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Aromatherapy is an affordable, accessible natural path to relief for a variety of health problems, ranging from arthritis pain to nausea to drowsiness, supporters insist.
But skeptics dismiss any claims that the use of essential oils from flowers, herbs and trees can promote health in any way.
And both sides are unlikely to relinquish their positions anytime soon.
Aromatherapy "works for so many different things, it is amazing," said Kelly Holland Azzaro, a registered aromatherapist in Banner Elk, N.C., and vice president of the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA), an industry trade group. "You can experience aromatherapy by inhalation by putting one drop of an essential oil on a tissue and inhaling," she said.
According to the NAHA, aromatherapy is the "art and science of utilizing naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize and promote the health of body, mind and spirit." These essences are then distilled into "essential oils"—highly concentrated aromatic extracts—that are derived from a "variety of aromatic plant material, including grasses, leaves, flowers, needles and twigs, peels of fruit, wood and roots."
Among the most popular essential oils, which are widely sold at health-food stores and over the Internet, are eucalyptus, geranium, lavender, lemon, peppermint, rosemary, and tea tree, and according to the NAHA.
"Uplifting scents such as citrus can keep you awake at work," Azarro said. "To help increase alertness, use rosemary and lemon." And to combat nausea, try essence of peppermint, ginger and orange, she added.
While research into aromatherapy's benefits is limited, there are some studies that suggest certain treatments can help ease some symptoms.
For instance, in a 2005 study published in the journal Chronobiology International, researchers reported that lavender aromatherapy helped all 31 men and women feel more "vigor" the next morning, compared to the night they breathed in distilled water, an exercise that served as the control setting.
A study in the March-April 2006 issue of the Journal of Midwifery & Women's Health said that aromatherapy, combined with massage, helped new mothers feel less "blue" and anxious, compared to mothers of newborns who didn't get the treatment.
And a review published in Holistic Nurse Practitioner found that patients with postoperative nausea and vomiting can be helped by aromatherapy as well as acupressure and acupuncture.
But critics find little of value with scent therapy—or even label it as therapy.
"It's not a therapy, it's a set of products with odors," said Dr. Stephen Barrett, board chairman of Quackwatch Inc., an Allentown, Pa.-based organization that says it fights health fraud and quackery.
"If people like the odors and want to pay for them, I would have no objection," Barrett said. However, he added, don't expect much. "There is no evidence that aromatherapy can alter the course of any disease. There is no logical reason to believe that any such evidence will ever be found," he said.
As for potential risks, Barrett said: "Some people find certain odors irritating. People who use aromatherapy with the hope that it will cure what ails them will waste money."
Azzaro said that, currently, aromatherapy is unregulated in the United States. "And that's part of the issue," she said. People don't understand exactly what it is, either. "People think it's potpourri or a smelly candle."
There's also no state licensing for aromatherapists in the United States. Most practitioners incorporate their training with another profession, such as licensed acupuncturist or registered nurse, according to the NAHA.
If you're interested in pursuing aromatherapy, Azzaro said it's best to ask a practitioner about his or her specific training. "And when you purchase oil, such as from a health-food store, hopefully some educational materials are with the product," she said.
Be aware, too, there can be the possibility of allergic reactions to some treatments.
By Kathleen Doheny, HealthDay Reporter, November 2, 2006
Acupuncture and an extract of turmeric—the spice that gives curry its kick—may both offer significant pain relief to some arthritis patients, two new studies suggest.
Reporting in the November issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism, a German team says a combination of acupuncture and conventional medicine can boost quality of life for patients suffering from osteoarthritis.
And in a second study in the same issue, American researchers say the ingestion of a special turmeric extract could help prevent or curb both acute and chronic rheumatoid arthritis.
The findings should be heartening to the roughly 40 percent of arthritis patients in the United States who say they've turned to some form of alternative medicine.
"If I had arthritis, I would be very excited about this," said Dr. Janet L. Funk, the lead author of the turmeric study and an assistant professor of physiological sciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, nearly one in five Americans (46 million) suffers from one of the more than 100 various joint diseases that constitute arthritis. An additional 23 million have chronic joint pain that has yet to be formally diagnosed.
Osteoarthritis is caused by a progressive degeneration of bone cartilage and is the most common type of arthritis in the United States. Rheumatoid arthritis is an immunological disorder characterized by a painful inflammation of the lining of the joints.
