"The art of healing comes from nature and not from the physician. Therefore, the physician must start from nature with an open mind." - Paracelsus
In today’s society the term “medicine” has evolved to encapsulate more than just our traditional view of pharmaceuticals and people in white coats. As outlined in previous posts around yoga or physiotherapy, some professionals are referring to movement as “medicine”. Nutritionists and dieticians may consider food as “medicine”. Musicians and artists may consider music or creating things with our hands as “medicine for the mind”. Allowing the term “medicine” to be used in such a flexible way may be indicative of the public’s desire for a holistic approach to healthy living that appeals to all the senses rather than just treating internally through the consumption of manufactured drugs.
Recently, a considerable percentage of our population has turned to what’s considered “alternative medicine” practices to aid in the management of their ailments. One of those practices that have gained considerable popularity within the last decade is the use of aromatherapy and essential oils. You may have noticed within our city, the wide expanse of aromatherapy associated businesses within shopping malls and yoga studios, as well as spaces using diffusers to fill rooms with the scent of soothing lavender or invigorating mint. An essential oil, by definition, is a concentrated, hydrophobic liquid, which has aromatic compounds from plants. The term “essential” refers to the idea that the oil contains the “essence” of the plants fragrance – the characteristic scent of the plant from which it is extracted (Oxford English Dictionary for “essential oil”, 2014).
Tiffany Sparrow, an Edmonton presence in the yoga and music communities, is also a Wellness Advocate for doTERRA Canada. She explains that doTERRA’s philosophy is rooted in science and educating individuals. Part of the science behind the effectiveness of essential oils relates to neurology and the olfactory receptors in the brain. These receptors which are responsible for receiving and interpreting smell signals from our nose, are also close to the hippocampus and amygdala which are regions that are actively involved in memory and emotion. Research suggests that sense of smell has one of the strongest ties to memory and can stimulate brain activity by eliciting associated emotions may have been linked to that particular scent. Imagine the types of memories that are conjured up when you’re in your family’s kitchen while a family member is cooking a signature dish that you loved as a child. Though scents are known to elicit cognitive or emotional responses in the brain, could it be possible that scents and oils could be used for physical ailments. The research and science behind aromatherapy suggests so.
"People are realizing that natural and holistic methods are important for full embodied health and happiness".
Research indicates that the practice of using essential oils for healing has been around for thousands of years, and is referenced by ancient scientists such as Hippocrates, can be found in Chinese medicine texts and even the bible. To Sparrow, because of its ancient roots, essential oils and other holistic practices like yoga and meditation, are now making a resurgence and “people are realizing that natural and holistic methods are important for full embodied health and happiness”.
Through doTERRA’s ongoing and rigorous scientific studies, Essential Oils have been proven to work at a cellular level, providing support to the body’s natural healing ability to address root causes rather than simply masking symptoms. Because of their molecular structure, essential oils are believed to be able to cross cell membranes, as well as the blood-brain barrier. As a result they’re proposed to work within cells as opposed to residing on the surface of cells. It’s also important to note that the olfactory systems ties to emotion and memory can have an impact on physical ailments that we know to have a cognitive-emotional element tied to them. As an example, chronic pain has an intimate connection to cognitive-emotional conditions such as depression. To act on one system, such as the emotional component of the brain through essential oils and aromatherapy, may in turn have an effect on the physical symptoms such as pain. The evidence for this effect is more researched in areas of cognitive behavioural therapy, and less so in essential oils, but the mechanism by which they are proposed to work fall into the same lines.
When it comes to spiritual wellbeing, meditation is a practice that has also re-gained popularity in the last decade. Sparrow indicates that several essential oils can also assist with this practice, frankincense and myrrh being two of her favourite in her own personal practice. Oils and scent, according to the research can be a powerful tool to move through difficult emotions and find a more desirable state of mind.
Though modern medicine and alternative medicine in both literature and online debate have a tendency to clash, Sparrow believes that the practice of using essential oils and scent can only compliment our current medical system. Using oils as a method of preventative medicine or as a way to deal with bugs without turning immediately to western medicine may alleviate the stress on an already stressed healthcare system, by creating a population that only turns to traditional medication when needed. To Sparrow, essential oils may be effective in preventing “drug stacking”, a practice in which the use of one medication spurs the use of another to combat the side effects of the initial medication used.