BETHESDA, MARYLAND. Aromatherapy is widely used in Europe to treat many conditions including anxiety and depression. The therapy is based on the use of essential oils (lavender, geranium, rose, rosemary, lemon, etc.) which are diffused through the air, absorbed in a bath or massaged into the skin. Aromatherapy has been in use since ancient times and is the most commonly used complementary therapy in the UK today. Recently attention has focused on the use of aromatherapy in cancer treatment. A clinical trial in Ireland found that oral doses of coumarin were very effective in preventing the recurrence of melanoma - in fact, so effective that the trial was stopped early so that placebo patients could also receive coumarin. A Japanese trial found that oral doses of benzaldehyde, a common component in several essential oils, were effective in halting advanced cancers; these findings, however, have not been confirmed. Studies are currently underway at the University of Wisconsin to investigate the use of oral doses of perillyl alcohol (a component of lavender oil) to treat advanced cases of breast, ovarian, and prostate cancer. British researchers have found peppermint, ginger, and cardamom to be effective in combating nausea brought on by chemotherapy and radiation. Carol Horrigan, a British nurse specializing in aromatherapy, recommends the use of essential oils to treat many diverse problems experienced by cancer patients. For instance, aches and pains can be relieved by rosemary and lavender, hair loss by cedarwood and rosemary, anorexia by lime, geranium and lemon grass, and anxiety and fear by melissa and bergamot. Aromatherapy is used in palliative and hospice care in England and two controlled studies have found it to be effective in reducing anxiety, tension, depression and pain. NOTE: Essential oils should not be taken orally unless under the supervision of an experienced practitioner.
Nelson, Nancy J. Scents or nonsense: aromatherapy's benefits still subject to debate. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Vol. 89, September 17, 1997, pp. 1334-36