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Parkinson's Disease Project

by Shirley Price(more info)

listed in aromatherapy, originally published in issue 15 - October 1996


The idea to carry out a trial on people suffering from Parkinson's Disease originated when a dear friend of mine contracted the illness, but was sceptical about trying aromatherapy. I was quite disappointed as I felt sure aromatherapy could help to improve his quality of life, a view shared by several therapists whose clients with PD had shown improvements both in movement ability and reduction of side effects such as insomnia and constipation with regular treatments.

60 therapists kindly offered their time free of charge over a period of 9 months, if I donated the oils for both the treatment and for home use by the client. We set up three separate groups within our overall project (each with 20 people):

Group One) regular massage with essential oils plus home care in the form of daily application of essential oils and their use in the bath.
Group Two) home care only – as above
Group Three) regular massage without essential oils

Pre-requisite conditions for those participating:

a) obtain doctor's permission to take part
b) be willing to carry out home treatments

The people in each group who completed the project were on varying strengths of medication with several different brands of tablets, several taking other medication to help counteract the side-effects.

Symptoms and side effects presented included:

Tremors, slurred speech, rigidity, muscle or joint pain, cramp, low energy, weakness in limbs, hypertension, memory loss, insomnia, constipation, headaches, nausea, nightmares, difficulty in swallowing, anxiety and/or depression.

Essential oil choice:

It was not possible to select holistically for each individual because the formula had to be identical for each one taking part. The choice was, therefore, based on lowering stress levels and loosening joints and muscles, with the hope that insomnia and constipation may also be relieved in some subjects:

Salvia sclarea (clary sage) – antispasmodic, calming, cell regenerative, circulatory tonic, nerve tonic.
Origanum majorana (true marjoram) – analgesic (muscular pain), antidepressant, antispasmodic, digestive stimulant, soporific (inducing sleep)
Lavandula angustifolia – analgesic (muscular pain), antispasmodic, calming and sedative (anxiety, insomnia)
Equal amounts of each essential oil were used in ½% dilution in organic sunflower oil (in base lotion for some, for home use); 6-8 drops of the undiluted essential oil mix was used in the bath.

As well as personal experience, references used for the selection were as follows:
Duraffourd P 1987 En forme tous les jours. la Vie Claire, Périgny
Oster S 1984 Herbal Bounty! Gibbs Smith, Salt Lake City
Franchomme P, Pénoël D 1990 L'aromathérapie exactement. Jollois, Limoges
Roulier G 1990 Les huiles essentielles pour votre santé. Dangles, St-Jean-de-Braye
Valnet J 1980 The practice of aromatherapy. Daniel, Saffron Walden
Viaud H 1983 Huiles essentielles. Présence, Sisteron

Group One:

Each volunteer was given a weekly aromatherapy massage by an aromatherapist (12 treatments). Each client (or their carer) applied a lotion containing essential oils daily for 3 months. Weekly records were kept by both client and therapist, followed by a summary.
Each then received a massage once monthly (with the lotion being applied every other day) for 6 months (6 treatments). This change of routine was in order to establish whether or not the lower number of treatments and applications sustained any improvement shown in the first three months, and therefore the results of the two periods of time are shown separately, followed by a final conclusion.


Out of 20 clients, only 10 actually completed the nine month schedule, due to various reasons, including interruption due to hospital visits, further illness, etc.

Results of these 10 after three months:

90% felt they showed improvement in the following areas;
Improved muscle strength (one could use her hoover again); improved sleep, reduced pain, improved energy, less constipated, improved mental attitude, improved speech, reduced anxiety, diminished tremors, headache relief, improved circulation.

Results after nine months:
80% felt they had maintained their improvement;
Seven maintained improvements and generally felt more energetic, the other three still feeling better than before treatment commenced.

Overall, massage and essential oils have helped movement with most people, and the side effects of constipation and insomnia were reduced in all who presented them, two coming off their medication for this and one having no more nightmares. Only 2 seemed not to maintain their improvement on one treatment a month and would have been best left on a weekly or perhaps fortnightly treatment.

It is accepted that some results could be due to a placebo effect and/or faith in the project. However, this should still leave an improvement rate of 50%.

Group Two:

The aim here was to ascertain if the use of essential oils at home (without professional massage by a therapist) would provide any benefits to sufferers of this complaint. Participants were given essential oils to use in the bath once or twice a week and the same oils in a choice of oil or lotion base to apply once a day to the back, legs and abdomen by the carer.

After three months the participants were asked to try the lotion for the rest of the nine months every other day to see if any improvements were maintained.

The objective was (hopefully) to provide a less expensive yet effective treatment for those who could not afford to have continuous aromatherapy massage treatments.


