material than synthetic fragrances, which are only composed of 1 or just a few chemicals.

Two of the most prominent chemical consituents of L. Angustifolia are linalyl acetate and linalool. These are both responsible for the sedative effects of the oil. Following topical application of the essential oil these consituents can be detected in the blood within 5 minutes, peak at 19 minutes, and are passed through the body within 90 minutes. Traces can even be detected in the breath following massage. (2) This means that the activity of this essential oil is very mobile through the body, and can be taken in through inhalation as well as touch. This mobility of essential oils through skin was the inspiration for our own Stress Relief Serum, which contains a host of calming and anti-inflammatory oils.

The multitude of other aroma chemicals found in
L. Angustifolia and other species of Lavender have antispasmodic, anesthetic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antifungal effects. Mice who have inhaled L. Angustifolia showed a marked decrease in caffeine induced hyperactivity.(3) In humans the effects of lavender are often tempered by the individuals psychological memories, cultural upbringing, and thoughts about the scent of lavender, but there have still been marked benefits. Some studies have shown that demented patients with sleep and behavior disturbances can be helped by aromatherapy treatment with Lavender. See this article for more on that. Lavender has also been shown to maintain work performance levels in those with afternoon fatigue. View the study abstract. Math computation skills have also been improved in study groups exposed to Lavender.(4)

I have personally experienced the benefits of Lavender as a calming aid when caring for my child. When Tru was about 10 months old she got one of her first fevers. The day afterward her little body must have been feeling really rotton - the fever had broken, but she was as cranky and ornery as we have ever seen her. The screaming went on for hours and she was inconsolable. There was no respite until I put a pot of water on the stove and dripped a generous amount of some of my best lavender in. I was needing it as much as she was by that point. We stood near the stove as the vapors began to rise. Within 10 minutes Tru's screaming had ceased. It didn't resume for the rest of the night. All I can say is that I loved essential oils before this incident, but this sealed the deal on my love affair with natural scent.

By applying essential oils to your regular work and home environment you can reap a number of benefits. Here are some great ways to use Lavender.

1. Diffuse the oils. This can be as simple as a pot of water on the stove (stainless preferrably) or an electric diffuser that would work constantly in your home. For the stovetop version just drip 10 to 20 drops in a small amount of water and heat gently. Make sure not to have the pot run dry.

2. Use a mist. I don't mean your average Walmart air freshener either - despite the "aromatherapy" marketing claims they make these are completely lacking in r
eal essential oils. Look for something from your local natural food market. Don't accept anything that says "Fragrance" or "Parfum" in the ingredients section, these mean synthetics. Look for a label that specifies essential oils.

3. Make a compress. Apply 5 drops of Lavender essential oil onto a damp cool or warm cloth and apply to your neck or forehead.

4. If you don't have any sensitivities to Lavender this is one of the few oils that can also be applied "neat" or full strength to small areas. Keep clear of your eyes. Or you can dilute in a base oil such as jojoba or even olive oil that you may have hanging around your house. 5 to 10% dilution would be appropriate for pulse point and limited application. For all-over application 2% is an acceptable level.

Should you wish to purchase straight essential oils a lovely retail line is
Oshadhi . I have smelled their Lavender, and know many natural health professionals that hold their products in high regard. Make sure you choose a variety of Lavender that is not the "commercial grade" or 40/42 variety. A high altitude, or "fine" variety will be best, as these exhibit the highest concentrations of relaxing components.

Reducing your stress level will benefit your level of wellness, and aromatherapy is one of the best ways to do this. Not only will applications of Lavender help you create a beneficial mental state, but the antibacterial properties can help deter the growth and spread of unwanted pathogens in your home. At the very least your home will smell amazing, so what do you have to lose except your stress?

(please note that information provided here is not intended to diagnose or treat any illness and we encourage you to seek advice from your physician or other healthcare professional) 


1. Chu, C. and Kemper, K. Lavender. Longwood Herbal Task Force 2001; 52. Chu, C. and Kemper, K. Lavender. Longwood Herbal Task Force 2001; 63. Chu, C. and Kemper, K. Lavender. Longwood Herbal Task Force 2001;10
4. Chu, C. and Kemper, K. Lavender. Longwood Herbal Task Force 2001; 14

Monday, January 21, 2008

Stress Less and Stay Well - Aromatherapy Winter Wellness #2

The other day as I was swiping my nose and snuffling through congestion I thought to myself this has certainly been one of my sickest winters in a long time. I am largely convinced that this is due to the fact that Tru has started preschool and has been little more than a walking petri dish. She has been sick with something at least every few weeks, and as mom I get the lovely job of sleeping with the unhappy, germ-infested child. It isn't easy to avoid catching whatever she might have when she is breathing on me all night... I try valiantly but it is a difficult fight to win.

