Essential Oils Support Physical and Emotional Well-Being

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Your sense of smell is your most primal sense and exerts surprising influence over your thoughts, emotions, moods, memories, and behaviors


allows you to harness the olfactory power of plants, using their essential oils to enhance your physical and emotional health

Essential oils have been scientifically shown to be particularly helpful in treating stress, mood, sleep, pain, nausea, memory, and energy

A recent study revealed that humans can distinguish more than one trillion sensory stimuli, instead of 10,000 as previously thought

There is recent evidence that humans do indeed produce pheromones, contrary to prior belief. For example, you can actually smell fear or disgust


Your sense of smell is your most primal sense and exerts  surprising influence over your thoughts, emotions, moods, memories, and  behaviors. Scents are experienced long before words.

This is why it’s nearly impossible to describe them with  language. Olfaction is different from your other senses, processed through  different pathways in your brain.

For other sensations such as sounds and visual images,  sensory input is delivered straight to your thalamus, which you can think of as  “the big switchboard” in your head. From there, data goes out to your primary  sensory cortices.

But smells are different. Before reaching your thalamus, they  first wind their way through other regions of your brain, including areas  controlling memory and emotion. So with scents, you have all this extra  processing even before you have conscious awareness of the scent.1

For this reason, scents can have a powerful influence over  how you think, feel, and behave. Aromatherapy  allows you to harness the olfactory power of plants for healing, or simply to enhance your state  of well-being.

Essential oils carry biologically active volatile compounds  in a highly concentrated form that can provide therapeutic benefits in very  small amounts. Please understand that I am referring to pure, therapeutic grade  essential oils from plants, NOT synthetic fragrances and perfumes,  which can be toxic and are typically loaded with allergenic compounds.

Aromatherapy Was Used to Treat the Plague

The use of fragrances has been around for thousands of  years, although traditions and methodologies have changed through the ages. According  to “The Smell Report,”2 the process of extracting and preserving a flower’s scent using alcohol distillation was discovered by Avicenna.
Avicenna was an 11th century  Arabian alchemist and physician, who sort of stumbled upon it while “trying to  isolate for Islam the soul of its holy rose.” Before this, perfumes consisted  only of thick resins, gums, and gooey unguents.

Back in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, physicians  promoted the therapeutic use of scents, including Hippocrates, Galen, and Crito.  Even the plague was treated with fragrances!3

It wasn’t until the early nineteenth century that the  medicinal use of aromatics was largely discredited by scientists who favored drugs.  Fortunately, aromatherapy is now making a strong comeback, moving steadily in  the direction of mainstream.

How Essential Oils Can Help with Several Common  Maladies

There are probably as many uses for aromatherapy as there  are essential oils, but research shows particular promise in relieving stress, stabilizing  your mood, improving sleep, pain, and nausea  relief, and improving your memory and energy level.

An important element of aromatherapy is synergy, which is  why using a combination of oils often creates a much more powerful effect than  any one particular oil. With a skilled aromatherapist, the possibilities are nearly  endless!

In order to give you an idea of the versatility of  aromatherapy, the following table lists some of the therapeutic uses of several  oils for a few of today’s most common complaints. As you can see, there are  some real “multitaskers,” like lavender and peppermint—oils  that treat more than one problem.4

Many of these are discussed in an excellent article in The Huffington Post5 about scents that can enhance your well-being. For further information, refer  to the resource section at the bottom of this article.

Complaint Essential Oils
Stress Lavender, lemon, bergamot, peppermint, vetiver, pine, and ylang ylang
Insomnia Lavender,6 chamomile, jasmine, benzoin, neroli, rose, sandalwood, sweet marjoram, and    ylang ylang; lemon can wake you up7
Anxiety Lavender, bergamot, rose, clary sage, lemon, Roman    chamomile, orange, sandalwood, rose-scented geranium, and pine8
Depressed mood Peppermint, chamomile, lavender, and jasmine9
Pain Lavender, chamomile, clary sage, juniper, eucalyptus, rosemary, peppermint, lavender, and green apple (especially for migraines)
Nausea and vomiting Mint, ginger, lemon, orange, ginger, dill, fennel,    chamomile, clary sage, and lavender
Memory and attention Sage, peppermint,10 and cinnamon
Low energy Black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, angelica, jasmine,    tea tree, rosemary, sage, and citrus

The Science of Smell

Why does the fishy scent of a beach make one person retch  while evoking feelings of expansiveness and joy in another? These variations in  responses to scents tie into the special brain pathways of your olfactory  system. Olfactory information is stored  or encoded with all sorts of memories and associations in your brain.
The  neurological substrates of olfaction are especially geared for associative  learning (in your hippocampus) and emotional processing (in your amygdala).11Kate Fox explains it well in “The Smell Report”:12

“Our olfactory receptors are directly connected to the limbic system,  the most ancient and primitive part of the brain, which is thought to be the  seat of emotion. Smell sensations are relayed to the cortex, where ‘cognitive’  recognition occurs, only after the  deepest parts of our brains have been stimulated. Thus, by the time we  correctly name a particular scent as, for example, ‘vanilla,’ the scent has already  activated the limbic system, triggering more deep-seated emotional responses.”

A number of studies have shown that odor learning begins before birth. A fetus detects flavor/odor  compounds in its amniotic fluid, from the mother’s diet. In studies where a mothers’  consumption of distinctive smelling substances such as garlic, alcohol, or  cigarette smoke were monitored during pregnancy, their infants were found to  prefer these scents more than infants who had not been exposed to them.13
After birth, newborns locate their  mothers’ nipples by smell. Breastfeeding also influences scent preferences; babies will associate breastfeeding smells  with maternal bonding and the comfort of their mothers’ arms.  According to a recent study14, babies can even smell their mothers’ fears and learn the dangers of the world, just days after birth. When mothers experience stress, their body releases a scent that their baby detects and responds to.

