More than one-third of the U.S. population of women is peri or post-menopause. Driven by a significant change in hormones, many women in this stage of life experience decreased libido, changes in sexual function, difficulty with sleep, and memory decline.
A recent study looked at the effects of aromatherapy or a mindfulness intervention, or the combination of the two, and their impact on sexual function. Not surprisingly, aromatherapy was shown to be helpful.
One hundred thirty-two postmenopausal women were divided among four groups:
- Aromatherapy + Routine Care (standard medical care)
- Mind-Body Intervention + Aromatherapy Placebo
- Aromatherapy + Mind-Body Intervention
- Routine Care + Aromatherapy Placebo
The women were 50-60 years old, hadn’t used hormone therapy in at least the previous six months, had moderate anxiety with some sexual dysfunction, and were otherwise healthy.
The aromatherapy groups inhaled two to three drops of a lavender-bergamot essential oil blend three times per day for eight weeks. The blend was made with essential oils and a 60% ethanol solution. It contained a 0.04% concentration of bergamot and a 5% concentration of lavender, so it was pretty diluted compared to two to three drops of pure essential oils. Even with such a dilution, the essential oil blend led to significant positive outcomes for the women.
At the end of the study, the Mindfulness-Based Intervention and the Aromatherapy groups experienced improvements in sexual function and depression. Interestingly, eight weeks after the study, only the aromatherapy group showed continued improvements.
Studies show that aromatherapy stimulates the release of endorphins, which contribute to reductions in pain, stress, and anxiety while increasing relaxation. 1Hickey M, Bryant C, Judd F. Evaluation and management of depressive and anxiety symptoms in midlife. Climacteric. 2012;15(1):3-9. doi:10.3109/13697137.2011.620188
According to the study’s authors:
The mechanism of action of these essential oils is two main ways: The first is through the olfactory pathway, which stimulates the receptors located in the olfactory bulb and transmits the olfactory message to the limbic system. This system is the brain’s emotional center and is effective on pulse rate, blood pressure, respiratory system, and stress response. The second way is through skin absorption. Molecules of essential oils are absorbed through the skin over 20-40 min.Mojtehedi M, et al.
Other studies reinforce the findings in this one. Rose, fennel, geranium, and bitter orange have been shown to improve menopause-related symptoms as well, as has Ginko biloba.
The results of this study aren’t surprising, as so many other previous studies have found similar effects, not only for women during and post-menopause but also for libido, anxiety, and other mental health effects in both men and women of most age groups.
The effects of the Mindfulness-Based Intervention are also interesting, though this isn’t a topic I write about. If it’s something of interest for you, I recommend finding a practitioner who specializes in it.
Regarding aromatherapy, I want to point out some crucial points.
First, the study participants used the oils multiple times per day, consistently. Your body metabolizes essential oils relatively quickly. This differs from many drugs designed to release into your system over many hours. You can’t expect them to work on symptoms like those related to menopause if you only use them once per day or if you use them inconsistently.
Second, this study does not suggest that only lavender and bergamot are effective. Hundreds of essential oils are available, some of which you may find repulsive and others you’ll enjoy. Lavender and bergamot are well-studied, in part because they’re inexpensive and readily available. This makes studying easy, but that doesn’t mean that lesser-studied essential oils are ineffective. You are the best person to judge whether or not an essential oil or a blend of oils is effective. But going back to the first point, you’ll only gain that understanding by using them regularly and consistently.
Third, there is a significant difference in quality and efficacy between commercially-available essential oils and those available through actual essential oils companies. There’s only one brand we buy from because we know it is uncompromising in the quality of its essential oils.