Since I started studying aromatherapy, I always take an essential oil kit when I go away. It’s like having a travelling pharmacy except each oil is good for a variety of symptoms. Two years ago, I was out camping when I put my back out. I had helped my husband move a picnic table the day before and the next day I squatted and twisted to move a dog dish and that’s when it happened. For those of you who haven’t experienced this, it’s a very sharp pain that incapacitates you. And there was no one around. After several minutes I was able to stand up but even with my high tolerance for pain it was unbearable. I painfully made my way up the steps to the trailer to check my essential oil supplies. I had a few options but decided on lavender and eucalyptus. It certainly wasn’t magic, but it definitely took the edge off. A day or two later, I called my dear sister, who’s a physiotherapist (and used to treating me virtually in emergencies) for advice. Between the stretch she gave me and the oil blend I made it through the week.
But is there any scientific evidence on pain relief with essential oils? It turns out that there is quite a bit!
This meta-analysis (a statistical analysis that examines the results of multiple scientific studies) from 2016 found aromatherapy had a significant effect in reducing pain and that it was better at treating pain from physical damage (i.e., sports injury, dental procedure, arthritis) and acute (sudden onset) pain than inflammatory or chronic pain, and most effective in treating postoperative, obstetrical and gynecological pain. These studies included ginger, lavender, orange, eucalyptus, rosemary, peppermint, rose, clary sage and marjoram. Aromatherapy expert, Robert Tisserand, summarizes this analysis in a diagram here.
A randomized clinical trial (subjects were randomly chosen) tested the effects of orange oil on the pain of emergency patients with broken limbs and found pain decreased significantly in the experimental group compared to the control group.
A systematic review (a literature review that collects, appraises and produces findings, similar to a meta-analysis without the statistics) found that aromatherapy reduced labour pain in most of the included studies. Most of these studies used lavender and in various ways: massage, inhalation, acupressure, foot bath and compression. Other oils that were effective included rose, chamomile, peppermint, frankincense and clove.
A randomized controlled study (subjects are randomly assigned to receive a treatment or to the control group) assessed the effectiveness of aromatherapy on neck pain. Using a blend of marjoram, black pepper, lavender and peppermint, the experimental group had improved pain tolerance and improved motion.
A double-blind crossover study (neither the participants or the experimenters know who is receiving which treatment and then the participants are switched over to the alternative treatment) tested the topical use of geranium on those who had neuralgia (nerve pain) after a bout of shingles. The study found a significant reduction in pain and that it was dose dependent.
A randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial (participants are randomly assigned to receive the treatment or a treatment with no therapeutic value) studied the effects of aromatherapy on menstrual cramps in college students. The treatment was an abdominal massage with diluted lavender, clary sage and rose. The placebo group received an abdominal massage without the essential oils. The study found that menstrual cramps were significantly lowered in the treatment group.
A double-blind placebo-controlled study on the effectiveness of massage with ginger and orange essential oils for moderate to severe knee pain among the elderly found that physical function and pain improved in the experimental group.
A controlled clinical trial looked at the effects of aromatherapy hand massage on pain in patients with terminal cancer using a blend of bergamot, lavender and frankincense. The experimental group showed a significant reduction of pain.
A randomized controlled clinical trial studied the effects of lavender aromatherapy massage on pain in patients with osteoarthritis in the knee. Pain severity dropped in the experimental group compared to the placebo and control groups.
Okay, I’m going to end this here, so you don’t get neck pain from reading it! If you have any questions please feel free to post them here or contact me.
Use coupon code PAIN for 10% off when you buy essential oils, valid September 1 - 12, 2020.
Before I delve further into aromatherapy topics, I thought I should cover the basics. I’ve previously covered safety so that leaves history, what aromatherapy and essential oils are, how they work and how to store them.
