Health & Wellness

The use of aromatherapy for people with diabetes

According to the World Health Organization, 422 million people worldwide have diabetes, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. Diabetes is a chronic, metabolic disease which, when left untreated, can lead to serious damage to the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and nerves. It is characterized by elevated levels of blood glucose (or blood sugar) and there are several types of diabetes, among which, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, these three are the most common:

Type 1 diabetes

This is a chronic condition in which the body produces little to no insulin. Because it is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, thought it can appear at any age, but also because people who have it need to take insulin every day, type 1 diabetes is also known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes

This is the most common type of diabetes and it usually appears in adults, when the body starts becoming resistant to insulin or does not produce enough of it. It is also the type of diabetes with the fastest growing prevalence in countries of all income levels.

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes is typically a diabetes that develops during pregnancy and goes away after the baby is born. However, it is believed that having gestational diabetes increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes later on in life.

Keeping diabetes under control

Depending on the type of diabetes you have, but also on your age, lifestyle and your medical history, your primary care professional, alongside a healthcare team (which can include an endocrinologist, a dietician, a nurse, an eye doctor etc.) will create the best self-care plan to manage your diabetes. You will be recommended to stop smoking, you’ll have to manage your meals carefully, take your medicine, of course, check your blood glucose levels regularly and learn ways to lower your stress. Stress can raise your blood glucose levels, so activities such as yoga, gardening, listening to music or walking can make a big difference.

Can aromatherapy help control your diabetes?

According to a study published in 2001 in the journal Diabetes Spectrum, although aromatherapy does not make the claim that it can cure diabetes, essential oils can be used to reduce the side effects of some complications, such as ulcers, and to reduce infections that usually take longer to heal than in non-diabetic patients.

The author also points out that essential oils can reduce the stress of coping with a lifelong chronic condition such as diabetes.“Aromatherapy has a long history of use for stress reduction, and aromatics have been used in many cultures to enhance quality of life. Nurses have used inhaled essential oils to help reduce their patients’ stress. […] For many years, stress has been linked to chronic skin problems. Recent research has shown that stress affects epidermal permeability barrier function and is a precipitator of inflammatory dermatoses. This means that anything that can alleviate stress is likely to also have a beneficial effect on skin integrity. To use aromatherapy for stress, put3–5 drops of an undiluted essential oil on a handkerchief or cotton ball and ask the patient to hold the handkerchief to his or her nose and breath in slowly for 5 min. This treatment can be repeated every 4 h or more frequently when necessary.”

According to the author of this study, the essential oils found to be most effective for stress are:

  • Roman Chamomile
  • Neroli
  • Petitgrain
  • Lavender
  • Mandarin
  • Geranium
  • Rose
  • Sweet marjoram

Diluted essential oils – such as Lavender, Frankincense, Sandalwood, Tea Tree, Eucalyptus, Geranium and German chamomile – have also been used with good results on slow-healing ulcers and chronic skin conditions. “The procedure”, describes the author, “is to dilute 1–5 drops of essential oil in 1 teaspoon (5ml) of carrier oil to make a 1–5% dilution. Apply this dilution to sterile gauze and pack the wound lightly. Cover with a dressing. The carrier oils will ensure that the dressing does not stick to the damaged tissue. If the dressing sticks to the tissue injury, unnecessary debridement could occur each time the dressing is replaced. Essential oils also have antiseptic qualities and will ensure that a wound is sterile. An example is thymol, obtained from essential oil of common thyme (Thymus vulgaris). […] Replace the wound dressing twice a day. In addition to being antiseptic, all essential oils have some antibacterial activity, although some are more antibacterial than others. Because there is a gradient of bacterial concentration in chronic wounds with the largest amount of bacteria being found in the ulcer bed, it makes sense to lightly pack the wound so that the diluted essential oil will be indirect contact with the infected area. The use of essential oils can reduce inflammation, encourage cell regeneration, and eliminate infection.”

Another interesting fact pointed out by the author of this article is that research has indicated that many chronically ill people long to be touch and, even more so, touch seems to be able to make pain more bearable. This is why aromatherapy using touch was particularly shown to reduce stress. The essential oils listed above are also suitable for topical use, with the recommendation that they should be diluted to 1-5% before applying topically.

“Aromatherapy holds at least as much potential for use with people who have diabetes as for use with those who do not have diabetes”, concludes the author of the study. “Health care professionals can enhance their patients’ lives by either obtaining training in clinical aromatherapy or referring patients to people who have such training. […] aromatherapy can be beneficial either when used in conjunction with medical treatment (such as for wound healing) or when used to encourage general relaxation. The potential for even greater positive benefits exists, for as our patients’ aches, pains, and stresses are relieved, so may their physical health be less challenged, with resultant improvements in their blood glucose levels. Making our patients more comfortable, whether through the healing of an infection, the amelioration of a sore muscle, the lessening of neuropathic pain, or the reduction of psychological stress, can improve their overall quality of life.”

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