Aroma Therapy to Ease Combat Stress?

The U.S. military is experimenting with aroma therapy, acupuncture and other unorthodox methods to treat soldiers traumatized by combat experiences, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Saturday. He said the experiments showed promise.

Gates touted possible treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during a meeting with the wives of servicemen at Fort Riley, Kansas, when one woman asked him to explain why chiropractic and acupuncture therapies were not covered under her military health care plan.

"We have an experimental unit … treating soldiers with PTS (post-traumatic stress) and using a number of unorthodox approaches, including aroma therapy, acupuncture, things like that, that really are getting some serious results, and so maybe we can throw that into the hopper as well," Gates said. Pentagon Tries Aroma Therapy to Ease Combat Stress

Aroma therapy and acupuncture have been shown to have some influence on the symptoms of stress. However, their therapeutic effectiveness is a different matter.

One systematic review conducted by researchers at the School of Postgraduate Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Exeter located twelve clinical trials: six of them had no independent replication; six related to the relaxing effects of aromatherapy combined with massage. Another review conducted by the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Warren Alpert Medical School, Brown University in Providence located 18 studies meeting stringent empirical criteria.

The results of these studies suggest that while there is credible evidence that odors can affect mood, physiology and behavior, aromatherapy can at best have a mild, transient anxiety-reducing effect. [B7AGFR3T8K2S]

At this point in the research, it would be prudent to conclude that the effects of aromatherapy are probably not strong enough for it to be considered for the treatment of PTSD. The hypothesis that it is effective for any other indication other than a mild relief of anxiety is not supported by the findings of rigorous clinical trials.