More than just cold weather — the winter can be a stressful time. Aromatherapy may be a low-risk, stress management strategy for RA Warriors.
By now, you’re probably heard it dozens of time: stress and rheumatoid arthritis do not mix. But, with the challenges of life and RA, stress can be nearly impossible to avoid.
Research has found that people with RA who also have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have worse patient-reported outcomes. Not only that, research focusing on physiological changes found that stress could alter immune system functioning.
One potential stress management tactic: aromatherapy
What is aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is a complementary and alternative medicine classified by the National Institute of Health (NIH) as an “alternative medical system.” It also goes by the name: essential oil therapy.
The name ‘aromatherapie’ was coined by French chemist and perfume-developer Rene-Maurice Gattefosse in 1937. This name was used to differentiate the medical uses of essential oils from those used for perfume.
As defined by the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, aromatherapy is the “art and science of utilizing naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize and promote the health of body, mind and spirit.”
The research into the effectiveness of aromatherapy is not particularly robust. A study highlighted by the NIH found limited benefit when exploring lavender and lemon scents — though there were reductions of stress hormones when using aromatherapy following stressors. Other studies have found mixed results on a number of symptoms including nausea-, pain-, stress-, and anxiety-relief.
In general, the research offers some promise. But, it is relatively inconclusive.
Is aromatherapy safe?
Essential oils are generally considered safe and do not need to be approved by the FDA. (For more regulatory information, see the FDA explanation of aromatherapy here.)
However, depending on the application method used, there can be unintended side effects. People with many allergies or anaphylaxis may want to avoid essential oils or a consult their RA treatment team before trying any aromatherapy options.
The National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy provides additional insights into essential oils to avoid for pregnant women and essential oils that are more likely to be skin irritants.
The most popular essential oils
From Aromatherapy.com, here are some of the most popular essential oils and their potential therapeutic benefits:
- Use: soothing characteristics; calming
- Use: stress reduction; depression, anxiety
- NOTE: known to cause skin issues and can have negative impacts when combined with UV/sunlight
- Use: stress reduction
- Use: fights fatigue and depression; stress reduction
- Use: enhances mood; sharpens focus
- Use: mental stimulation; enhanced memory and focus
- Tea Tree
- Use: immune booster; fighting infection
Methods of using aromatherapy
Different essential oils can be applied in various ways. Always be sure to use them appropriately based on the product that you are using. If you have questions, be sure to consult a clinician.
Methods of application include:
- Massage/body oil
- Lotions and creams
- Steam inhalation
- Diffusers and spritzers