Why Aromatherapy Is Going Mainstream

Juli Reynolds, BSN, is a perioperative nursing specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. Highly trained in pre- and postsurgical care, she had never given much thought to the practice of aromatherapy — until a friend suggested she try using essential oils to treat her migraine. The diffusion of frankincense, lavender, and peppermint banished her headache.

“Until then, I didn’t understand the potential that essential oils had for legitimate healthcare,” she says.

Reynolds dug into the research and attended a symposium on the science of aromatherapy for healthcare providers. “I can’t say that I understood everything I heard that day, but what I realized is that this is a form of pharmacology, and it can be effective and safe.” Not only that, she adds, but it’s substantially more cost-effective than drugs.

She soon brought her newfound knowledge to her work with surgical patients at the hospital.

A whiff of peppermint oil, for example, can be enough to stimulate urination in patients who are struggling to relieve themselves. This may speed their departure from the hospital after a procedure, since doctors typically won’t sign discharge papers until a patient can urinate independently.

“We’ve prevented so many overnight stays with a single drop of peppermint oil,” says Reynolds. “It’s super simple and super safe.”

Likewise, black-pepper essential oil can be a powerful ally in the quest to quit smoking. “We started our tobacco-cessation program in October 2015,” says board-certified holistic nurse and clinical aromatherapist Julie Streeter, BSN, RN, who leads the aromatherapy program at Minnesota’s Allina Health hospital system. “We’ve had patients who have tried patches, hypnosis, and other strategies, and nothing worked. Then a simple inhaler with black-pepper essential oil helped them quit smoking.” The vapor reportedly mimics the sensations of smoking, which helps reduce cravings.

Aromatherapy uses essential-oil scents to enhance physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. It is often associated with spas and yoga studios, but Reynolds, Streeter, and other healthcare providers are discovering its therapeutic potential.

Allina’s aromatherapy program is now the largest in the world, with essential oils used at most of its primary-care clinics and hospitals. Its Mother Baby Center and Virginia Piper Cancer Institute both rely on aromatherapy to address a variety of…

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