Aromatherapy for Epilepsy

Aromatherapy for Epilepsy

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy involves the use of aromatic "essential oils".

According to Dr. Tim Betts (circa 2011 - link no longer available):
Aromatic substances have a direct effect on the smell receptors at the end of the olfactory nerve (the first cranial nerve) at the top of the nose : this nerve runs into the primitive part of the brain which receives smell . Aromatic substances are also fat soluble: so a massage with a diluted aromatic oil means that some of the active constituents of the oil will penetrate the skin easily and get into the blood stream without first having to go through the liver (which would break them down). It is possible then that some of these active constituents in small amounts will go straight to the brain. In conventional aromatherapy massage therefore the recipient is not only possibly receiving pharmacologically active compounds through the skin and going to various target organs including the brain, but is also able to smell the oil, as well, which may also be part of the therapeutic process, as is the massage itself.

The aromatherapy treatment regimen used in the study referenced here used the following protocol:

  1. Patients choose oil from variety offered and are given a small bottle, from which a drop is inhaled (from the pillow) three times a week on going to bed
  2. Six, usually two weekly, full body massages are carried out with the chosen oil
  3. Patient is encouraged to associate the smell of the oil with being relaxed
  4. Practice oil smelling to relax
  5. Encouraged to smell oil if seizure threatened or likely
  6. Continued practice with oil lowering arousal whether seizure threatens or not
  7. Successful patients cease to carry oil and rely on smell memory

Oils that were reported as helpful:

  • Jasmine
  • Ylang Ylang
  • Lavender
  • Camomile
  • Bergamot

Oils to be avoided:

  • Rosemary
  • Hyssop
  • Sweet fennel
  • Sage

Efficacy

I am only aware of one published study on the use of Aromatherapy for treating epilepsy (thanks epileric!), and the author admits it wasn't a controlled study, so the results are suspect. That said, this is what they found:

These results show that just over one third of patients who used the techniques of aromatherapy ... were seizure free after one year: some were still seizure free two years after ending treatment, although some ... had relapsed.

Aromatherapy for Epilepsy Study Results After a Year of Treatment
 (n=46)
Seizure Free35%
At least 50% reduction30%
No or transient effect31%
Worse4%

It appears from the study that roughly 65% of patients achieved greater than 50% reduction in seizures, with 35% becoming seizure free. It scores a 6.3 for the chart until further studies are published/discovered.

Potential Adverse Events

There are no known potential adverse events from using the beneficial oils. Seizure activity can increase if the wrong oils are used. I scored it a 10 for the chart.

Cost

The application of the therapy as used in the study requires weekly massage sessions with a therapist in addition to purchasing the oils. I scored it a 7 for non-insured, out of pocket expenses.

Type

According to the study, patients who stopped the massage sessions and/or carrying the oils with them were prone to relapses in seizure activity. Until better studies are available to clarify, I scored aromatherapy as 0 to reflect the need for continuous, active participation.

Latency

The study reports that seizure control was realized over a period of several months. It scores a 6 for the chart.

Special Notes

The author of the study concluded:

According to Dr. Tim Betts:
The simultaneous advantage and disadvantage of the treatment seems to be the amount of personal commitment and effort the patient (and therapist) have to give to it. It is time consuming which means it is unlikely ever to become a routine treatment, even if it were possible to determine those patients best suited to it. But, for some patients, prepared to give time to it, and who can find someone with the time, flexibility and knowledge to help them, it may have something to offer.

This page last modified September 9, 2019.

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