An­cient treat­ment a hot trend

Es­sen­tial-oils are said to help com­bat nau­sea, in­som­nia and pain, en­hance mood and even treat wounds, but re­search re­mains in­con­clu­sive

The Hamilton Spectator - - HEALTH - ALLIE SHAH

MIN­NEAPO­LIS — The mem­ory of the woozy woman slumped in her wheel­chair still gets to Sandy McGur­ran, co-or­di­na­tor of in­te­gra­tive ther­a­pies for Fairview Home­care and Hospice.

McGur­ran was do­ing a home visit with the pa­tient, who was re­cov­er­ing from a stroke and gag­ging from nau­sea.

“I asked her if she’d be in­ter­ested in try­ing some aro­mather­apy,” McGur­ran re­called.

The pa­tient agreed, so McGur­ran dabbed a cot­ton ball with pep­per­mint oil and told her to in­hale like she was smelling a flower and ex­hale like she was blow­ing out a can­dle.

A few min­utes later, the woman sat up, looked at her hus­band and said: “You have to get some of this tonight.”

Es­sen­tial oils are a hot item in to­day’s holis­tic heal­ing world — touted as a nat­u­ral way to im­prove your mood, ward off sick­ness and treat ail­ments such as arthri­tis, dry skin and al­ler­gies.

Now, a grow­ing num­ber of hos­pi­tals are jump­ing onto the es­sen­tial oils band­wagon, of­fer­ing them to pa­tients to help man­age pain, nau­sea and anx­i­ety.

“It re­ally is in ev­ery health care sys­tem,” McGur­ran said. “We have clin­i­cians who are very en­gaged in us­ing aro­mather­a­pies be­cause we see the out­comes.”

Al­though re­search on the ther­a­peu­tic ben­e­fits of es­sen­tial oils is not con­clu­sive, oil en­thu­si­asts swear by their power. And the oils are in­creas­ingly mov­ing into the main­stream. Al­though us­ing oils de­rived from plants as medicine dates back thou­sands of years, they’ve now be­come big busi­ness, with mar­ket­ing com­pa­nies latch­ing onto the trend.

“You can find them ev­ery­where — on the shelf at the gro­cery store, on Face­book,” said Megan Voss, a nurse at the Univer­sity of Min­nesota’s Ma­sonic Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal who also teaches at the univer­sity’s Cen­ter for Spir­i­tu­al­ity and Heal­ing.

Use is grow­ing

Es­sen­tial oils are on the menu of reme­dies of­fered to pa­tients at the Ma­sonic Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal.

The hos­pi­tal started us­ing them spar­ingly eight years ago to help pa­tients re­lax, sleep and to re­lieve nau­sea symp­toms. Since then, the univer­sity has ex­panded its oil ther­apy pro­gram and has de­vel­oped its own special blends, us­ing them in com­bi­na­tion with mas­sage and acupunc­ture.

“We’re up­ping the ante,” Voss said.

The hos­pi­tal also uses es­sen­tial oils to treat chil­dren’s wounds. One no­table ex­am­ple is in cases of chil­dren who have a rare skin dis­or­der called epi­der­mol­y­sis bul­losa (EB). The hos­pi­tal has a num­ber of pa­tients with this ge­netic con­di­tion that cre­ates skin that’s as del­i­cate as a but­ter­fly’s wings, mak­ing scratch­ing dan­ger­ous.

“In these cases, the par­ents are des­per­ate for any­thing that will help their chil­dren,” Voss said. A special for­mula of var­i­ous es­sen­tial oils ap­plied to the skin of the chil­dren with EB helps re­lieve itch­ing. Plus, it’s anti-in­flam­ma­tory.

Like other health care providers, Fairview Home­care and Hospice took a cau­tious ap­proach to aro­mather­apy at first — us­ing only two kinds of oils, laven­der and pep­per­mint. The oils were such a hit with pa­tients who used them to help man­age pain and soothe nau­sea that Fairview chose to grow its aro­mather­apy pro­gram.

The re­sults were enough to con­vince McGur­ran.

“We’ve had pa­tients who were ac­tively vom­it­ing do some in­hala­tion and their vom­it­ing stopped,” she said.

Fairview worked with a cer­ti­fied clin­i­cal aro­mather­a­pist from the lo­cal non­profit Heal­ing Alchemy to cre­ate four cus­tom blends of es­sen­tial oil. De­vel­oped by Pa­tri­cia Ron­ning, they carry la­bels such as “calm­ing,” “sooth­ing,” “up­lift­ing” and “en­er­giz­ing.” Fairview Phar­ma­cies sells the blends — whose in­gre­di­ents in­clude laven­der, berg­amot, frank­in­cense, lemon, gin­ger and pep­per­mint — along­side tra­di­tional medicines.

Hospice pa­tients at Fairview have re­ported that the calm­ing es­sen­tial oil sig­nif­i­cantly blunted their pain, McGur­ran said. “We had pa­tients say­ing they weren’t tak­ing their as-needed pain medicines be­cause they were re­ceiv­ing re­lief from aro­mather­apy. And they were not hav­ing the side-ef­fects from pain med­i­ca­tions.”

But McGur­ran stressed that es­sen­tial oils are meant to be used to com­ple­ment tra­di­tional medicine.

“We are not telling pa­tients NOT to take their med­i­ca­tions. This is in ad­di­tion to what their doc­tors are pre­scrib­ing,” she said.

Nose-brain con­nec­tion

To un­der­stand how es­sen­tial oils can af­fect well­ness, think of what hap­pens when you peel an or­ange, McGur­ran said.

“You get happy. You are in­hal­ing the oil from the skin, and it goes up to the lim­bic part of your brain, which man­ages stress,” she ex­plained. “We’re in­hal­ing tiny mol­e­cules into our sys­tem.”

For pain, the oils may help by dis­tract­ing the brain to fo­cus on the aroma.

A re­cent anal­y­sis of 10 stud­ies on aro­mather­apy’s im­pact on de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, pain re­lief, de­men­tia and hy­per­ten­sion found that “the ev­i­dence is not suf­fi­ciently con­vinc­ing that aro­mather­apy is an ef­fec­tive ther­apy for any con­di­tion.”

Still, there’s plenty of en­thu­si­asm for oils. Kayleen Den­ni­son, 20, of Ro­seville is a be­liever.

“I’ve had a lot of health prob­lems my whole life,” she said, not­ing a gluten al­lergy and mi­graine headaches. She heard about es­sen­tial oils and, though skep­ti­cal at first, de­cided to try them.

“It worked and it was amaz­ing,” she said.

For her mi­graine headaches, she rubs pep­per­mint oil onto her tem­ples. To en­sure a good night’s sleep, she mixes laven­der oil with wa­ter and sprays it onto her pil­lows at bed­time.


Es­sen­tial oils are find­ing use in hos­pi­tals to help pa­tients with pain, nau­sea and anx­i­ety.

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