In her study, Funk built on earlier research she had conducted with rats. Those efforts suggested that turmeric might prevent joint inflammation.
In her current work, she first broke down the specific contents of commonly sold turmeric dietary supplements.
In the lab, she and her colleagues then isolated a turmeric extract that was free of essential oils and structurally similar to that found in commercial varieties. The extract was based largely on curcuminoids—a compound they believed to be most protective against arthritic inflammation.
Funk's group administered the extract to female rats both before and after the onset of rheumatoid arthritis. They then tracked changes in the rodents' bone density and integrity.
The turmeric extract appeared to block inflammatory pathways associated with rheumatoid arthritis in rats at a particularly early point in the development of the disease. The extract had a beneficial impact if given three days after arthritis set in, but not if given eight days after disease onset.
Investigations in the laboratory revealed that turmeric stops a particular protein from launching an inflammatory "chain reaction" linked to swelling and pain. The expression of hundreds of genes normally involved in instigating bone destruction and swelling was also altered by the turmeric.
Funk stressed, however, that the findings are preliminary, and the extract needs to be tested in people.
"I feel an obligation to make clear that people should not run out to buy and consume turmeric powder," she cautioned. "First of all, a very small percent of the ground-up root that we buy in the grocery store is the protective part of the root, so it's not going to get you anywhere." In fact, the compound used in the study probably makes up only about 3 percent of the weight of current store-bought turmeric supplements, Funk said.
"That means that if this pans out in further studies, patients will be taking a purified extract, and this is all really exciting," she said. "But we still need conclusive proof that this extract is safe and efficacious."
In the second study, researchers led by Dr. Claudia M. Witt of Charite University Medical Center in Berlin spent three years tracking the treatment results of 3,500 male and female osteoarthritis patients suffering from either knee or hip pain.
For six months, all the participants were permitted to continue whatever conventional western medical treatments they had been undergoing prior to the onset of the treatment trials.
However, in addition, over 3,200 of the patients also received up to 15 sessions of needle-stimulation acupuncture during the first three months of the study. The remaining 310 patients received no acupuncture in the first three months. They were offered such treatment in the final three months of the study period, however.
All acupuncture sessions were administered by physicians who had received a minimum of 140 hours of certified training.
Symptom and pain questionnaires were completed at the onset of the study and at three months and six months of therapy.
Patients with chronic osteoarthritis pain who underwent a combination of routine medical care plus acupuncture demonstrated significant quality of life improvements, the researchers found. This included increased mobility and pain reduction above and beyond that experienced by patients who did not receive acupuncture.
For those who began their acupuncture treatments immediately, osteoarthritis improvement held steady three months after cessation of the sessions. For those patients who had begun acupuncture three months into the study period, comparable improvements occurred by the time they ended their sessions at the six-month mark.
The authors said acupuncture appeared to be a safe medical intervention with minor side effects observed in just over 5 percent of patients.
The study, one of the largest of its kind, demonstrated that acupuncture was a viable therapeutic option for people suffering from osteoarthritis, the German team said.
"I'm not surprised that people can be treated with acupuncture and get better," said Marshall H. Sager, a Bala Cynwyd, Pa.-based doctor of osteopathic medicine, acupuncturist, and past president of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture.
"Using acupuncture adjunctively with western medicine is very common, because if you can do both approaches, you're way ahead of the game," he said. "Some people are not amenable to medication, either because of allergenic effects or because they just don't want to consume artificial things. And so, this is a way to start the healing process by engaging and stimulating the body's own inherent ability to heal itself."
However, Sager cautioned that American patients who consider this alternative route should choose carefully when they seek out acupuncture care.
"'Medical acupuncture' is acupuncture as practiced by a physician, which is much different than acupuncture as practiced by non-physicians in the east, such as in China," he noted. "And I would most definitely recommend that patients in the west deal with a physician that's properly trained and a member of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture," Sager said.
By Alan Mozes, HealthDay Reporter, October 30, 2006
Black tea eases stress by lowering blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol, says a British study in the journal Psychopharmacology.
The six-week study of 75 people found that those who drank black tea were able to de-stress more quickly than those who drank a caffeinated tea substitute, BBC News reported.
The participants were assigned challenging tasks while their cortisol, blood pressure, blood platelet, and self-rated levels of stress were measured by the researchers. During these tasks, both groups of study participants experienced large increases in blood pressure, heart rate, and self-rated levels of stress.
