Aromatherapy / Essential Oils Explained
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Aromatherapy for Menopause

Aromatherapy offers a number of natural alternatives to hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Since the use of essential oils, incense, and perfumes began, it has been believed that they could heal the body, alter moods, stir memories, arouse sexual desire and generally improve the quality of life. The aroma alone can have a subtle but real effect on the mind, and via the mind, on the body.

History and Usage Today

Although the first use of the term aromatherapy began in the 20th century, the principles upon which treatment is based are very old, dating back to the Egyptians in 3,000 BC, followed by the ancient Greeks and then the Romans. All early evidence points to the use of fatty ointments or gummy pastes, but by the 3rd century BC the Egyptians had a primitive form of distillation. Throughout the Middle Ages and the Tudor era, all forms of plant medicine were used by doctors, apothecaries and lay people alike.

In England today aromatherapy has become a widespread and valued form of holistic therapy. Standards of training and practice are very high, and it is increasingly practiced in hospitals.

Inhalation, application and baths are the principal methods used to encourage essential oils to enter the body. They are highly volatile, evaporating readily on exposure to air, and when inhaled may enter the body via the olfactory system. When diluted and applied externally, essential oil molecules can permeate the skin. Noted for their antiseptic properties and their ability to restore balance, essential oils are excellent for cuts, bites, rashes, burns, daily aches and pains, constipation and more. They can also help with improving sleep or low self-esteem as well as emotional issues like stress management.

Essential Oils and Menopause

The influence of essential oils on the endocrine system is one of the most important ways in which they act upon the human body. None of the glands of the endocrine system works in isolation from the others. The oil of evening primrose is not an essential oil but is mentioned here because it has proved so valuable in many of the conditions which aromatherapists are often called on to treat, including menstrual and pre-menstrual problems. Supplements of evening primrose oil (or equivalent) are important because they provide gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) which the body needs to make estrogen.

Any abnormality of the menstrual cycle which is prolonged or severe, such as extremely heavy or painful periods, absence of menstruation or bleeding between periods, must be checked by a gynecologist to make quite sure that there is no serious medical condition that needs treatment. If such a condition is found, there is no need to discontinue aromatherapy treatment, which will almost always be a valuable adjunct to any medical treatment.

The drop in estrogen levels that occurs when a woman stops ovulating underlies most of the problems that can be experienced during menopause and after, from hot flushes to osteoporosis and heart disease. Some of the problems encountered at menopause may be helped by essential oils as follows:

Fading Femininity When menopausal and post-menopausal women feel their femininity fading the essential oil Rose can help them feel feminine, nurtured and desirable. Not just a 'feel-good-factor', Rose genuinely helps many menopausal problems as well as being antidepressant, aphrodisiac and is excellent for older skins. Three oils commonly used for "women's problems" are rose otto, Roman chamomile and melissa. Ask a friend to give you a whole body massage once or twice a week on a regular basis. One good hormone-regulating massage oil is comprised of:
• 2 drops each of rose otto and sandalwood;
• 3 drops each of bitter orange and cypress; and
• 1 fluid ounce (30 ml/5 tsp) of carrier oil [Davis]
Antispasmodic oils For painful cramping at menstruation the most effective essential oils are marjoram, lavender, and camomile, in this order. Others include cardamom, clary sage, ginger, marjoram, orange. Several antispasmodic oils will also bring on a period or increase scanty menstruation and these should be avoided by women whose menstural flow is normal or heavy. The oils most likely to have that effect are clary sage, myrrh and sage, though basil, juniper, fennel and rosemary might also do it. [Davis]
Hormone regulating Balancing and regulating essential oils such as geranium, lemon, pine, bitter orange, sandalwood, lavender, cypress, clary sage help maintain hormone levels in the body. [Davis]
Heavy bleeding Cypress is particularly indicated; Geranium is a good hormonal balancer; and rose can have a regulating effect during heavy menstruation. Rose oil is particularly beneficial for all kinds of menstrual problems, since it does not intrinsically reduce or increase the flow or frequency. [Davis]
Irregular menstruation May be helped with estrogenic oils such as clary sage only in the first half of the cycle only (day 4 to 14), as longer use could shorten the cycle. A blend of tonic, cleansing oils such as juniper, pine and bergamot should be used in the last half (day 15-38) along with an herb such as agnus castus (Vitex). [Davis]
Estrogen stimulating oils Clary sage, fennel, star anise and tarragon are estrogenic, and the most valuable oils in disturbances of the menstrual cycle and menopausal symptoms. Estrogens always need to be balanced with the use of progesterones, but no essential oils contain progesterone-like molecules, so we need to turn to medicinal herbs such as Vitex agnus castus or ladies mantle (Alchemilla mollis) which can be used in the form of tinctures or tablets. [Davis]
Hot Flashes May be independently treated with rose otto, Roman chamomile, or melissa combined [OU2] with clary sage or sandalwood, along with peppermint for its cooling qualities. [Davis] One massage combination formula contains clary sage (10 drops), geranium (11 drops), lemon (7 drops) and sage (2 drops) and 30 ml vegetable oil. Or use 5 drops combined oils in the bath. [Worwood]
Day and night sweats As a massage oil containing grapefruit (10 drops), lime (10 drops), sage (5 drops) and thyme (5 drops) and 30 ml vegetable oil combined. [Worwood]
Water retention and bloating As a massage oil containing fennel (5 drops), juniper (5 drops), lemon (15 drops) and peppermint (5 drops) and 30 ml vegetable oil combined. Use 5 drops combined oils in the bath. [Worwood]
Circulatory problems As a massage oil combine geranium (10 drops), peppermint (10 drops), rose maroc (10 drops) and patchouli (10 drops) and 30 ml vegetable oil, and always massage in the direction of the heart. Use 5 drops combined oils in the bath. [Worwood] Cypress is a very astringent oil useful in treating varicose veins, applied locally but never directly over varicose veins. [Davis]
Depression and mood A variety of oils can be used depending on the type of depression. Normalizing and uplifting oils without sedating include bergamot, geranium, melissa and rose. Anxiety with depression may be treated with neroli and jasmine. Camomile, clary sage, lavender, sandalwood and ylang ylang are both sedative and antidepressant. Other antidepressant oils include bergamot, grapefruit, lavender, orange, Petitgrain. [Worwood]

How to use essential oils:

Use of essential oils can have subtle, but very real, effects on the mind and on the body. Properly used, they are very safe, but some oils present hazards that anyone using them should be aware of. Even small amounts of oil can build up to a toxic level in the body over time, and some of the oils are very poisonous and should be avoided under certain conditions such as pregnancy.

Aromatic diffuser used for environmental fragrancing
Bath mix essential oil with an emulsifier, a handful of liquid soap, or milk, then put in water
Massage add essential oils to canola, sweet almond, sesame, grapeseed and/or safflower oils
Compresses add essential oils to an emulsifier first, then mix in water
Direct inhalation put drops in hot water, cover head with towel, and inhale
Inhalation put a few drops on a cotton ball or a tissue, and inhale; OR put a couple of drops in your palm, rub your palms together, and hold the hands cupped over the nose, inhaling deeply for a few minutes
Facial sauna prepare direct inhalation and allow steam to penetrate skin
Household cleaning put a few drops of lemon, citronella, tea tree or eucalyptus in your cleaning solution. Your house will smell of a refreshing forest and you will benefit by inhaling the oils all day long.

An excellent resource for self-treatment with aromatherpy is "Aromatherapy: an A-Z: The Most Comprehensive Guide to Aromatherapy Ever Published" by Patricia Davis. Available at Amazon.com

 

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Updated 09/29/2010