by Katharine Koeppen, RA
Last month I posted about some of the groups I've been following on social media and the unrealistic expectations that many casual users have regarding appropriate utilization of aromatherapy. One topic that keeps coming up is the belief that one can use essential oils to control high blood pressure (HBP), either via inhalation or topical application.
HBP is a condition that affects numerous people, and some have disconcertingly uncontrollable blood pressure readings even with medication. When people hear that most essential oils have the effect of lowering BP, they automatically assume that using aromatherapy would be great for keeping this health problem in check. Not so.
Any given essential oil has a very short term effect on lowering blood pressure, and sometimes the effect is so slight as to be negligible. HBP is a chronic issue which requires regular, long term treatment. Therefore, any reasonably effective utilization of aromatherapy would necessitate daily, round-the-clock applications. This is neither feasible nor sensible. Multiple daily applications of an essential oil blend are appropriate only for the short term in dealing with an acute health condition, not for a chronic cardiovascular problem that has taken years to develop and requires constant monitoring.
One enthusiastic gentleman argued the point with me on Facebook. "I have a great recipe for HBP but am looking for a better one," he stated in a popular aromatherapy group oriented toward beginners. When questioned, he admitted that 4 daily topical applications (in addition to his medication) weren't adequate to control his HBP, and any change took "a very long time, like 3 or 4 hours" to register in a BP reading. His experience underlines my point. Who is realistically going to apply an aromatherapy blend more than 4 times per day, at regular intervals, 24/7, permanently, to achieve the desired effect?
When essential oil use becomes excessive and long term, a number of other things can start to happen, and none of them are good. One is that the body becomes acclimated to the aromatherapy blend and it no longer works. Another is that the immune system can become sensitized to the blend, resulting in an inflammatory skin reaction, respiratory problems, or in extreme cases, anaphylactic shock. Remember, sensitization is permanent and can lead to cross-sensitization with chemically similar essential oils, limiting the possibility of aromatherapy solutions for future health concerns.
Lastly, prolonged usage may have the opposite of the original desired effect. It is well known that after a certain length of exposure, a stimulating essential oil can become stupefying (sweet myrtle is a great example), or a calming essential oil which results in lowered BP may suddenly become excitatory (as in a recent study of sandalwood administered by inhalation). The "prolonged" state in these examples doesn't involve weeks or months of exposure, but minutes.
In many cases, we simply don't know the long term effect(s) of excessive essential oil usage. Widespread aromatherapy abuse is a relatively new problem, and we are finding out that it may have serious consequences such as cancer or fatty liver disease.
When it comes to aromatherapy, let common sense be your guide. Aromatherapy may be pleasant to use, but it doesn't offer a permanent or sensible solution for controlling HBP.