Researchers recently took a look at six different studies about the effects of aromatherapy on people with depression or depressive symptoms. All six studies revealed aromatherapy intervention has a positive effect on depressed people.

However, the researchers found that more controlled studies, with sound methodology, are needed to draw solid conclusions on the efficacy of aromatherapy for depressed subjects.

“A Review on the Effects of Aromatherapy for Patients with Depressive Symptoms” reviewed studies from 2000 to 2008, from five different databases, to find all peer-reviewed journal papers that tested the effects of aromatherapy, via massage, for patients with depressive symptoms.

Out of 48 papers, six met the criteria for this review. Two were randomized controlled trials, studying the effects of aromatherapy massage on people with depression. Three were nonrandomized controlled trials, focusing on the effects of aromatherapy massage on secondary depressive symptoms of cancer patients. The last one was a quasi-experimental study, looking at aromatherapy massage to help relieve postnatal depression.

A total of 387 subjects participated in these studies. The intervention in each study consisted of 30 minutes to one hour of Swedish massage with aromatherapy. Lavender oil, chamomile oil, a blend of sweet orange, geranium and basil oils, and another oil blend without specification were used in this research.

The Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS), the Profile of Mood States (POMS) and the Maternity Blues Scale were the various tools used to assess levels of depression among the subjects in these six studies.

“Our results suggest that aromatherapy has an alleviation effect on the mood of patients with depressive symptoms,” state the study’s authors. “However, there is a notable lack of studies on its use among people with depression.

“In fact, very few well-controlled [randomized controlled trials] were available,” they added. “However, some studies showed positive effects of aromatherapy in people with depression and cancer, and in mothers after giving birth.”

According to researchers, the fact that the studies employed aromatherapy massage instead of aromatherapy alone raises the question of whether these positive effects were the result of aromatherapy, massage or the combination of these two therapeutic techniques.

“Although the evidence on the effects of aromatherapy on depressive symptoms is insufficient,” state the study’s authors, “it is suggested that it may continue to be used as a complementary and alternative therapy for depression, cancer patients with depressive symptoms and postnatal depression.”

Authors: V.W.C. Yim, Adelina K.Y. Ng, Hector W.H. Tsang and Ada Y. Leung.

Sources: Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong. Originally published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (Nov. 2, 2009) 15(2): 187-195.