Scent preferences change along with developmental stages.  Studies show that three-year-olds have essentially the same likes and dislikes  as adults. Children do not develop sensitivity to certain odors until they  reach puberty. Researchers have also found that olfactory receptors differ by  as much as 30 percent between any two individuals.15 On tests of smelling ability, women  consistently score higher than men, and this gender difference holds true even  for newborns!16

In summary, your responses to scents are largely “learned”  as a function of the emotional context in which they were first experienced,  and then the association influences your mood and behavior later in life. Naturally,  there are genetic differences as well. Do you LOVE the smell of cilantro—or do you think it smells like soap? If  the latter is true, you may be an olfactory mutant… literally.17

We Are MUCH Better Smellers Than We Thought

Since the 1920s, scientists have believed that the human nose  was capable of detecting about 10,000 odors, but a new study published in the  journal Science shows this estimate  is way off the mark. In the first empirical study ever done, researchers at  Rockefeller University discovered the human nose can discriminate more than one trillion olfactory stimuli!18 The least successful smeller is now thought to be capable of smelling about 80  million unique scents, but if you’re a super-sniffer, you can detect a spectacular  one thousand trillion scents.19

This discovery begins to explain why studies are now finding  that the human olfactory system is able to detect factors such as fear,  disgust, age,20 and gender.21 Yes, studies show you can identify the age or gender of another person simply  by his or her smell. A mother can identify an infant by smell alone after  holding the child for just one hour, even others than her own.

It used to be thought that humans did not produce (or  sense) pheromones,  but many scent scientists are revising their beliefs about this. A study out of  New York’s Stony Brook University found people who are scared do indeed give  off “fear pheromones” in their sweat—hormones that trigger parts of your brain  that are subconsciously associated with fear. This may explain why an  individual with a fear of flying can trigger anxiety in other passengers who  would not normally be afraid—the fear pheromone can trigger similar emotions in  others who happen to catch a whiff.22 The same researchers also found that disgust can be “contagious.”23

Scents Can Alter Your Nervous System

Scents can actually change your nervous system  biochemistry. A Japanese study found that inhaling essential oils can modulate your  sympathetic nervous system activity. Certain oils were found to be stimulating,  while others were found to be calming. For example:24

  • Black pepper, fennel, and grapefruit oil caused  a 1.5-to 2.5-fold increase in sympathetic nervous system activity (as measured  by an increase in systolic blood pressure)
  • Rose and patchouli oil resulted in a 40 percent  decrease in sympathetic nervous system activity
  • Pepper oil induced a 1.7-fold increase in plasma  adrenaline concentration, while rose oil caused adrenaline to drop by 30  percent
  • Other oils have been shown to measurably decrease  stress hormones—inhaling lavender and rosemary were shown to reduce  cortisol levels.25

As mentioned earlier, scents play a powerful role in  memories, especially emotional memories. Olfactory input is routed through your  amygdala and hippocampus (which process emotion), but bypasses your brain’s  higher cortical areas, the “thinking parts.”26 This suggests aromatherapy might possibly be helpful to those with dementia,  although research thus far has produced mixed results.

From Onions to Cow Manure: Smell Is in the Nose of the  Beholder

As you might expect, cultural differences contribute to  what smells enhance your feelings of happiness, versus making you want to flee  to the nearest open window. Scent preferences differ dramatically across  cultural lines. In many non-Western cultures, smell is regarded with much more  importance and even reverence. For example, among the Ongee of the Andaman  Islands, the universe and everything in it is defined by smell.

Their calendar is based on the aromas of flowers that  bloom at different times of the year. When greeting someone, the Ongee do not  ask, “How are you?” but rather, “Konyune onorange-tanka?” which  translates to, “How is your nose?”27 For the cattle-raising Dassanetch of Ethiopia, no bouquet is more beautiful  than a herd of cows. The men wash their hands in cattle urine and smear their  bodies with manure to make themselves more attractive to the ladies. The Dogon  of Mali rub fried onions all over their bodies, as it’s the most highly  desirable perfume!

Although we have convincing evidence that pleasant  fragrances can improve your sense of well-being, some recent studies suggest it’s  your expectation about an odor, rather than the odor itself, that may be  responsible for the mood and effects produced—essentially the placebo  effect. Could merely thinking about lavender oil make you calm? In one experiment, researchers found that just  telling subjects that a  pleasant or unpleasant odor was being administered, which they might not be  able to smell, affected their mood, symptoms, and sense of well-being.28

A Few Resources I’ve Sniffed Out for You

Aromatherapy can be a beneficial adjunct to your overall  health plan. It’s not a replacement for wise lifestyle choices like good  nutrition and exercise, but it is an excellent way to further enhance your  physical and emotional health. Aromatherapy is also one more tool you can keep  in your tool bag for managing everyday stress, balancing out mood swings, and  improving your sleep. Your nose is probably an underappreciated resource, so perhaps  it’s time to make some use of it! Whether  you seek out a trained aromatherapist or adopt a DIY approach, the following  are a few resources you might find useful.

  • National  Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA): Everything about the  medicinal use of aromatic plants and the holistic practice of aromatherapy
  • Aroma  Web: A directory of aromatherapy information, tips, recipes, sources,  including a regional aromatherapy business directory
  • American  Botanical Council: Herbal medicine information that includes an herb  library and clinical guide to herbs
  • Herb Med: Interactive electronic herb database (some information is free, but full access  requires a fee)

Humans Can Distinguish Over 1 Trillion Smells… by NewsyVideos


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