Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) Treatments: the Stress Busters – Aromatherapy

“During the initial long-term US space flights the astronauts suffered from olfactory deprivation. They had nothing pleasing to smell, except for lemon-scented hand wipes, which became highly treasured items. Soon they were not used at all for cleansing, but were saved up for sniffing sessions. Later flights purposely carried a variety of fragrant articles, and sometimes astronauts were given bottled reproductions of familiar smells from their own homes, to help prevent homesickness. Surely smell is the most evocative and yet abstract of all the senses; evocative because odours are able to conjure up emotions or memories so effectively; abstract because we have not developed a language capable of describing them. The only way we can adequately describe them is by comparison: ‘It smells like a peach’ will convey something to everyone.”

Introduction to Aromatherapy for Everyone by Robert Tisserand).

AROMATHERAPY – The Use of Our Sense of Smell in the Prevention and Treatment of Disorders by Vicki Alford

A great deal of importance is attached in aromatherapy to the relationship of mind and body, particularly in psychosomatic or stress-related illness. Essential oils affect the mind by balancing the right and left hemispheres of the brain. When both hemispheres are in harmony with each other, we experience feelings of calm and wellbeing. Experiments have shown that when people inhale essential oils, the activity of the two sides of the brain come into close symmetry with each other. Sending pleasing, relaxing messages to the brain reverses states of stress-related illnesses.

Using essential oils, together with a fresh organic diet of foods high in anti-oxidants, a few vitamin/herbal supplements appropriate for my health problems & intermittent use of Bach’s Rescue Remedy in flare-ups of pain and distress, my immune system has improved dramatically, and finally after many years of colds, coughs, flu & various viral or bacterial infections, I finally can say my immune system is functioning well.  Flare-ups of pain subside more quickly with massages of appropriate essential oils on the painful body area.  And the absence of viruses (when most of my work colleagues & workplace in general, have succumbed to winter “bugs”) has really been quite noticeable this year.


The therapeutic use of aromatic essences (otherwise known as plant essences, essential oils or volatile oils) goes back as far as records began. Essential oils used in aromatherapy are extracted from a variety of herbs, spices, flowers, woods & resins. The oils are highly concentrated and need to be kept in dark bottles to protect them from light

When we are talking or reading about essential oils, be aware that this is a general term used in aromatherapy today. The scent of flowers and herbs is due to the essence content.

    1. Oils extracted by pressing are still the simple essences produced by the plant.
    2. Those extracted by enfleurage or solvent extraction are called absolutes.
    3. Those extracted by distillation are called essential oils.



The essences are volatile (ie readily evaporate in air), oily, odorous substances. If you feel essential oils with your fingers, you will find they do not have the consistency of the fatty oils used in cooking, but feel a bit more like water. In fact, eucalyptus oil is excellent for removing oil stains from clothing and does not leave an oily mark itself.

They are soluable in alcohol, ether or fixed oils, but insoluable in water. If you put them in water, you will find the water seems to absorb some of their odour though. Most oils are clear but some are coloured. These coloured oils often follow the theory of colour therapy eg red benzoin is warming and stimulating, and blue chamomile is calming.

The whole natural essence is found to be more active and safer than the isolated principle active constituent. eg Lemongrass oil. If the active ingredient citral is extracted from the oil and applied to the skin, it will cause an allergic reaction. However, lemongrass oil used as a whole, does not cause such a reaction. The other constituents found in lemongrass oil somehow buffer the potentially hazardous effects.

Of course sensitive people can be allergic to some essential oils anyway, and can have severe allergic reactions. Some oils can have a reverse effect than desired if used in too high a concentration ie be stimulating instead of sedating.


The quality and yield of oil can be effected by soil conditions, climatic conditions and cultivation methods eg lavender harvested by a sickle, yields a far superior oil than that harvested by machine. Time of day, weather & season of the year can also affect the level of active constituents.In general, herbs should be picked after the morning dew has evaporated, but before the hot sun of midday. Wild Thyme, for instance, is better harvested in late afternoon. Roses are picked when they just start to bloom. Peppermint is best harvested before flowering. Lavender and rosemary are best harvested during flowering.

As a result, essences that are pure and natural and from wild plants, and distilled perfectly into essential oils are precious and hard to come by.

Synthetic Oils

There are many synthetic aromatic oils for sale which are used in oil burners or room sprays and may even smell closer to the fragrance of the real flower (than a pure essential oil extracted from the flower or herb). Synthetic oils, however, have no therapeutic medicinal action whatsoever.

Vicki Alford is a person with Fibromyalgia who has used aromatherapy and other natural remedies to markedly improve the quality of her life

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