Weekly Wellness: What is aromatherapy and how does it work?

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COLUMBIA - Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils from plants for healing. Although the word "aroma" makes it sound as if the oils are inhaled, they can also be massaged into the skin or (in some rare cases) taken by mouth. The use of essential oils for therapeutic, spiritual, hygienic and ritualistic purposes goes back to a number of ancient civilizations including the Chinese, Indians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans who used them in cosmetics, perfumes and drugs.

Over the years, chemists, physicians and surgeons made mention of using aromatherapy in treatments such as using lavender oil to treat a burn in 1910 and a French surgeon who used essential oils as antiseptics while treating wounded soldiers during World War II.

You can find simple aromatherapy products in most national retailers and more specialized products in specialty shops and/or online. While you are looking for aromatherapy oils you may stumble upon the phrase "essential oil." An essential oil is a liquid that is generally distilled from the leaves, stems, flowers, bark, roots or other parts of a plant and they contain the highest concentration of the plants' essence.

While many believe that aromatherapy oils can provide medicinal relief from afflictions, I wanted to start with an easy introduction to this very complicated world.

These are oils that are believed to help a person to wake up. I, too, was surprised not to find coffee on this list, but what I did find didn't really surprise me all too much. These scents are supposed to do the wake-up trick:

1. Oranges
Oranges are not only good for us to eat, but their properties are also considered energizing and calming. The scent of orange essential oil helps reduce stress, which allows you better to focus on the task at hand.

2. Peppermint
While wintertime and peppermint go hand in hand, this powerful fragrance works throughout the year! Its menthol scent opens up the sinus passages, helping you breathe easier all day long. Peppermint has also been proven to relieve tension headaches and improve alertness.

3. Lemons
Lemon gives off a powerful aroma that is both energizing and uplifting. This fresh scent is used in aromatherapy for its calming nature, which can aid with mental fatigue, exhaustion, and nervousness. It is said to refresh the mind by promoting alertness and concentration.

4. Eucalyptus and Rosemary
While it's long been linked to treating aches and pains, eucalyptus oil also has energizing benefits. It has been shown that brain wave activity increases when people breathe in eucalyptus oil, alleviating both mental and physical fatigue.

Like eucalyptus, rosemary can have positive effects on the brain, which can help during those times you're feeling fatigued. Studies have shown that smelling rosemary helps with memory and focus.

5. Grapefruit

With similar properties to lemons and oranges, the smell of grapefruit can leave you feeling refreshed and energized and can also combat stress and depression. When rubbed onto the skin, it's even been shown to help combat muscle fatigue.

Interested in giving aromatherapy a try? Look online or in your local retailers for the wake-up scents that appeal to you.