Although science is only beginning to study the properties and benefits of essential oils, the plant essences have been in use for 5000 years. They were used for incense, perfumes, salves and compresses. Egyptian embalmers used aromatics (myrrh) in their search for immortality. In 2000 BC, essential oils were used in Ayurvedic medicine in India. Greek soldiers took myrrh into battle to treat their wounds. In 1910, Rene Gattefosse was working on an experiment when he badly burned his hands and stuck them in the nearest vat of liquid, lavender essential oil. He discovered that his burn healed very quickly and left very little scarring. Gattefosse became interested in the healing properties of essential oils and later named it aromatherapy.
Aromatherapy is actually a misnomer, as essential oils can be used in different ways. In addition to inhalation, essential oils can be applied topically, internally (douche or suppository) and orally (although this is not approved in North America). It is a holistic therapy and uses essential oils to promote health and well-being. Aromatherapy can help physically and psychologically.
Although essential oils are not oily, their chemical composition is similar to carrier oils. They evaporate, are aromatic and occur in various parts of plants (leaves, flowers, roots, bark, etc.). Essential oils are complex, being composed of 100-600 different constituents. There are about 300 essentials currently available and some can come from the same plant. The bitter orange tree gives us three different essential oils; neroli from the blossoms, petitgrain from the leaves and bitter orange from the fruit.
Essential oils can diffuse through the skin because of their small molecular structure. Robert Tisserand states that the various constituents of an essential oil may be absorbed at different rates, which probably results in the oil composition changing. Ever notice how a scent changes on your skin over time? We can only smell chemicals that are capable of existing in a gaseous form. An odour activates one or more olfactory receptor cells which are directly connected to the brain. Did you know that if the air is very dry, our ability to smell is decreased?
Essential oils should be stored in dark glass jars in a cool and dark place to extend their shelf-life. Although they don’t go rancid, they can degrade and be less effective or cause skin sensitization. Essential oils with the shortest shelf life include grapefruit, spruce, cypress, fir, frankincense, juniper berry, lemon, lemongrass, lime, mandarin, petitgrain, pine, rosemary, sweet orange and tea tree. Most essential oils will last 2-3 years but some oils such as sandalwood, patchouli, vetiver and rose get better with age.
Since science hasn’t caught up with the popularity of essential oils, there is often a lack of evidence which leaves some people skeptical. Essential oils are very concentrated plant compounds and are often used in medicines. Over the remainder of the year, I’m going to share with you the scientific evidence that is available.
Every woman will go through menopause, usually starting between the ages of 40 and 55. Many women will experience symptoms resulting from changes in hormone levels as they age. Essential oils may be a safe and natural way to help balance hormones and relieve symptoms.
Hormones are chemical messengers produced by the endocrine system that are used in many of the body’s functions. The main hormones involved with menopause include progesterone, estrogen, cortisol, insulin and the thyroid hormones (Sidlo, 2018). As we age, progesterone decreases more than estrogen and an estrogen dominance frequently occurs (Clanton, n.d.). It is the imbalance of these two hormones that is responsible for menopausal symptoms.
A decrease in progesterone can lead to anxiety, hot flashes, headaches, irritability, weight gain and bloating.
Low estrogen can lead to anxiety, brain fog, depression, mood swings, hot flashes, low sex drive, osteoporosis, vaginal dryness, weight gain and sleep issues.
Cortisol is a stress hormone and when imbalanced, it affects insulin and thyroid. Cortisol levels are affected by stress, blood sugar, emotions, exercise and alcohol (Sidlo, 2018).
When insulin is high it raises cortisol (Sidlo, 2018). It causes hormone imbalances and therefore an increase in headaches, PMS, hot flashes and night sweats and leads to an increase in breast and ovarian cysts and the risk of cancer (Sidlo, 2018).
Thyroid hormones regulate the body’s metabolism and affect energy level and heart rate. Low levels can cause anxiety, brain fog, depression, tiredness, low sex drive and weight gain (Sidlo, 2018).
