The term aromatherapy was coined by French chemist René Maurice Gattefossé in the 1920's for the practice of using various natural oils for medical purposes. Contrary to what the name implies, the principle behind aromatherapy is not that actual smells heal a person, but rather than some essence in the oils actually heals a person. The smell of the oils is only used for classifying them. Sometimes, aromatherapy resembles medieval treatments designed to drive out evil spirits - for example, some infuse a cloth with olive oil and place it over the liver in the expectation that this will help regenerate diseased liver cells. In addition to such compresses, methods of using oils include vaporization, inhalation, bathing, and massages.
The support offered for the claims made about aromatherapy are only anecdotal. Controlled, scientific studies do not provide any reason to think that it has any medical effect beyond possibly helping a person to feel relaxed. Relaxing a patient can be very important, and when a medical condition can be traced to stress, this relaxation can be an important aspect of treatment. It is not, however, a substitute for valid medical intervention with real physical diseases.
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What is Alternative Medicine?
There's an awful lot in the news and in society about "alternative medicines" these days. By some estimates, it's an industry doing between $15 and $20 billion annually - and growing! But what is alternative medicine - how does it differ from scientific medicine and why do people use it?
Skepticism & Critical Thinking
This is the main index for issues dealing with skepticism, critical thinking, logic and arguments. The first section is Critical Thinking itself - how to think about claims and arguments you hear, how to critique arguments, and how to formulate your own arguments such that they are more likely to be sound and valid. The second section is about Skeptical Investigations - the practical application of the critical thinking skills covered in the first section. Here you will find critiques of things like astrology, alternative medicine, parapsychology, the New Age and more.