Out of the 20 clients, nine completed this part of the trial (reasons similar to those in Group One).
Two felt better when applying lotion every day than on alternate days – no comment from other seven.

Results after nine months:

The following areas showed improvement: muscle pain, stiffness, strengthened movement, anxiety, constipation, depression, tremors, nightmares, cramp, insomnia, involuntary twitching, low energy, staggering.

In one participant, the neurologist noticed the improvement and suggested reducing his Artane, finally stopping it altogether.
Essential oils without massage appear to be able to give relief in the same areas as those noticed in Group One, where massage with essential oils was given on a regular basis.

There were fewer recorded symptoms in this project, due possibly to the fact that the forms were filled in by the clients, rather than therapists, as in Group One.
Graph A shows the 14 symptoms common to clients in both Group One and Group Two and the resulting improvement.

Statistical analysis of Graph A:

100% received positive help in 5 areas (anxiety, lack of energy, muscular pain, nightmares and stiffness).
83% received positive help for constipation (5 out of 6)
75% received positive help for depression (3 out of 4)
85% received positive help for insomnia (6 out of 7)
50% received positive help for rigidity (2 out of 4)
28% received positive help for slurred speech (2 out of 7)
33% received positive help for body tremors (4 out of 12)
62% received positive help for weak limbs (5 out of 8)
No improvement was shown in those with memory loss or difficulty in swallowing.

Group Three:

The aim of the third part of this project was to ascertain if massage alone was as beneficial to PD sufferers as massage using essential oils. Bland vegetable oil was used as in Group One, i.e. 12 weeks of weekly massage followed by 6 months of monthly massage and application of the bland mix at home daily.

Eight people out of the 20 completed this part of the trial. Of these, four found the treatment relaxing and reported feeling better afterwards, although the effects were not lasting; two found the treatment relaxing, but felt no other noticeable change; two felt brighter in themselves and in their general health.

Results after nine months:

There did not appear to be much difference in effect between weekly and monthly treatments, the general short term improvements being in muscular pain, insomnia, slow movement, stiffness, constipation, cramp and tremors.

This third trial was carried out to be a direct comparison with the first trial – which included essential oils.

Massage alone obviously presents improvements. However, as comparison between the two graphs shows, more lasting improvements were effected, showing the value of the use of essential oils.

Graph B shows the 7 symptoms common to clients in Group Three and the resulting improvement.

Statistical analysis of Graph B:
66% improvement in insomnia
66% improvement in movement
60% improvement in muscular pain
50% improvement in cramp
50% improvement in stiffness
33% improvement in constipation
16% improvement in tremors

Overall Summary of Total Project:

a) Group three (massage without oils), although receiving benefits on several points, scored the lowest

b) Group One (professional treatment and home use) and Group Two (home use only) showed almost equal results, although a perceived extra benefit of Group One would probably be the complete relaxation of the body for the rest of that day (and possibly the next) and improved circulation (though this was not mentioned).

People with PD wishing to benefit from aromatherapy could therefore choose which type of treatment they would prefer – or could afford. For those who felt they could not persevere with the daily application of essential oils, professional treatment would be the choice; however, the cost varies considerably:

a) professional treatment varies from area to area (from £15-£35 – possibly more in large city centres). Treatment once a fortnight may give similar results to once a week (on the whole it was felt that once a month was insufficient).

b) The cost of essential oils to carry out the treatment at home would work out at approximately £12-£17 a month.

It may be worth asking the doctor if treatment would be possible on the National Health.

This trial was not carried out to the rigorous standards required of true research; it was simply to prove to my friend that aromatherapy could help him. I would like to thank him for making it possible for so many people to benefit as a result of his scepticism and also the therapists and their clients for their time and dedication.

Appeal for help:

The results obtained have inspired me to carry out another project, this time with more rigorous parameters. Should any reader with PD wish to be considered and any aromatherapists wish to volunteer their services, please send your name, address and telephone number to Essentia House, Upper Bond St, Hinckley, Leics. LE10 1RS


  1. Annette said..

    I found this article whilst wondering whether essential oils were safe to use on Parkinson's sufferers, given possible reactions with medication. Interesting, but what is not factored in to your study is the variable quality of massage treatments from different therapists. I have been massaging a PD client regularly for around 21 months with just a base oil, and have seen significant improvements to her stiffness and to her walking ability, and also a regaining of lost sensation in one part of her back.She claims to be walking on air following treatment. However, maybe, with GP permission, suitable essential oils would be even more beneficial.

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About Shirley Price



    Aromatherapy creams & candles. Heal naturally No side effects. Holistic treatments, powerful courses

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