Menopause is a natural stage in a woman’s life, when the ovaries stop producing estrogen, and is defined as the first year without menstruation. Post-menopause is the last phase which starts after menopause and continues for the rest of a woman’s life. Perimenopause usually happens between the ages of 35 and 50 and lasts 5-10 years before menopause (Clanton, n.d.). Although some women experience no menopausal symptoms at all, 85% of women experience at least one symptom (Woods, 2005, as cited in Sussman, 2015). The average age for starting menopause is 51 and symptoms typically lasts 6-13 years.
The changes in hormone levels lead to a wide variety of symptoms including but not limited to hot flashes, night sweats, difficulty sleeping, irritability, mood swings, dry skin and mucous membranes, anxiety, loss of libido, headaches, depression, swelling, weight gain, vertigo and muscle and joint pain.
Hot flashes, or night sweats, affect 50-85% of menopausal women worldwide (Kazemzadeh, 2016). Hot flashes may be experienced a few times a year or up to 20 times per day for a few months or up to 10 years (Clanton, n.d.). Hot flashes affect quality of life as they can disrupt sleep and cause embarrassment. Hot flashes are caused when the hypothalamus attempts to stimulate estrogen production, but the ovaries don’t respond due to the lack of eggs (Clanton, n.d.). The hypothalamus then releases epinephrine which triggers the fight or flight reaction (Kazemzadeh, 2016). The heart pumps faster, blood vessels dilate, and skin temperature rises, and the face, neck and chest get flushed (Sidlo, 2018). The body begins to sweat to get rid of the excess heat then it cools off and your brain believes that the temperature has regulated (Sidlo, 2018).
Doctors usually prescribe hormone replacement therapy. While effective, many of the synthetic hormones increase the risk of heart disease, ovarian cancer, breast cancer, osteoporosis, decreased blood sugar, stroke and gallstones (Life Science Publishing, 2014).
Only a few studies have been conducted on the effects of essential oils on menopausal symptoms. Most studies have used lavender essential oil, on its own or in a blend, however one study was found using neroli.
The effect of lavender on hot flashes was studied in a randomized clinical trial that used lavender and placebo aromatherapy on menopausal women in Iran. The women inhaled lavender for 20 minutes, twice a day for 12 weeks. This study found that hot flashes decreased significantly in the intervention group compared to the control group (Kazemzadeh, R., 2015).
Another study in Iran gave participants either a 2% lavender dilution or a placebo which was inhaled for 20 minutes before going to bed, for four weeks. Menopausal symptoms (hot flashes, sweating, palpitation, fatigue, insomnia, depression, headache, etc.) decreased significantly in both groups but the decrease in the lavender group was significantly greater than the placebo group (Jokar, 2018).
A study was conducted on sleep problems in menopause using lavender wipes and lavender scented pillows in Turkey for 15 days. The women were asked about their sleep before and after the study and the results were statistically significant that lavender increased sleep quality (Demirbag, 2019).
A clinical trial on aromatherapy massage was conducted on Korean menopausal women using a blend of lavender, rose geranium, rose and jasmine essential oils at 3% dilution. The experimental group were given a 30-minute massage once a week for 8 weeks and there was no treatment given to the control group. The mean scores for all menopausal symptoms decreased in the aromatherapy group (Hur, 2007).
A double-blinded, randomized controlled trial tested the effects of inhaling neroli at concentrations of 0.1% and 0.5% in 63 postmenopausal women for five days. This study found that inhaling neroli led to decreased menopausal symptoms, decreased blood pressure and increased sexual desire (Choi, 2014).
The use of aromatherapy is effective in significantly reducing menopausal symptoms and can improve the quality of life. It is also safe, easy to use and with few risks. Lavender by inhalation seems to be effective at reducing symptoms and particularly hot flashes. Neroli also appears to be effective for decreasing symptoms such as low libido and hot flashes when inhaled. Lavender and neroli both have hormone balancing and nervine properties and are likely best for reducing hot flashes.
Other considerations for treating menopause symptoms include a diet low in fat and high in vegetables, exercise, calcium rich foods or supplements and relaxation techniques (Thompson, 2012).
