Aromatherapy for Your Heart
For many, the month of February provokes thoughts of companionship, of loves past or present, or a love yet to be. It finds us in card shops seeking that perfect verse for someone special. Perhaps it conjures up visions of a romantic rendez-vous … of roses, chocolate and champagne. After all, February is heart month.
For this reader, February is definitely about the heart … heart health!
I am a middle-aged woman in good health. Or at least that is what I thought until I was diagnosed with prehypertension. I had no idea! I am making some lifestyle changes to lose some weight but I would also like to use complementary therapies like aromatherapy to help me with stress. Suggestions? Signed – Heartfelt
I am not surprised you were unaware that you have prehypertension. Hypertension itself has no symptoms. Headaches, dizziness, and nosebleeds may be reported if the blood pressure is very high, but these are very rare symptoms particularly when in the early stage of hypertension. (i)
What is hypertension? Hypertension is used interchangeably with high blood pressure. Blood pressure is a measure of the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries. The top or first number represents the measure of pressure when the heart contracts and pushes blood out (systolic) and the bottom or second number is the lowest pressure when the heart relaxes and refills with blood (diastolic). A person’s blood pressure varies throughout the day. It is affected by factors such as the time of day, the level and type of activity, whether or not one is healthy, and whether or not one is in a stressful situation.
Canadian and American heart health experts agree that prehypertension is a consistent reading of 120-139 systolic or 80-89 diastolic. Stage 1 hypertension is a consistent reading of 140-159 systolic or 90-99 diastolic and stage 2 hypertension is a consistent reading of greater than 160 systolic or greater than 100 diastolic. (ii) Persistent hypertension is one of the risk factors for stroke, heart disease, heart failure and arterial aneurysm. It is also a leading cause of chronic kidney failure. (iii) Having the early diagnosis of prehypertension is a ‘gift’ so to speak. You have the opportunity to take the steps necessary to help prevent or delay the onset of full blown hypertension!
How do we get hypertension? Hypertension is attributed to genetics, age, lifestyle and environmental factors. (iii) While genetics and age are not within our control, how we live our lives and lifestyle choices are typically the things we can manage. This may include losing weight for those who are overweight or obese, increasing physical activity, moderating alcohol intake, stopping smoking, reducing sodium intake, eating a healthy diet that includes plenty of fresh vegetables, fruit and low-fat dairy products, and by reducing stress.
Aromatherapy massage is an excellent therapy for those with prehypertension and an effective complementary or supplementary therapy for persons who are diagnosed with stage 1 or 2 hypertension. It has been well documented that massage therapy alone helps to lower blood pressure. Therapeutic massage aided by essential oils helps to counter the effects of stress by inducing relaxation, soothing tense muscles and connective tissue, stimulating the nerves that control the blood vessels, and by encouraging blood circulation.
Inhalation of essential oil aromas as well as taking therapeutic baths also have a role to play in the reduction of blood pressure. A 1988 Yale University study by Dr. Gary Schwartz, Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry, found that the aromas alone of some essential oils reduced blood pressure. These included chamomile (type not specified), clary sage, cypress, lavender, sweet marjoram, rose, rosewood and ylang ylang. (iv) Please note that the botanical names of all essential oils are found at the end of this article.
Regardless if an individual has a diagnosis of prehypertension or hypertension, choosing essential oils requires knowledge of the person’s health history inclusive of any medications and dietary supplements they are taking. This is critical for determining which essential oils will be the safest and most effective. The ‘when in doubt, do not use’ rule applies in all cases.
Use only high quality essential oils and select those with proven calmative, relaxant, sedative or nervine (nerve or nervous system strengthening) properties. As well, consider essential oils that possess mild cardiotonic and hypotensive, not to be confused with hypertensive, properties.
