There are two major new storylines that weave new content into the existing fabric of scientific aromatherapy.
Chemistry alone is no longer sufficient to provide a scientific or theoretical foundation for aromatherapy. Molecular, cellular and evolutionary biology have made major contributions to our understanding of the healing powers of essential oils.
This is the point of departure for the 4th Edition. It is still based on the perspective of chemistry, but now it is complemented by the perspective of biology. Integrating biology overcomes the inherent limitations of chemistry which can only deal with one substance at a time. The “chemistry only” perspective limits the perception of the activity of an essential oil to the activity of a characteristic or active component. Biology, however, provides a scientific process to understand the properties of complex mixtures where many aromatic components are present. Their qualities can be substantially different from those of one or a few active ingredients. The biological perspective reveals healing qualities not previously understood.
When aromatherapy books first came out there was a need to sort, arrange or classify essential oils.
As was to be expected most authors arranged oils alphabetically. Niaouli came after Melissa, but before Pine. This insinuated that all oils are somehow equal and that their only distinction lies in their chemical composition. The 4th Edition proposes a fresh look at oils from the Eastern Hemisphere, which very often arise from rhizomes and resins, unlike the mostly green leafy European aromatics. At the very end of Part VI the 4th Edition even ventures into some philosophical speculation about the
connections between humans, aromatics and climate.
Angiosperm plants make their first appearances on Easrth approximately 100 million years ago. In their rapid evolution, angiosperms refined the already existing strategy of producing defensive molecules, which achieve their goal by interacting with molecular targets inside the attacking pathogen such as bacteria or virus particles. Antimicrobial activity of plant secondary metabolites (essential oils) arose through this million year long natural selection.
Example: The Pleiotropic Effects of Limonene
Limonene, a major constituent of many citrus and other oils induces a number of seemingly unrelated physiological activities. Yet the different properties of limonene only appear unrelated, because of cultural and economic bias to seek cures for cancer separately from those for heart disease and also separately from limonene’s influence on liver enzymes.
Secondary Metabolites Trigger Detoxification Enzymes
The ability of essential oils to induce or to inhibit Phase I and Phase II liver detoxification enzymes is often overlooked. Indeed, essential oils generally induce overall detoxification.
Properties of living cells, tissues, organs or organisms can be caused by their components. But as a large numbers of components of an essential oil interacts with organs and tissues the number of possible interactions rises exponentially. Pharmacologcal effects, sometimes unexpected may arise as a consequence of these complex interactions.
In the case of essential oils, healing properties emerge as a consequence of the interaction of all of an oil’s components among each other and with the human body. The components, as they are found in an authentic oil, are what the plant made to survive in its specific environment. This is also the reason authentic oils from one origin have the most radiance and therapeutic impact. It is the plants best attempt at survival.
Traditional Healing systems often are aware of healing properties which cannot be explained by a single active component but by the mentioned complex interactions. Conventional pharmacology, however, is not equipped to deal with these complex processses. Consequently it appears that relegating all knowledge of prior generations to the dustbin of superstition, ostensibly for lack of scientific evidence, does not seem to be a truly scientific approach. Instead it seems one method is preferred over another, based on the influence of current economics.
When aromatherapy was thirty years younger, demand for essential oils was nowhere near today’s dimensions. At that time it was still possible for the authors of “l‘aromathérapie éxactement” to write at length about specialties such as Thymus vulgaris, thuyanol type and to celebrate its near perfect combination of mild character with powerful antibacterial and especially antiviral properties. Considering the pressure that the demand of the large Multi Level businesses put on the market, such oils are now instant rarities.
Chemotypes are as much a human invention as they are an expression of the plants ability to react to different challenges. Interestingly a lot of attention is paid to Chemotypes of Thyme and almost none to those of German Chamomile or the Camphor Tree.
It is commonly known that beginning in the 1960s much of modern aromatherapy is based on the scientific work of French contributors such as Gattefossé, Valnet, Belaiche, Pénöel and Franchomme and the surging popuarity of aromatherapy in the UK. Aromatherapy’s new found popularity in the 21st century manifests mainly in North America and in East Asia. New research about the molecular biology of plant aromatics and spices originates mainly in India and China. It appears that classic French Style aromatherapy is being enriched by a vital Asia Pacific element.
