Aromatherapy and massage can boost the immune system of cancer patients
Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine that uses essential plant oils to support and balance mood, cognitive, psychological, and physical well-being. Aromatherapists use therapeutic essential oil blends that can be delivered by topical application, massage, inhalation, or immersion in water to stimulate a desired response.
Essential oils (also known as volatile oils) are the basic materials of aromatherapy. They are made from fragrant essences found in many plants, particularly the leaves, bark, root, flowers, berries, wood, seeds, or husk. When essences are extracted from plants naturally, they become essential oils. They can be steam and / or water distilled, or mechanically pressed. Oils that are made with chemical processes are not considered true essential oils.
Each oil contains its own blend of active ingredients, and this blend determines what the oil is used for. Some oils are used to promote physical healing, for example to treat swelling or fungal infections. Others are used for their emotional value – they can enhance relaxation or make a room smell nice. Orange blossom oil, for example, contains a large amount of an active ingredient that is believed to be calming.
Each type of essential oil has a different chemical composition that affects how it smells, how it is absorbed, and how the body uses it. Essential oils are very volatile and highly flammable, so they should never be used near an open flame. They also evaporate quickly when exposed to the open air. Some essential oils used in aromatherapy would be: chamomile, geranium, lavender, tea tree, lemon, cedar, peppermint, jasmine, bergamot and coconut.
The use of essential oils for therapeutic, spiritual, hygienic, and ritual purposes dates back to several ancient civilizations, including the Chinese, Native Americans, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, who used them in cosmetics, perfumes, and drugs.
Aromatherapy is rarely suggested as a cancer treatment, but rather as a form of supportive care to manage cancer symptoms or cancer treatment side effects. More recently, cancer patients have used aromatherapy in hopes of improving quality of life and reducing stress and anxiety. Aromatherapy can be combined with other complementary treatments such as massage therapy and acupuncture, as well as standard treatments.
Safety tests for essential oils show very few side effects or risks when used as directed. However, in very rare cases, aromatherapy can cause a rash, asthma, or headache.
Now that we have a basic understanding of aromatherapy, let’s review this study. 66 patients with colorectal cancer were enrolled in a single-blind randomized controlled trial. The treatment plan for one group consisted of three sessions of light massage with ginger and coconut oil over a period of 1 week. The other group (control) received only standard supportive care.
The main finding was that the lymphocyte (white blood cell) count was significantly higher in the treatment group than in the control group. The size of this difference suggested that massage aromatherapy could increase lymphocyte numbers by 11%. Secondary outcomes were that fatigue, pain, and stress were significantly lower in the massage group than in the standard care control group.
The researchers commented that “aromatherapy with light massages may be beneficial to the immune system of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy by increasing the number of lymphocytes and may help reduce the severity of common symptoms.”