What is your favorite holiday scent? Fresh baked gingerbread? Evergreen boughs? Candy Canes? Could smelling those things actually be good for you? Proponents of aromatherapy say if they are in the form of essential oils: yes.
The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy defines aromatherapy, also referred to as Essential Oil therapy, as the art and science of utilizing naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize and promote the health of body, mind and spirit.
While aromatherapy falls into the category of alternative medicine, many traditional medical practitioners recommend it as a complement to other treatment. The National Cancer Institute supports aromatherapy being used by patients with cancer as supportive care for general well-being and reports that studies have shown specific essential oils have positive effects on the immune system. A 2005 study found orange and lavender reduced anxiety and improved mood in patients waiting for dental treatment. However, aromatherapy products are not subject to approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and thus providers of essential oils cannot claim to treat specific diseases.
The risks of using essential oils is low, especially when they are diluted and used in a diffuser. Be wary of applying them topically, as they can irritate skin. Some essential oils, such as lavender and tea tree, have hormone-like effects, and thus should be used with caution, especially by people with a cancer that needs estrogen to grow.