The 4th Edition acknowleges these developments in multiple ways, introducing
a) Chinese Medical Aromatherapy,
b) less familiar essential oils from the East,
c) the contributions to current self medication arising from the American and Asian aromatherapy
communities as well as
d) philosophical speculations about the impact of climate on humans and aromatic plants.
There are other ways besides Western science to rationalize the physiological effects of essential oils. The 4th Edition briefly explores how Traditional Chinese Medicine explains essential oil efficacy and arrives at higly valuable treatment suggestions.
Variation and Authenticity
As plants change with the seasons so does their production of defense and other secondary metabolites. The composition of an essential oil changes continuously during the life cycle of a plant. It varies between different organs of the plant and also between individuals of a population. This constant change is reflected in the composition of truly authentic essential oils. Different from standardized essential oils required for industrial production processes, authentic essential oils reflect the seasonal and climatic variation of nature, changing from year to year or from harvest to harvest.
Chinese Medical Aromatherapy contends that essential oils can reestablish the integrity of the genetic code. This correponds to western research finding terpenoid components to have antitumor properties. it is also in line with studies of Anne-Marie Giraud-Robert, who has documented the ability of essential oils to help cancer patients undergoing conventional treatment through ameliorating the debilitating side effects of chemo and radiation therapies, significantly improving the prognosis for the patients.
Brief introductions to Agarwood, Hinoki, Cyperus, Ho, Galbanum and many more.
Black Pepper is so familiar across the world that it is hard to imagine that only 500 years ago it was one of the most sought after commodities that was shipped across oceans in high stakes trades.
Asian Oils with Distinct Sesquiterpenes
Bring a slower acting Yin quality. While their effects may not be as obvious as those of the classic
European oils one would like to speculate that they have deeper, more long lasting qualities to ease
serious metabolic and degenerative diseases often encountered at an older age.
Tetsuro Watsuji’s observes that humans living in monsoon climates have a different way to confront nature than those who live in moderate European or North American pastoral climates. This may be true also for aromatic plants. Asian aromatics often derive from rhizomes, resins or woods, as opposed to pastoral aromatics often originating from green leafy herbs.
In “The Golden Peaches of Samarkand” there is a captivating description of just how intense admiration for refined plant aromatics was in 8th century Tang Dynasty:
“In Tang, men and women of the upper classes lived in clouds of incense and mists of perfume. The body was perfumed, the bath was scented and the costume was hung with sachets. The home was sweet smelling, the office was fragrant and the temple was redolent of a thousand sweet smelling balms and essences. The ideal and imaginative counterparts of this elegant world were the fairylands, paradises and wonder worlds of folk tale and poetry especially those inspired by Taoism” (but
Buddhist legend is richly perfumed too). These dreamlands were always revealed as suffused with marvelous odors which were conceived as a kind of sustenance of the soul, and therefore uplifting and purifying in their effects, making for the spiritualization of life and the expansion of the higher faculties. Incense was breathing supernatural wisdom through the worlds of nature and human affairs.”
The Muli Level Phenomenon
Essential Oil quality had different definitions in the past. When essential oils were industrial raw materials, quality was defined by the purchasing agents of the major buyers. When the pioneers of aromatherapy were asking for wholly unadulterated essential oils, the absence of adulterants was considered high quaity. As the multi-level aromatherapy companies succeeded in making aromatherapy a household word for large numbers of people, unimaginable 20 years ago the quality narrative again shifted.
While Britsh style aromatherapy was often adamant about the prohibition of internal use of essential oils the Multi-Level-Marketing companies recognized this as a core weakness and simply claim that all their oils are of such quality that they can be ingested “Can your oils be ingested?” is one of the most frequent questions we now hear. Closely followed by “are your oils therapeutic grade?” However, there are those commentators in the blogosphere who are not so thrilled with the MLM model and who argue that the moniker “therapeutic grade” is not based on physical, chemical or pharmacological facts but is rather meaningless.
