February 17th, 2013 by Tori Hudson, N.D.
Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of essential oils from plants. These essential oils can be utilized through inhalation, oral intake, bathing, compresses and massage. Aromatherapy massage is the most widely utilized complementary therapy in the U.S.
The purpose of the current study was to determine the effect of aromatherapy massage on menopausal symptoms. This study was a randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial conducted at a menopause clinic in Iran. A total of 90 women were randomly assigned to an aromatherapy massage group, a placebo massage group, or a control group with no massage. Each massage group received a 30 minute massage twice a week for 4 weeks. Group one received a 30 minute massage twice weekly with a mixed aroma oil blend of lavender, rose geranium, rose and rosemary in a 4:2:1:1 ratio, diluted in almond oil (90%) and evening primrose oil (10%) at a final concentration of 3%. Group 2 received a 30 minute massage twice weekly with an odorless liquid soft paraffin. Group 3 received no treatment.
Results: Of the 90 women who qualified and consented to the study, 3 of them failed to attend more than 2 sessions and dropped out during the study, leaving a total of 87 women. There were 28 women in the aromatherapy massage group, 29 in the placebo group and 30 in the control group. After 8 sessions of intervention, the Menopause Rating Scale (MRS) score differed significantly among the three groups. Menopause symptoms decreased from 21.86 to 13.11 after aromatherapy massage and from 21.72 to 19.7 after placebo massage. A statistically significant difference was found between the pre and post MRS scores for aromatherapy massage and placebo massage but did not differ significantly in the control group. When comparing the aromatherapy massage and the placebo massage groups, the menopausal score after aromatherapy massage was significantly lower than that of the placebo massage group.
In summary, both aromatherapy massage and regular massage were effective in reducing menopause symptoms but the aromatherapy massage was more effective than massage alone.
Commentary: This study included women who reported a serious level of menopause symptoms, using the 11 items of the MRS including depressive mood, irritability, anxiety, hot flushes, heart discomfort, sleeping problems, muscle and joint problems, sexual problems, bladder problems and vaginal dryness. Each symptom is scored from 0 (no complaints) to 4 (severe symptoms). The total MRS score is the sum of the scores obtained for each symptom. Women who received the aromatherapy massage twice per week for 4 weeks had the greatest reduction in menopause symptoms, although there was a reduction in the massage only group but none in the control group. These results are similar to an earlier study of aromatherapy massage on menopause symptoms. (Hur M, et al. Evid Based Complement Altern Med 2008; 5:325-328). Another trial, although done with no control group, also demonstrated improvement of menopausal symptoms through aromatherapy massage. (Murakami S, et al. J Altern Complement Med 2005;11:491-494). The mechanism of aromatherapy massage and massage alone to improve menopause symptoms is not clear. It is possible that there is a hormonal change after massage therapy, but why the essential oils add additional benefit needs additional research if we want to know. We can certainly look to small studies on lavender aromatherapy and its ability to reduce anxiety as a possible mechanism of action. But when it comes to the benefits of nice smelling oils being applied with care through warm/gentle touch… do we really need further research to explain a mechanism of action? If nothing else, it feels good and 30 minutes twice weekly out of our usual activities and work and stressors sounds pretty good to me, menopause symptoms or not.
Darsareh F, Taavoni S, Joolaee S, Haghani H. Effect of aromatherapy massage on menopausal symptoms: a randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial. Menopause 2012;19(9):995-999