posted on 06/19/2022 07:01
(credit: Personal Archives)
It was following a burn that the French chemist and perfumer René-Maurice Gattefossé discovered, in the 1920s, the medicinal potential of lavender essential oil. He had an accident during an experiment and, to ease the pain, plunged his arm into the first barrel he saw in his lab. The container was full of plant product. Gattefossé experienced rapid improvement and attributed his recovery to the natural substance.
Indeed, the perfumer is rediscovering a practice which, according to archaeological remains, was already widespread in Antiquity. Plants naturally synthesize an oil which is released for different purposes, such as attracting a pollinator or warding off predators. This substance is then extracted with various techniques and used in massages, diffusers or patches for therapeutic purposes.
Today, an anesthetist specializing in pain management published the first clinical research comparing the use of an essential oil with a placebo to reduce opioid intake in people who have recently had surgery. In the United States, where Jacques E. Chelly is a researcher and university professor, there is an epidemic of this type of drug, which has a high potential for chemical dependence. Early results from the ongoing study showed that aromatherapy with lavender essential oil halved the use of post-surgical pain relievers.
According to the doctor, previous studies show that anxiety, depression and catastrophizing (when the patient thinks he is going to die in surgery) increase postoperative pain and, therefore, the use of opioids by 50%. Since lavender essential oil is widely used to calm and relax, he decided to use this substance in the study.
In the preliminary phase, 25 patients were included (the final number will be 60), divided into treatment with essential oil or placebo. In the case of the former, they were given a patch of lavender and mint which slowly released the substance. For comparison, the other party also used the patch, but with almond oil, which is not indicated for treating anxiety.
Every 12 hours up to 72 hours after surgery, participants changed the patch. Throughout the study, levels of anxiety, depression, catastrophizing, pain, and opioid use were recorded.
At the European Society of Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care Annual Congress in Milan last week, Chelly reported on the effect of aromatherapy on anxiety 48 hours after surgery. The initial (preoperative) anxiety score was similar in the two groups (23.5 in the aromatherapy group and 22.9 in the placebo group. Two days later, there was a decrease in the score in both arms of the l study, but the greatest reduction was observed in patients who used the lavender and mint patch: 13.47 versus 16.2.
Additionally, in the aromatherapy group, total opioid consumption was 50% lower during the first 48 hours after surgery. The researchers relied on a measure called Oral Morphine Equivalent (OME), which compares the use of different drugs and methods. While the score in the first case was 12 OME, in the second it was 24.75 OM, indicating less use of painkillers by people who had the lavender patch. “Our results suggest that by controlling anxiety, aromatherapy can help manage pain and reduce opioid use,” says Chelly (Read Interview).
I don’t give birth
In 2016, neurologist Shaheen Lakhan published an analysis of several studies investigating the potential of lavender oil to control labor pain. 17 studies were included, all with a treatment group and a placebo. The conclusion was that aromatherapy reduced pain in the first stage, when there is an increase in dilation at 10 cm. In addition to the analgesic effects, the scientist found that lavender oil shortens the time until the baby is born.
“Aromatherapy stimulates the olfactory system of the brain, which has connections in the limbic system, which is responsible for emotions, memories and bodily regulation,” explains Lakhan. “In fact, in addition to reducing feelings of stress and anxiety, aromatherapy alters many bodily responses such as pulse, blood pressure, skin temperature, and pain.” The doctor says that since the article was published, many studies have been published with positive results involving essential oils to supplement the treatment of cancer, bone marrow transplant, cesarean section, hypertension and constipation, among others.
Domitila Gomes, a 38-year-old pet businesswoman, discovered the therapeutic effects of essential oils about six years ago on medical advice. “I started doing research to treat anxiety,” he says. As she approved of the results, she began to use others, in addition to lavender, such as copaiba and peppermint. “I believe in the psychological effects of aromatherapy, which is really soothing, and also in physical healing,” he says. Domitila welcomes dogs and uses lavender on the animals to relax them or massage them when they are in pain. She says she always tries to learn about oils from books and documents.
Danielle Vilela Paulino, professor of aromatherapy at Aroma e Flor, in Rio de Janeiro, says lavender is one of the most used oils because its effects are well established. However, she says that each plant has its own properties. “With a test called chromatography, it is possible to discover the active principle of each plant”, specifies the aromatherapist, who uses 60 different oils in the consultations. For Daniele, with more scientific research on the potential of the substances, it will be possible to discover many other benefits of the practice.