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Lavender Aromatherapy…would you use it?

October 14th, 2013

By Jinwon Byun, PharmD Student Cedarville University School of Pharmacy

Aromatherapy is a self-care treatment that uses essential oils and other plant aromatic products. Aromatherapy is applied by inhalation, massage, and topical application(1). Today, people use essential oils in aromatherapy for many reasons: as an analgesic, antimicrobial, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, astringent, sedative, antispasmodic, expectorant, and for diuretic purposes(2).

Lavender is one of the popular aromas. Many researchers have studied lavender essential oil. They have done many studies to find out the benefits of using lavender oil with and without medical conditions. Lavender aromatherapy works as analgesic, antidepressant, anti-hypertensive, anti-spasmodic, sedative, and nervine. Therefore, it is good for muscle spasms, arthritis, sprains, headaches, tension, anger, irritability, insomnia, stress, anxiety and hysteria. However, overuse of lavender oil can lead to a stimulant effect(3).

Recently, many researchers have studied the effectiveness of lavender aromatherapy to reduce pain. Analgesics can cause serious side effects, and often they interact with other medicines. Aspirin and ibuprofen should not be taken with warfarin and some other anticoagulant medications because they have a high risk of bleeding. The combination may cause stomach irritation, and patients with stomach ulcer should avoid many of these analgesics. Also, children, elderly, pregnant and breastfeeding women need to be cautious about which products they choose to take to relieve pain.(4). Because lavender aromatherapy may be a safer alternative treatment, patients could reduce risks from other pain relief treatments.

Researchers in Japan studied the analgesic effects of aromatherapy using lavender odor treatment. Researchers provided mechanisms of how aromatherapy reduces pain and unpleasantness. The odor of aroma activates limbic system, which is related to the pain process to alleviate pain. Also, limbic system changes cause respiratory patterns to be slower and deeper, which in turn relieve pain or unpleasant feeling. Another factor of aromatherapy is a placebo effect, which is “the nonspecific psychological or psychophysiological therapeutic effect produced by a substance or procedure that is without any therapeutic effect for the specific condition being treated(5).”

Twenty four subjects participated in the study. They were divided into two groups. The researchers provided information about lavender odor to one group but not to the other group. Subjects received electrical stimulation that cause the pain and recorded changes of pain (100mm visual analogue scale), total respiratory time (sec), and tidal volume (mL) before and after the aromatherapy. They also recorded the pleasant score for both lavender odor and no odor treatment. According to the results, the lavender odor was more effective than no odor treatment for pain relief in both the informed and non-informed groups. But, the informed group shows more effective than the non-informed group. So, the researchers conclude that the placebo effect takes significant part of aromatherapy for analgesia(5).

However, the study carried limitations. The study was not the blind study to lavender odor and no odor treatments. Since the subjects can smell and determine the lavender odor, researchers could not examine the scientific effect of the lavender odor due to strong placebo effect alone. Researchers did not control for the placebo effect on subjects, so the study has lack of physiological evidence for aromatherapy.

CBS news argues aromatherapy is not a physiologically effective treatment for immune system, blood pressure, and wound or pain, especially with lavender oil, according to the study by Ohio State University(6). However, I believe lavender oil is good for analgesic effects because many studies have shown evidence of effective lavender aromatherapy. According to Kim et al’s study, patients who have undergone breast biopsy therapy were satisfied with controlling their pain by using lavender oil(7). Also, lavender oil reduces pain of pediatric patients with tonsillectomy. The pediatric patients used less analgesic medications with lavender oil(8). To have better results from lavender oil, patients should remember that the aromatherapy is more effective to people who believe efficacy of aromatherapy(5).

Personally aromatherapy with lavender oil has been effective at relieving stress.  As with every treatment, some populations need to be careful when using lavender aromatherapy. Patients who have a lavender allergy should not use lavender oil. Because lavender has a relaxation effect, patients who take anti-anxiety medications should ask their health-care provider before using lavender oil. Also, pregnant and breastfeeding women should ask their provider before using lavender. Applying lavender oil on the skin can cause skin irritation, so patients should avoid applying lavender oil on the open-wounds(9).

After this research, I wonder if the aroma odor is only effective, when a patient is pleasant to the odor? Does the therapy work independently with a patient’s pleasantness of the odor? If a patient does not like the odor, then is aromatherapy not effective? Or can it even make the symptoms worse?

References

[1] Ehrlich S. Aromatherapy. University of Maryland Medical Center. August 2011. Available

at http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/treatment/aromatherapy.

[2] Aromatherapy. The Free Dictionary. Available at http://medical-

dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/aromatherapy.

[3] Enteen S. Aromatherapy and Massage. Massage Magazine. October 2011; 185:47.

