aromatherapy

My son and I went to a program at the library on this.
The guy passed arounds the smelsl and told eveyrone the benefits of aromatherapy.
Of course, he gave a personal anecdote about how his wart wouldn’t heal until he used (i forget which smell) on it.

I know this stuff is bunk, as was the feng shui program, but have there been any real tests on aromatherapy?
I suspect not.

Hm. Looks like there’s been a few, if you scroll down to “suggested reading” here:

Skedkic.com’s entry on aromatherapy.

I highly recommend this site. It’s also worth going back to his home page (there’s a link on the upper right corner of that page), and checking out the other stuff.

Basically, he says:

The guy claimed that putting the oils (diluted) on the body is what really works.
I am sure ther should be some double blind tests.

Scientists rarely bother wasting their time double-blind testing a theory that has absolutely no basis. In other words, if there’s no rational reason to think that something will work, if no one can even hypothesize a plausible mechanism by which it would work, then why spend time testing it?

If I said that spinning around on my desk chair twice a day would cure cancer, would the National Cancer Institute conduct an exhaustive round of tests to see if it works? A silly example, to be sure, but you get the point!

If one at least observes a consistent effect from a treatment, that might lead to further research, but when the only evidence is purely anecdotal, no one’s going to spend much effort on it.

The fact that some of the purveyors of this nonsense have been issued cease and desist orders by the authorities also tells you that they, themselves, haven’t done any testing. So they can’t demonstrate that their potions do any good, either.

There are really two types of aromatherapy. The first type, when you get down to basics, just advances the proposition that we have a sense of smell that perhaps we don’t use as much as we could, there are some preparations that smell very nice, and these can affect a person’s mood in a benign way. Affecting mood can lead to a change in state of mind, and perhaps assist efforts to relax, or to calm down, or feel better about life. I don’t think this is particularly contentious, and people have been finding ways to make their environment smell nice ever since the first cave woman plonked the first flower in the first cave.

The second type advances the proposition that different nice-smelling preparations have healing, cleansing or other therapeutic properties which go far beyond anything that is theoretically plausible or empirically verfiable. It is hokum, of course, but it’s what many people want to hear so it’s big business.

By all means be skeptical, but be discerning as well. Reserve the serious challenging for well-deserving targets, not people selling pretty-smelling bath salts.

Now I remember why I don’t subscribe to Skeptic Magazine anymore. Rest assured I don’t buy into the claims of aromatherapists either (EDIT: after researching this post perhaps I’ll rethink it) but professional skeptics should be vanguards of truth and logic and I expect them to be meticulous in both respects. What I don’t expect is the slant and fallacy that this article is replete with:

Well there is an unsubstantiated thesis for ya. Where is it said that inhalation of the particulates of a scent is the only mechanism by which any treatment could work if it did? Smelling food when I’m hungry makes me salivate. Granted that may be a learned response but it nevertheless shows a link between olfactory sensation and physiological processes. I’m not going to make an argument for it, but I’m not going to make one against it without knowing.

Are we debating the efficacy of aromatherapy or making ad hominem attacks on the research skills of one aromatherapist? That tiny little asterisk at the end of his sentence is a link to a page that discusses that very study which, on first reading, I assumed he was just citing to illustrate what a good hypothetical study might sound like. Why attack evidence as only anecdotal when you know well there is clinical evidence to back it up? Rather than cite the 120-odd medline abstracts that essentially confirm that tea tree oil has anti-viral (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=11338678&dopt=Abstract) anti-fungal( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=9055360&dopt=Abstract), anti-bacterial properties (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=12019108&dopt=Abstract), and even the antiedemic properties that was only anecdotal (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=12056511&dopt=Abstract and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=12088268&dopt=Abstract), I’ll just stick to the notion that he is debating the efficacy of essential oils through inhalation.

And what hasn’t been mentioned by the writer of this article is the second half of the study:

Since the subjective portion of the study doesn’t support his debunking he just doesn’t include it. He also conveniently left out reference to this article:


and this one:

and this one:

and this one:

and this one:

and this:

and this:

and this:

and this:

Ok enough. I’m going to stop there because I’m only on the third page of seven on a medline search for lavender limited to those with abstracts. I think it’s safe to say that there are controlled studies and there is some reasonable evidence that warrants it being saved from relegation to the myth pile.

And this man lacks a knack for sniffing out research. He faults the claims as being post hoc but doesn’t see his own ad hominems, biased samples, suppressed evidence, argumentum ad ignoratium, argumentums ad logicam, strawmen, and fallacies of bad reason and company (and they are all there).

For what it’s worth, I’ve never given aromatherapy a moment’s thought until I opened up this thread and probably won’t when I close it. I’m not supporting aromatherapy – just pointing out that skeptics are now often as guilty of employing the same faulty logic and poor research as the mythmakers. Wow this turned into a rant. But at least it has cites :wink:

One problem revealed by all of the cited studies is that it’s essentially impossible to conduct a double-blind test of aromatherapy. How do you set up the test so that the subjects don’t know whether they’re getting the real lavender oil (or whatever), or getting the equivalent of a sugar pill? Any attempt to obstruct the subjects’ olfactory senses might interfere with the effects being tested for. So, you’re left with some measured effects (many of them subjective, to begin with) that might just be placebo effects.

I don’t pretend to know what the answer to this conundrum is. Do the tests only on comatose patients?

I meant to bring this up because I was thinking the same thing. Looking over medline abstracts on any subject is a depressing foray into poor experiment design. I didn’t cite any of the experiments done on animals of which there were quite a few. Here are just a couple:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?
cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=12213626&dopt=Abstract


Positive results still beg the question of whether or not the mechanism is olfactory or inhalatory but I would think that animal testing is a reasonable control against the particular placebo effects one might expect in humans in an experiment like this.

I gotta say, when I first went on this tirade of that article I was just expecting to find one or two questionable studies from the Yoga Journal that were completely subjective. I was really surprised at the amount of research from reasonably legitimate institutions that found significant results. There are definately studies that show no efficacy but they are far outnumbered by those that do. I’ve been searching for 5 minutes to find one that doesn’t support a link and haven’t yet (but I know there are a number of them).