Analysis and Authenticity: Hype and Substance
Neither GC/MS or any other instrumental method alone can prove authenticity of an essential oil. The fact that lay individuals typically are not professional chemist is apparently exploited by some who post GC/MS analyses on the internet. While these analyses are meant to demonstrate the purity of an oil, anyone familiar with the composition of specific oils will notice quickly that quite a few of the posted chromatograms reflect essential oils which are reconstructed to varying degrees.
The only way to truly grasp authenticity is to have access to verifiably authentic specimens. Such specimens can then be analyzed and can then serve as a benchmark for future analysis. One of my mentors once told me the only way to ascertain authenticity is to see the growing plants, the still, and ideally be present during distillation and obtain a sample fresh from the still.
The composition of a natural oil reflects the plants effort to survive and reproduce. The composition of a lab-adjusted oil reflects the desire to cut cost. Natural but not Authentic, the New Trend With the stunning up-tick of the global fragrance industries, isolating specific chemical components from inexpensive essential oils has become common. Linalool is today extracted from inexpensive oils such as Basil in astounding quantities. As this linalool is natural it does not have the markers of its synthetic sibling. It can be added to other essential oils with much reduced likelihood of detection.
There are many exciting developments in aromatherapy almost at any given time. The data coming from studies in molecular and cellular biology appear to be attracting the most attention lately, because the studies deal with contemporary issues such as cancer, chronic inflammation or metabolic conditions such as diabetes and mechanisms for detoxification!
Charles Elson and Dennis Peffley, two of the most important contributors to NIH sponsored studies on terpenes and cancer, found that many mono and sesquiterpene components had varying degrees of antitumor activity. Their research identified different molecular mechanisms contributing to the effect.
Ameliorating the Side Effects of Conventional Cancer Treatments
An important contribution to the essential oil and cancer issue came is the clinical research of Anne-Marie Giraud-Robert.
Conventional cancer treatments with chemo or radiation therapy often produce debilitating side effects such as chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting (CINV). These side effects can be of such intensity that the patients forgo treatment. In her study, including lung, pancreas, breast, uterine cancer as well as melanoma patients, Dr. Giraud-Robert has shown that concurrent treatment with essential oils reduces side effects of the conventional drugs and improves the patient’s quality of life significantly.
Over 1800 cancer patients, who received allopathic treatment along with essential oil treatment, had significantly higher survival rates than patients with comparative cancers and allopathic treatment alone. These observations were true for all types of cancer that were observed.
Lymphedema Cellulitis - The Aromatherapy Solution
The following is an example how educated members of the aromatherapy community have developed successful treatments for complex issues. This example is also illustrating how there is an Asia Pacific flavor coming to aromatherapy. The suggestions for Lymphedema Cellulitis come from a Singaporean aromatherapist.
Many surgery patients suffer from Lymphedema as their lymphnodes have been removed and lymphatic transport has been interrupted. Patients live in constant discomfort from their limited range of motion and the extra weight. One of the most difficult issues for Lymphedema patients is the cellulitis infections that affect their Lymphedema limb. Once occurred this infection can produce an acute flare up once a month. Conventional medicine only offers intravenous and oral antibiotics with limited success. Some patients are placed permanently on prophylactic antibiotics to stop the symptoms. After much exploring and many trials from 2006 on, various blends of essential oils could be designed that have so far shown great hope for this debilitating infection.
Contemporary Formulations integrate the results of molecular and cellular biology about the interaction of plant aromatics with molecular targets inside the cell to help prevent chronic inflammation and carcinogenesis.
Blending essential oils is a different process than mixing laboratory chemicals. It is unlikely that we build relationships with synthetic chemicals, but it is not unusual to do so with essential oils. Essential oils are expressions of the living plant and can communicate to us certain elements of the actual interaction of the plant with its biosphere. This can take on the simple form of liking an oil because we experienced the plant on a beautiful trip to Provence or because Cinnamon Bark saved us from a tropical diarrhea. We will have the most success with oils with which we have a relationship. Choosing oils because we have learned that they are effective in the treatment of specific conditions is how we start. Over time, however, certain oils will become our partner. By experiencing them in daily life we learn which ones are our allies.