[4] DrugInfo. Analgesic (Painkiller) Facts. January 2013. Available at

http://www.druginfo.adf.org.au/drug-facts/analgesics-painkillers

[5] Masaoka Y, Takayama M, Yajima H, Kawase A, Takakura N, Homma I. Analgesia Is

Enhanced by Providing Information regarding Good Outcomes Associated with an Odor: Placebo Effects in Aromatherapy?. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. May 2013; 2013:1-8.

[6] CBSNEWS. Aromatherapy Effectiveness Questioned. CBS. February 2009. Available at

http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500165_162-3903623.html.

[7] Kim JT, Wajda M, Cuff G, et al. Evaluation of Aromatherapy in Treating Postoperative

Pain: Pilot Study. Pain Practice. December 2006; 6(4):273-277.

[8] Soltani R, Bagheri M, Soheilipour S, Hajhashemi V, Asghari G. Molavi M. Evaluation of

the Effect of Aromatherapy with Lavender Essential Oil on Post-tonsillectomypain in Pediatric Patients: A Randomized Controlled Trial. International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology. September 2013; 77(9):1579-1581.

[9] Ehrlich S. Lavender. University of Maryland Medical Center. March 2011. Available at: http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/lavender

 

4 Responses to “Lavender Aromatherapy…would you use it?”

  1. Eric Huseman Says:

    I find the idea of using aromatherapy, particularly lavender aromatherapy, as an alternative to traditional analgesics an interesting concept, especially, as the blog post notes, if it could be used in populations such as pregnant or breastfeeding women who, as the blog also notes, have to be careful in selecting analgesic medicines. However, upon looking at the article from the University of Maryland Medical Center that was referenced in the blog in the section detailing cautions concerning the use of lavender, I found that Steven Ehrlich, the author of this article, wrote that “[p]regnant and breastfeeding women should avoid using lavender.”9 While this appears to eliminate the idea of using lavender aromatherapy as an analgesic in pregnant and lactating women, I wonder if Ehrlich was referring to all lavender applications or perhaps only certain applications (e.g. aromatic, oral, and/or topical applications). I also wonder what the source of his information was since he did not specifically link that statement to any particular one of his sources. I think that it would be interesting to dig deeper into this contraindication and find out if there is solid evidence that truly contraindicates the use of lavender in pregnant and breastfeeding women. If not, and if research could prove that it is safe and effective when used in these populations, I think that lavender aromatherapy would be a valuable addition to the standard of pain care for these women.

  2. Andrea Bashore Says:

    From what I have read, there are not any serious side effects of using lavender aroma therapy. I think that more studies need to be done on this before I would strictly recommend this treatment, but I think it could be good to offer for some patients. There are patients who cannot take analgesics or might only want natural treatments. I think this could be good to offer to patients such as these, but I think that it is important that as pharmacists we inform them that it has not been proven to be a good analgesic for all types of pain. It would be interesting to see more studies done on this. This type of therapy is not something I would first think of, and I would like to know more about other types of aroma therapy. I think that this therapy would not be effective for patients who do not enjoy the smell. Some people get headaches from unpleasant smells and this would cause the opposite effect of creating pain rather than taking it away.

  3. Rachel Kunze Says:

    Personally, I am open to the idea of aromatherapy in general and have actually used lavender aromatherapy to help me sleep at night. This placebo effect that the post talked about is something I have experience first-hand. Looking back, it is difficult to determine if the lavender spray actually helped me sleep or if my thoughts that it would work were what put me to sleep, so I agree with the author that the effectiveness likely depends on the patient’s feelings toward the therapy. For this reason, I would not tell a patient about the lack of evidence that aromatherapy actually works. If a patient has supportive beliefs on aromatherapy, then I would not hesitate to recommend it as long as they do not fall under one of the exclusions that the post has pointed out. We live in a world with very diverse cultures and beliefs, so I think that pharmacists should keep that in mind if they come across a patient who is buying lavender spray instead of Tylenol for their pain. Pharmacists have a duty to take care of their patients and improve their health, but should not offend anyone in the process.

  4. Trevor Stump Says:

    I think the author raises an interesting question when she asks about the link between the pleasantness of an aroma and its effectiveness. It’s fascinating that a pleasant aroma can have the analgesic effects that lavender oil has demonstrated, but it would be interesting to see what the effects of an unpleasant odor could have. I also found the link between a person’s belief in the effectiveness of the aroma therapy and the therapy’s actual effectiveness to be very interesting. It’s amazing how placebo effects like this can actually have an impact on treatment. I’d definitely be interested into looking deeper at the placebo effect surrounding lavender aroma therapy and examining whether or not the aroma itself was providing therapy or simply the placebo effect behind it.

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