Choi, S.Y., Kang, P., Lee, H.S., & Seol, G.H. (2014). https://www.naturalhealthresearch.org/effects-of-neroli-oil-aromatherapy-on-menopausal-symptoms-stress-and-estrogen-in-postmenopausal-women/
Clanton, M.A. (n.d.). https://achs.edu/mediabank/files/melissa_clanton.pdf
Demirbag, B., & Calik, K. (2019). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/335609779_The_Effect_Of_Using_Levander_Wipes_And_Pillows_On_Sleep_Problems_In_Menopause
Hur, M.H., Yang, Y.S., & Lee, M.S. (2007). https://doi.org/10.1093/ecam/nem027
Jokar, M., Zahraseifi, Baradaranfard, F., Khalili, M., & Bakhtiari, S. (2018). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329377353_The_effects_of_lavender_aromatherapy_on_menopausal_symptoms_A_single-blind_randomized_placebo-controlled_clinical_trial
Kazemzadeh, R., Nikjou, R., Rostamnegad, M., & Norouzi, H. (2016). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/304821849_Effect_of_lavender_aromatherapy_on_menopause_hot_flushing_A_crossover_randomized_clinical_trial
Life Science Publishing. (2014). Essential oils desk reference, 6th edition.
Sidlo, A. (2018). Aromatherapy for menopause success. Saddle Mt. Healing Arts Press.
Sussman, M., Trocio, J., Best, C., Mirkin, S., Bushmakin, A. G., Yood, R., Friedman, M., Menzin, J., & Louie, M. (2015). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12905-015-0217-y
Thompson, C. (2012). Aromatherapy certification course AT201.
Men and women both encounter hormonal fluctuations, but women experience them twice as much and have at least twice as many hormone related conditions as men. Men experience imbalances in testosterone at puberty and as they age. Women experience imbalances in estrogen and progesterone in puberty, menstruation, pregnancy and menopause. Additionally, women can experience changes in their level of testosterone. High levels of testosterone are related to polycystic ovary syndrome as well as other symptoms. As we age, we also produce less testosterone which is responsible for a low libido, among other symptoms.
Today, I’m looking at female hormone and reproductive issues. At puberty and beyond we can experience PMS, menstrual cramping and bloating, irregular menstruation, mood swings, and painful swollen breasts. In pregnancy we can experience swelling, constipation, nausea, heartburn, back pain, stress, stretchmarks and finally labour pains. But it doesn’t end there. There’s also post-partum depression and balancing breast milk production. Or there’s infertility. Throughout life we may experience yeast infections, ovarian cysts, high libido, sexual tension, heavy or no menstruation and endometriosis. As we age, we can experience irregular menstruation, uterine prolapse, low libido and menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats. And that my friends, is not an exhaustive list.
We can try to manage our hormone levels using the birth control pill or hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Is there a difference between the two? Yes, there is. HRT is a supplement to the hormones your body is producing, while the birth control pill is much stronger and takes over hormone production. Additionally, HRT isn’t a type of birth control.
The birth control pill is helpful for hormone imbalances and is generally safe. Side effects can include spotting, nausea, breast tenderness, headaches, migraines, weight gain, mood changes, missed periods, decreased libido and vaginal discharge. Risks include blood clots, stroke, heart attack, increase in blood pressure, benign liver tumours and some types of cancer.
Hormone replacement therapy side effects include monthly bleeding, irregular spotting, breast tenderness, fluid retention, headaches, skin discolouration and increased breast density. Risks include increased chance of breast and endometrial cancer, blood clots and stroke, gallbladder/gallstone problems and increased risk of dementia.
There are external factors which may also affect our hormone levels such as plastics (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3222987/), genetically modified food, phthalates (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5391940/ and https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0917504017301120), hormones in meat and dairy (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4524299/), sugar (as insulin levels affect hormones), phytoestrogens, or plant “estrogens” found in soy for example, (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3074428/) and pesticides (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1524969/).
By the way, labeling is not required in Canada or the US for genetically modified foods but you can check the produce codes (those five-digit numbers on the stickers). Numbers starting with an eight indicate GMO and numbers starting with a nine indicate organic. Other numbers indicate that they were conventionally grown.