Lavender, sweet marjoram and ylang ylang are known for their hypotensive properties, with lavender and ylang ylang also possessing nervine properties. Other essential oils known for their nervine properties include bergamot, Roman chamomile, clary sage, geranium, may chang, melissa, neroli and sandalwood. (v) They also possess calmative, relaxant and/or sedative properties. Renowned aromatherapist Julia Lawless includes the above essential oils and adds bergamot, German chamomile, jasmine, rose, valerian, vetiver and yarrow in her list of essential oils for individuals with hypertension. (vi)
From a subtle energy approach the essential oil Helichrysum italicum or everlasting is known to open the flow of subtle heart energies. Gabriel Mojay suggests that both everlasting and Roman chamomile ‘relax and comfort the Solar Plexus area, alleviating the tension that arises from over-effort and over-control, and the depression generated from long-standing frustration’. (vii)
Whichever essential oils you choose, they must be diluted before you apply them to your skin or use them in the bath. Choosing the carrier oil into which you will add the essential oils is worth consideration. Carol and David Schiller, suggest a number of carrier oils to use for individuals with hypertension; calendula-infused oil for its mild circulatory system stimulant property, grapeseed for its mild cardiotonic property, pungent noni seed oil for its hypotensive property (best used as an additive), safflower for its hypotensive property, and sea buckthorn and walnut for their mild cardiotonic properties. (viii)
You could also consider using a carrier oil high in essential fatty acids (EFAs). Borage, evening primrose, flax seed, rosehip and sesame are all high in EFAs. You can add the thick, heavy-scented and expensive oils to other carrier oils like sweet almond or grapeseed at a 10 to 20 percent dilution to avoid the carrier oil overpowering the aroma of the essential oils you add, to improve the blend’s viscosity for massage and to save money if you are using expensive carrier oils. Please note that the botanical names of all mentioned carrier oils are at the end of this article.
Let’s start with a simple bath blend!
Into 30 mL (2 Tbsp or 1 oz) of the carrier oil of choice and 240 mL (1 cup) of Epsom salts, add 15 drops of sweet marjoram essential oil, 10 drops of rose geranium essential oil and 5 drops of lavender essential oil. Mix ingredients well and add to a tub full of warm water. Soak in the aromatic bath for 20 minutes. Omit the Epsom salts and you have a wonderful massage blend! (ix)
Essentialoil.com suggests a bedtime massage blend including 1 drop of everlasting essential oil, 2 drops of German chamomile essential oil and 10 drops of lavender essential oil in 30 mL (2 Tbsp or 1 oz) of carrier oil of choice. Gently massage the blend onto the area under the collarbone at bedtime. This blend has a strong aroma which may disrupt your sleep. If you think this may be the case, apply it early in the evening when ready to unwind from your day.
Here is an easy and relaxing massage blend that uses three essential oils with hypotensive properties. Into a container with a screw cap top add 60 mL (4 Tbsp or 2 oz) of jojoba carrier oil followed by 7 to 10 drops each of ylang ylang, lavender and sweet marjoram essential oils. (vi) Blend well by rolling the closed container between the palms of both hands. The benefits of using essential oils in a bath or massage blend are two-fold. You are inhaling the aromatic vapour that may provide an immediate effect and your skin is absorbing the valuable properties of the selected essential oils and carrier oils thereby affecting your body’s systems.
You may however choose to simply inhale the aroma of one of the suggested essential oils. Apply 1-2 drops of neat essential oil to a tissue or cotton pad, hold near the nose and inhale the vapour. You may wish to diffuse an essential oil into the air which can be done by using a commercially purchased vapouriser or diffuser. Choose your essential oil and use the diffuser according to its specific directions.
Well, there you have it. A little bit about hypertension, a pitch on the benefits of aromatherapy for prehypertension, a number of essential oils and carrier oils from which to choose, and a few simple ideas to get you started. Best wishes for success along your aromatic journey to a healthier, heart-happy you. I will be thinking of you on February 14!
Barbara Power, Certified Aromatherapist