medicine has gained popularity in recent years. Proponents of one form,
aromatherapy, contend that certain smells not only bring pleasure but
can also improve emotional and physical health. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser
and her team at Ohio State University conducted one of the most
comprehensive investigations of aromatherapy; their findings were
published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.
The two most commonly used aromas, lemon
and lavender, were employed in the study. Fifty-six volunteers devoted
three half-day sessions to the experiment. During each, the
participants had a ball of cotton laced with either lemon oil, lavender
oil or distilled water taped under their noses.
A battery of tests was conducted during
these sessions. Blood pressure and pulse were checked regularly and
blood samples were drawn. Immersing feet in 32-degree water tested pain
levels. Repeatedly applying and then removing tape on one section of
skin examined healing ability. Psychological tests were administered
before and after each half day to assess mood and stress level. Blood
samples were analyzed to determine immune system strength and the level
of stress hormones.
The results of this detailed study are
not encouraging for proponents of aromatherapy. The smell of lemon
producing enhancement of mood was the only positive finding. Lavender
was a total failure.
The researchers found no measurable
evidence of improvements in health indicators. Both the biological
markers in the blood indicating the health of the immune system and the
level of stress were unchanged. Similarly, pain threshold and wound
healing were unaffected by the aromas.
The bottom line? Perhaps the pleasant
feelings derived from the wide variety of aromatic oils available in
the marketplace is sufficient to justify their use, even if they don’t
deliver the health benefits claimed.