We can also try to balance our hormone levels with supplements and essential oils. A study on menopause shows that after 8 weeks of aromatherapy massage (using lavender, rose geranium, rose and jasmine), symptoms decreased compared to the control group (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2529395/). Another study on perimenopause shows that inhalation of geranium and rose otto essential oils increased estrogen secretion (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28326753).
Essential oils can help with more than menopause and perimenopause. All those hormonal and reproductive issues that I mentioned earlier can be helped by essential oils. Let’s have a look at some common issues and what oils can help.
PMS can be helped by using bergamot, clary sage, geranium, lavender and rose to balance hormones, ease headaches and cramping and help with acne.
Hot flashes can be helped by clary sage, grapefruit, lemon, geranium, lavender, peppermint and patchouli which help by balancing hormones, improving circulation, constricting blood vessels and cooling.
Yeast infections can be helped with cinnamon, eucalyptus, lavender, lemon and tea tree which have powerful antifungal properties.
Clary sage, grapefruit, lavender and rose are great for helping balance hormones.
Cinnamon, clary sage, geranium, patchouli and ylang ylang have aphrodisiac properties.
Not sure which oils to use or how to use them? Make an appointment with an aromatherapist today.
Essential oil safety is probably the most talked about subject in aromatherapy. And probably the most confusing too. Although essential oils have been used for hundreds of years, there’s not a lot of scientific evidence to refer to. Since essential oils cannot be trademarked, big companies don’t want to invest in it and small companies can’t afford it. Which leaves whatever information you can find online, in books, in classes or from suppliers. And it’s difficult to tell if the author is an expert or an amateur. Sometimes even the experts don’t agree, but it’s usually to do with the amount of caution they’re comfortable with. Now I’m certainly not claiming to be an expert, but here are some guidelines most experts will agree on:
It’s helpful to remember that essential oils are highly concentrated, and their properties need to be respected.
For more information see Robert Tisserand’s site (a highly respected expert) at https://tisserandinstitute.org/safety/safety-guidelines.
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Here are some of the aromatherapy myths that I hear most often.
1. You can ingest essential oils.
Oral use of essential oils has not been approved in North America. The only country that allows the administration of essential oils orally is France, and even then, you have to be under the close supervision of a licensed medical practitioner. Generally, it’s safe to add a couple of drops to food or to swish around a dilution in your mouth before spitting it out, but even then, some essential oils can irritate mucus membranes. Make sure to do your research before using any oil orally.
There is a company out there that will completely disregard this and advise you it’s safe to use essential oils orally. At a market I was at, a rep from this same company advised a customer to put a drop of peppermint oil in her eye. This should never be done because it burns!
2. You can apply them directly to your skin.
Almost all essential oils should be diluted before applying them to your skin neat. Essential oils are extremely concentrated and can cause irritation, burns and rashes. Don’t take chances – dilute them in lotion, carrier oil, shower gel, bubble bath, liquid soap, massage oil, etc. If you’re going to use one neat, do a patch test and don’t use it for a prolonged period.
3. Essential oils labelled pure and therapeutic are of better quality.
Essential oils, by their nature, are pure and therapeutic, whether it’s on the label or not. An essential oil labelled “pure” means only that it hasn’t been diluted. Using “therapeutic” on a label is only a marketing strategy. There is no such thing as a non-therapeutic version of an essential oil!
4. Essential oils are safe because they’re natural.
While essential oils are indeed natural, they still need to be used with caution. Just think of poison ivy, some types of mushrooms, stinging nettle, poinsettia. You get the picture. Essential oils are extremely concentrated and many have contraindications (specific situations where they may be harmful), for example in pregnancy, with medications or in other medical conditions.
