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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Take a Breather—The Comforts of Aromatherapy During Cold and Flu Season

Posted: November 11, 2013
WEB EXCLUSIVE: Take a Breather—The Comforts of Aromatherapy During Cold and Flu Season

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Traditional herbal medicine has long relied upon the powers of essential oils. A classic example is the oil of the eucalyptus in the healing traditions of South Asia and Australia, and more recently the West. Like many essential oils, eucalyptus oil offers relief from many common maladies in multiple synergistic ways. This aromatic botanical has been proven to have antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties, which help to sanitize and disinfect in order to prevent microbes from taking hold.

But this oil offers subtler, long-term benefits as well, which help to reinforce the oil’s immediate effects. These more holistic effects include smooth-muscle relaxation, antioxidant activity, mucus-thinning, immune stimulation and support, and anti-inflammatory action to ease the symptoms of respiratory ailments including bronchitis, asthma and sinusitis.

In many parts of Europe and the United Kingdom, aromatherapy is not considered alternative medicine in the rather dismissive sense that this term is used in America. Researcher and author Dominique Badoux, president of Natural Aromatherapy Research and Development and publisher of the newsletter Aroma News, offers many intriguing insights into the antiviral and antimicrobial properties of essential oils at his website, Heralding France as the leader in modern aromatherapy, Badoux’s articles such as “Antiviral and Antimicrobial Properties of Essential Oils” provide a detailed yet accessible understanding of the molecular chemistry of oils commonly used in therapeutic formulas.

Menthol, found in peppermint and spearmint, has a centuries-long history in easing breathing difficulties, validated by many abstracts published on Pub Med, the database of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for peer-reviewed journal articles ( Menthol, like many essential oils, works in multiple ways to ease respiratory distress. The astringent properties of this botanical alcohol shrink inflamed tissues, allowing for easier breathing and swallowing. But the primary benefit is a sort of body-brain illusion, experienced as a refreshing, cooling sensation. Menthol chemically triggers special temperature sensors, proteins known as TRP channels, located in the epithelial cells of the nasal lining. Because menthol “tricks” these sensors into registering a flow of chilly air, the nose in essence convinces the brain that it is no longer congested ( for more detail). This remarkable effect makes enduring the common cold more comfortable.

Other essential oils identified in these sources as anti-viral, as well as anti-bacterial, include geranium, petitgrain, thyme and rose. Two 80s-era preventive treatments—massive doses of vitamin C, and zinc tablets—have recently been broadly exposed as ineffective in both preventing colds and easing their symptoms. While the benefits of essential oils in aromatherapy remain largely undocumented by conventional science, the time-honored practice of aromatherapy is growing in prominence as allopathic medicine fails to effectively prevent or treat cold and flu.

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