There are many things that can make us susceptible to germs. Stress has been getting some attention in recent years as a cause of chronic illnesses as well as the average cold. All of us are affected by stress in some way. How we manage it can help stave off the sniffles or something much more serious like cancer. The Garvan Institute in Australia was responsible for correlating a key stress hormone called neuropeptide Y (NPY), and its interference with immune response.

According to their website, and related articles on Wikipedia neuropeptide Y is a hormone that is released from neurones when the body is under stress. Neuropeptide Y is also involved with the activation of immune cells that are our first line of defense against pathogens. The immune cells activate the lymph nodes, where the body's response to the pathogen is determined. If NPY is being emitted on a chronic and regular basis it deactivates the second phase of the immune response that would actually eliminate the invaders. The immune system has a cycle that must be followed and reset. That reset is not possible if the initial hormones remain elevated.

Sheldon Cohen, a psychologist for Carnegie Mellon University has been able to correlate stress with the onset of depression and worsening of cardiovascular disease. View an article about his research on Science Daily . His research encompassed 2 facets of why stress impacts health: behavioral, and hormonal. The behavioral aspect has to do with the fact that stressed people often do not take proper care of their bodies - indulging in greater excesses of drinking, food, and smoking and not sleeping or exercising properly. The hormonal aspect is exactly what the Garvin institute was concerned with.

If you read my post about scent and memory during the holidays you'll probably remember that scent affects the limbic system. The limbic system is directly linked to your adrenal gland, the pituitary and hypothalamus. These glands function together to control crucial functions like heart rate, breathing, mood, and, yes, stress. This is a key part of your "fight-or-flight" response. You sense your environment, the body prepares itself for action, and you act based on your excitement, fear, or happiness. The scent of smoke, for example, should provoke you to move quickly to evade fire. This system was not designed to be in a state of constant excitement. Much like the "Little Boy Who Cried Wolf", if you are constantly under stress your system may not be functioning well when you really need it the most. Pathogens represent a specific kind of stress to the body. To be able to fight them off we need all our body's resources available.

So, what can you do?
Check out my next post on how essential oils can help you reduce stress and stay well.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Aromatherapy Winter Wellness Part #1 - Eucalyptus essential oil therapy

Ah, germs! They are everyone's favorite part of the winter season - right? Oh, maybe not....

Last Friday I came down with a fun case of stomach flu and our production manager Frank developed what turned out to be Bronchitis. Impromptu sick day for the staff! I got a little behind over the weekend, thus my late post today. Despite all the echinacea, vitamins, and good rest some little germs are just too tough to completely stave off.  When they hit regardless of preventive measures essential oils can provide some great ways to cope, so break out your herbal toolkit and give this a try.

Here is an easy tip, and a natural way to soothe clogged sinuses.

Eucalyptus Shower:

Put between 3 and 5 drops of Eucalyptus Globulus essential oil onto a washcloth and lay it on the floor of the shower. Shut the shower or bathroom door tightly for maximum steam retention. As the hot water reaches the washcloth it will release aromatic steam into the bathroom. Eucalyptus is a very affordable essential oil, and you'll get a lot of mileage out of a small bottle of it. If you don't shower you can also add a few drops to your bath water, or make a steam tent by putting the oil in a bowl of hot water and covering your head with a towel above it to trap vapors.

For portable respiratory therapy place a few drops of Eucalyptus on a cotton ball and put it into a plastic film canister. You can really use any other small jar such as baby food jars, empty pill bottles, or spice jars. I wonder how many of us still have film canisters in this digital photo age?

Open your therapy jar and inhale as needed throughout the day.

This also works with Marjoram oil, and Frankincense essential oil is a fantastic bronchial clearing oil.

See post #2 and post #3 from my Aromatherapy Winter Wellness Series about how essential oils can help keep you from getting sick in the first place.