5. Major brands sell superior quality essential oils.
If you’re comparing apples to apples, this is simply not true. If an essential oil is pure, then an essential oil is an essential oil is an essential oil. An organic essential oil may be regarded as a better-quality oil but that’s because of the lack of pesticides and herbicides, the oil isn’t any different. And the essential oil’s chemical constituents (affected by country of origin, soil conditions, weather, time of harvest, etc.) may cause one oil to be safer, sweeter or better for a certain condition than another. But again, if you compare an organic lavender oil from Bulgaria from one company to another they would be the same. When you shop at a major brand you’re not paying for superior quality, you’re paying for their name.
Bonus myth: There’s a company out there who claims that you can only use their essential oils in their diffusers. Great marketing ploy! I went in to one of these stores to “shop” for a diffuser. As soon as I questioned this, the employee quickly backed down.
All essential oils have multiple beneficial properties but geranium, German chamomile, lavender, lemon and peppermint are five of the most versatile must-have oils. Remember that all oils should be diluted for topical use and can be diluted in lotion, body wash, liquid soap, carrier oils, etc. They can be used for inhalation with a diffuser, lava bead bracelet or a couple of drops on a tissue.
Geranium is a strong but lovely floral scent.
German Chamomile is a sweet, expensive and very strong essential oil. It is often available diluted in jojoba oil at 3% or 10%, which is still enough to give it a good scent and retain its beneficial properties.
Lavender has a fresh floral scent.
Lemon has a fresh and sharp citrus scent.
Peppermint has a sharp but minty sweetness.
There seems to be a number of stories out there about how essential oils are toxic for pets. And it’s no surprise really, as there’s very little scientific research readily available on how they affect pets. Because of this lack of information, people are quick to believe anything they can find. I can’t say I blame them, as it's better to be safe than sorry and digging for the truth is time consuming and difficult.
These unscientific opinions conclude that an essential oil was responsible for an effect on their pet. However it was most likely their own misuse of the essential oil rather than the essential oil itself.
Anytime I need to research something, I start by googling it, reviewing the results and the frequency of the information. Skeptically, of course. I think about what sources would be trustworthy. In this case, aromatherapists, veterinarians and reliable scientific studies.
My search turns up no results from aromatherapists, probably because few of them specialize in pets. I found a few vet clinics that were happy to publish some information that sounded scientific and reliable. These veterinarians want to help protect pets, even though they are not essential oil experts, which is great, but none of them seemed to reference any scientific studies.
Then I hit the jackpot! An Alternative Care Veterinarian. There’s so much scientific reference here it even made MY eyes gloss over! Melissa Shelton has been working with essential oils and pets since 2008 and has dedicated her practice to it since 2011. In her article she dispels all the myths and bad science that is sometimes referenced. Here’s an overview, but you should really read it here:
Most issues with pets occur because of misuse. It’s like making prescription medicine available to everyone without any dosage or instructions. A leading expert in aromatherapy, Robert Tisserand, cautions that it’s not that we need to avoid certain essential oils but that we need to use essential oils responsibly. See https://roberttisserand.com/2011/06/cats-essential-oil-safety.
So how do we use them responsibly? Treat them more like medicine and less like an air freshener, being conscious of how much and how long you use them. Don’t trap your pet in a room with a diffuser running all day; they need to escape if they're impacted negatively. And do not use essential oils topically, unless advised by your veterinarian.
See the attachment below for some rules that you can print or share. Happy and safe diffusing!
More reading: https://www.canadianveterinarians.net/documents/cats-and-essential-oils.
Update: Your Dog Advisor has recently published Essential Oils for Dogs: The Pros and Cons. This is a great article on how to use essential oils on your dog and which oils are safe and toxic.
You’re running low on essential oils and start shopping for more, but what’s the deal with the range of prices? How do you know what you’re really getting?
Start by reading the label:
If you think something is shady, there is a test you can perform:
Now that you’re armed with knowledge, enjoy your shopping!
Essential oils have amazing properties and unlimited uses. Today I'm going to talk about seven ways you can use them - some might just surprise you!
Cause life should smell good!
Do you have another use for them? Tell us about your essential oil hacks!
Loves living a healthy lifestyle and sharing what she learns along the way.