From ALTERNATIVES, October 1997


by Dr. David Williams

"Over the years, I've occasionally reported on some really interesting ways to use what are called essential oils. These are very concentrated oils that have been extracted from plants and are commonly used for aromatherapy. If you've never experimented with essential oils, it's definitely something that I'd recommend you try. It's fun, and you'll be surprised at how relaxing and mood-enhancing the smell of these different oils can be, both at home and at work.

In Europe, aromatherapy is taken far more seriously than it is in this country. Over there, serious research into the effects of essential oils is being conducted at many of the most well-respected medical universities. A good example is the work being done by Dr. Tim Betts, who heads the epilepsy clinic at the University of Birmingham in England.

Dr. Betts recently told us about a simple method he has been using to successfully treat patients, many with intractable epilepsy. Intractable epilepsy comprises roughly 20 to 30% of all epilepsy cases and is the term used to describe those patients who don't respond to any form of drug therapy. Before trying what Dr. Betts calls his 'smell-memory technique,' he felt that self-hypnosis might be the key to treating these patients.

Self-Hypnosis Alone Wasn't Enough

One of the first things Dr. Betts did was train 50 of his epileptic patients in self-hypnosis. This is a very easy technique that anyone can do. It basically involves learning to relax so that you can plant positive, stress-free thoughts in your subconscious.

Using self-hypnosis, the patients were instructed to relax at the first sign of a seizure. At first, the patients showed little, if any, improvement. Then, Dr. Betts arranged for 25 of these patients (half of the total group) to have aromatherapy massages with whatever particular oil the patient seemed to enjoy. These patients were then told to take a whiff from a bottle containing their particular oil whenever they felt a seizure coming on.

Aromatherapy Massage Put an End to Seizures

The patients using self-hypnosis alone continued to show no improvement, whereas all but one of those who had aromatherapy massages became totally seizure-free. Dr. Betts hasn't yet figured out precisely how his smell-memory technique works. It appears that the essential oils used in the massage are being absorbed into the bloodstream and are triggering dramatic chemical changes within the body. These changes then become what is called a conditioned response, which can be triggered again when the patient takes a whiff of the same oil.

Interestingly, it only took one or two full body massages with the essential oils to establish the conditioned response, and the effects have lasted for several months. It's too early to tell if the seizures have stopped for good, but if all it took to control the problem were a few massages each year, I doubt you'd hear any complaints from the patients.

Dr. Betts is now investigating more deeply what chemical changes these oils are causing in the body, and what effects they may have on neurotransmitters and on the gene system in particular. So far, he has found that the electrical brain activity associated with epilepsy and seizures seems to increase following either hypnosis or simply inhaling the fragrance; however, this abnormal brain activity will often disappear completely following aromatherapy massage with the patient's particular oil. Obviously, there are some very significant changes taking place with the aromatherapy massages.

I do want to repeat here that the massage, while relaxing and likely beneficial in and of itself, is simply the method being used to introduce the essential oils into the system and establish a conditioned response. The oils then cause the initial changes in the body, and later the same physiological changes can be triggered by simply smelling the oil (another massage is not needed).

Jasmine's 'Sweetness' Goes Beyond Its Smell

Also, Dr. Betts has found that certain oils seem to work better than others. He won't use Fennel, Rosemary, Camphor, or Hyssop because they seem to increase the risk of seizures in some patients. The one oil that consistently seems to have anticonvulsant properties is Jasmine, and if you're considering trying aromatherapy massage, I'd suggest starting with Jasmine.

Epilepsy can be a horrible, debilitating problem. It's a condition that has baffled physicians forever. Even with all the advances in medicine, treatment options are limited. Epileptic patients are either treated with mind-numbing drugs for life or in more drastic cases surgery. Aromatherapy and the use of essential oils has never been taken seriously in this country and I don't expect that to change anytime soon. It's unfortunate for the thousands who will continue to suffer from epilepsy due to the ignorance and biases ingrained in our current medical system."


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