However, 50 minutes after the stressful tasks, cortisol levels dropped by an average of 47 percent among those who drank black tea and 27 percent among those who drank the tea substitute.
The study also found that the tea drinkers had lower blood platelet activation, which is associated with blood clotting and heart-attack risk, BBC News reported.
It's unclear which ingredients in black tea help reduce stress, the University College London researchers said.
HealthDay News, October 6, 2006
To arrest rising health-care costs, a growing number of U.S. employers are expanding workplace "wellness" initiatives. Providing workers with tools and incentives to improve their health, the thinking goes, will reduce medical-care costs and boost worker productivity.
Experts say it's a trend that bodes well for employees who are motivated to lose weight, quit smoking, manage a chronic condition or just stay fit.
"Pretty clearly, employers have realized that if they're going to manage benefit costs and manage work loss, they need to get at the underlying health drivers of that -- employee health -- and get at the root causes of health-care utilization and health-care expenditures," said Bruce Kelley, practice leader for data services in the Minneapolis office of Watson Wyatt Worldwide, a human resources consulting firm.
According to Kelley, employers have been investing much more heavily in wellness services in the last few years. "I've been consulting in this area for 20 years," he noted, "and I've never seen as much activity among employers as I've seen just in the last few years."
Wellness is a broad term that describes the panoply of health-management services that companies offer, from onsite fitness centers and smoking-cessation classes to health-risk appraisals and disease-management programs.
Survey data show that more large employers are offering programs to improve employee health and productivity. Seventy-five percent offered a "health promotion" program in 2005 or 2006, up from 56 percent in 2003, according to survey results released last December by Watson Wyatt and the National Business Group on Health.
Nearly three out of four employers (72 percent) are sponsoring health-risk appraisals to measure individual employees' health risks and behaviors. And 40 percent are engaging "personal health coaches," health professionals who can help, say, an employee with diabetes manage their diet, exercise and drug regimens.
At the same time, corporate America and public health leaders are grappling to understand which particular interventions or combinations of programs and incentives yield the greatest return on investment.
"There has not been a tremendous amount of high quality research in this area," said Doug Evans, director of the Center for Health Promotion Research at RTI International, a nonprofit research institute based in Research Triangle Park, N.C.
But there are a number of efforts under way to learn what works. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for one, is sponsoring a series of studies to evaluate worksite efforts to prevent and control obesity.
In one study, published in the September/October 2005 issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion, CDC and RTI researchers found that obesity boosts employers' costs, including medical expenditures and absenteeism, by $460 to $2,500 per obese employee per year. They estimated that the cost of obesity at a firm with 1,000 employees is about $285,000 per year.
In March, the National Business Group on Health issued 10 recommendations for promoting prevention in the workplace. Overall, it concluded that without the support of top-level management, companies cannot convey "the importance to employees of caring for themselves."
Some employers are using incentives to get workers on the wellness bandwagon. You might qualify for a lower health insurance premium, say, if you stop smoking, or you could earn a $25 gift certificate for completing a health-risk appraisal.
The use of incentives will continue, Evans predicted. However, he believes employers must do a better job of promoting the benefits of health, much like anti-tobacco advocates did by portraying a non-smoking lifestyle as cool, hip and fun.
"Maybe that kind of technique can be effective in obesity," he offered. "Can you make it cool to be healthy weight and not to be fat?"
Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, chairman of the National Governors Association, is encouraging all Americans to live healthy lifestyles through a national campaign, Healthy America: Wellness Where We Live, Work and Learn.
By Karen Pallerito, HealthDay News, October 5, 2006
By Judi Bailey
Learn more about identifying this disorder and helping clients who demonstrate its symptoms.
Cornelia Day Resort in New York welcomed two Chiva-Som therapists from Hua Hin, Thailand, for a special promotional week in which clients could experience authentic Thai massages. 866-663-1700
By Howard Murad, MD
Find out how spa professionals can combat cultural stress in today's society.
Rancho La Puerta breaks ground on a 4,500-square-foot spa cooking school. La Cocina Que Canta, Spanish for “The Kitchen That Sings,” will feature a large hands-on kitchen classroom, cookbook library and culinary gift shop. The school is scheduled to open in spring of 2007. 800-443-7565
The Shang-Shung Institute of America recently launched its Tibetan Healing Center in Northampton, MA, featuring a certification program. 413-369-4928