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Sunday, June 18

Alzheimer's, Aromatherapy & Antipsychotics: Just-the-Facts

Lavender Farm. Courtesy: Dave Wood on Flicker.com
VIDEO + TRANSCRIPT:

How do lemon balm, rosemary, lavender and other aromas affect people with dementia? Studies show surprising benefits - they may beat out drugs for controlling many of the symptoms of even severe dementia. See the facts put together by authoritative NutritionFacts.org .



Improving cognitive performance with aromatherapy in young healthy volunteers is one thing, but how about where it really matters?

Continued below video...

This group of Japanese researchers had this pie-in-the-sky notion that maybe certain smells could lead to “nerve rebirth” in Alzheimer’s patients. Twenty years ago, to even raise such a possibility as a hypothetical was heretical! Everybody knew that the loss of neurons is “irreversible.” In other words, “dead [nerve cells] are not replaced”—an important factor in neurodegenerative diseases. That’s what I was taught; that’s what everyone was taught, until 1998.

Patients with advanced cancer volunteered to be injected with a special dye that’s incorporated into the DNA of new cells. On autopsy, the researchers then went hunting for nerve cells in the brains that lit up. And, there they were, new nerve cells in the brain that didn’t exist just days or months before, demonstrating “that cell genesis occurs in human brains and [that] the human brain retains the potential for self-renewal throughout life.” Something we can take comfort in.

Still doesn’t mean smells can help, but an aromatherapy regimen of rosemary, lemon, lavender, and orange was attempted for a month. Here’s the trajectory of their ability to form abstract ideas, and their cognitive function starting six weeks before the treatment, showing a rather steady decline until they reversed after the aromatherapy. The researchers conclude that aromatherapy may be efficacious and “have some potential for improving cognitive function”—all, of course, without any apparent side effects.

What about severe dementia? We always hear about the cognitive deficits, but “more than [half] of patients with dementia experience behavioral or psychiatric symptoms.” Thorazine-type antipsychotic drugs are often prescribed, even though they appear to be particularly dangerous in the elderly. But hey, it’s easier to just prescribe a drug than offer “nonpharmacological alternatives,” such as aromatherapy—rubbing a lemon balm-infused lotion on their arms and face twice daily, compared to a lotion without the scent. Everybody got rubbed, but in the lemon balm group, “significant improvements…in…agitation…,…(shouting, screaming), and physical aggression.” And improved quality-of-life indicators—less socially withdrawn, more engagement in constructive activities. That’s important, because when you give the antipsychotics, patients become more withdrawn, less engaged; it’s like a chemical restraint. Yeah, the drugs can reduce agitation too, but that may just be because you’re effectively knocking the person out.

So, “aromatherapy with [lemon] balm…is safe, well tolerated,…highly efficacious, with additional benefits on key quality of life parameters. These findings clearly indicate the need for longer-term multicenter trials.” But we never had any, until—never. We still don’t have any. This study was back in 2002 and still nothing, but is that a surprise? Who’s going to fund such a study? Big Balm?

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