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Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Volume 2013 (2013), Article ID 356381, 9 pages
Research Article

Assessing the Metabolic Effects of Aromatherapy in Human Volunteers

1Center for Translational Medicine and Shanghai Key Laboratory of Diabetes Mellitus, Department of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Shanghai Jiao Tong University Affiliated Sixth People’s Hospital, Shanghai 200233, China
2School of Agriculture and Biology, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai 200240, China
3Center for Translational Biomedical Research, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Kannapolis, NC 28081, USA

Received 4 January 2013; Revised 12 April 2013; Accepted 14 April 2013

Academic Editor: Aiping Lu

Copyright © 2013 Yinan Zhang et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Aromatherapy, a form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) that uses essential oils through inhalation, is believed to enhance physical and spiritual conditions. Although clinical studies suggest that the use of essential oils may have therapeutic potential, evidence for the efficacy of aromatherapy in treating medical conditions remains poor, with a particular lack of studies employing rigorous analytical methods that capture its identifiable impact on human biology. Here, we report a comprehensive metabolomics study that reveals metabolic changes in people after exposed to aroma inhalation for 10 continuous days. In this study, the metabolic alterations in urine of 31 females with mild anxiety symptoms exposed to aerial diffusion of aromas were measured by GC-TOF-MS and UPLC-Q-TOF-MS analyses. A significant alteration of metabolic profile in subjects responsive to essential oil was found, which is characterized by the increased levels of arginine, homocysteine, and betaine, as well as decreased levels of alcohols, carbohydrates, and organic acids in urine. Notably, the metabolites from tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle and gut microbial metabolism were significantly altered. This study demonstrates that the metabolomics approach can capture the subtle metabolic changes resulting from exposure to essential oils, which may lead to an improved mechanistic understanding of aromatherapy.