Can Aromatherapy Help with Migraines?

I know what you're probably thinking: "No way are essential oils gonna get rid of migraines!" And you're probably right. But even if aromatherapy does not totally get rid of your pain, it is likely to at least take the edge off. So it makes a perfect partner for other migraine remedies.

In this short post we are going to look at what aromatherapy is and how to use it for migraine and other headaches.


What Is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is simply the use of essential oils for health purposes. So, what are essential oils you might ask? Essential oils are natural oils distilled from plants. These oils often come from the leaves of plants (like peppermint) or the flowers (like jasmine), but they can also come from the roots (ginger) or bark (cinnamon). Really, they can be distilled from any part of a plant or its fruit, for instance from the peels of oranges.

Essential oils can be distilled or expressed using a variety of methods such as steam or squeezing. The method of extraction varies from plant to plant. These oils are very potent and must be stored in glass containers, because many of them can actually melt plastic. They are very strong since they contain highly concentrated substances from the plants from which they are extracted.

Aromatherapy uses essential oils in two main ways. The first is inhalation - that is breathing in the the aroma of the essential oils. When you inhale, molecules from the essential oil are carried by your olfactory nerves (nerves located in your nose) to the part of your brain called the limbic system, which influences your nervous system and hormonal (or endocrine) system. Did you ever notice how the strong smell of peppermint can wake you up, or the aroma of lavender can relax you? That's aromatherapy! 

The second way to use essential oils is by applying them to your skin, for instance on the temples, behind the ears or on the neck. (CAUTION: Because they are so concentrated most essential oils must be diluted in a carrier oil like coconut or jojoba oil before you apply them.) When applied, the substances in the essential oils are absorbed through the skin into the blood stream, much in the same way some drugs are delivered by patches.

Aromatherapy for Headaches, Including Migraines

There are several essential oils that are excellent for relieving migraine headaches and other types of headaches. Here are a few:

  • Peppermint essential oil is derived from the leaves of the peppermint (Mentha piperita) plant. It has a very strong aroma and the whole plant has been used for centuries for various medicinal purposes. It has pain relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. It also is helpful for combating nausea, which makes it a great choice form migraines, since migraine sufferers often experience nausea.
  • Spearmint essential oil is very similar to peppermint oil, but lighter and sweeter smelling. It is especially helpful for nausea. 
  • Lavender essential oil has pain relieving and calming properties. It is rapidly absorbed by the skin and affects the limbic system to reduce tension and anxiety.
  • Rosemary essential oil is also helpful. The rosemary plant has long been used in folk medicine to treat headaches. It is good for stress reduction and can aid digestion, which is good since headaches, especially migraines, often disrupt digestion.
  • Chamomile essential oil is a wonderful stress reliever. This makes it a solid choice for tension headaches. 

You can make your own "blend" at home using one or more of the essential oils above mixed into a carrier oil such as coconut or jojoba oil. Recipes are easy to find on the internet. 

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