Fragrance and Aromatherapy, more than smell
The powerful influence of fragrant aromatic molecules on your health
When someone mentions "aromatherapy" your first thought, sitting back soft-lite room, relaxing to pleasing candle scents. Aromatherapy is all about fragrance.
Fragrance important part of aromatherapy. Scent alone can trigger emotional responses in people (it was her perfume). Scent can trigger memory responses, both good and bad (moldy old clothes). And my aunt's chocolate chip cookies smelled wonderful, felt better eating them.
Fragrance, profound effects on your health. The combination of fragrant aromatic molecules (essentail oils), the influence they exert chemically on the many body systems. Chemists can duplicate, fairly close, aroma of an essential oil. The real flower or herb of the essential oil has value, it's perfect essence, it's aromatherapy.
Smell rotten vegetables, body odor, or delicate fragrance of a flower (oil extracted from that flower), you smell volatile aromatic chemicals coming off flower. Smell is a physical chemical.
Two critical points:
- Fragrance of essential oils more than just it's smell. It's the eo's chemistry.
- Therapeutic potential, quality essential oil depends upon fragrance, it's chemistry, it's frequency (therapeutic/medicinal properties of it's chemistry, raise the body's energy levels). All three properties play important rolls in eo's (essential oils) overall effectiveness.
With an essential oil's fragrance, quality is everything
An eo can smell really good, but few aromatic compounds for significant health benefits. Very pleasing scent, a cheaper oil will not have the depth or complexity of aroma of a good oil, indicating that it lacks the full compliment of aromatic compounds needed to produce the therapeutic benefits.
In aromatherapy, the interplay of a complex chemical tapestry, each part contributing important, synergistic action to the whole. xxxxxxxxx Complete harmonic effect, without missing parts or any element of discord. Almost all of the oils produced in the world today (more than 98% of them) are produced for cosmetic, perfume or food flavoring industries. Requirements in these industries are very different than those of aromatherapy, and can take short-cuts in the production of these oils, without any problems. FOR aromatherapy, the standard is much higher; the oils must be produces in exacting ways to guarantee their therapeutic value. Few essential oils produced today can legitimately be called therapeutic-grade.
Aromatherapy, the effects of essential oil's fragrance on brain
Research has shown, actions of a fragrance (remember, it's a chemical thang) on the sense of smell exerts powerful effects on the brain — especially on the hypothalamus (the hormone command center of your body) and limbic system (the seat of your emotions).
The fragrance of some essential oils high in sesquiterpenes, such as myrrh, sandalwood, vetiver and frankincense, can increase oxygenation connectivity in the brain by as much as 28% (Nasel, 1992). Such an increase in brain oxygen may lead to a heightened level of activity in the hypothalamus and limbic systems of the brain, which can have dramatic effects, not only on emotions, learning and attitude, but may also improve the function of many systems of the body.
This ain't my grandma's chocholate chip cookies!
It's known that the direct inhalation of certain essential oils boosts immune function, as well as releasing hormones and neurotransmitters.
Consequently, the fragrance of essential oils can directly affect everything from the your emotional state to your life span.
How an essential oil's fragrance acts upon the brain
Tracing the path of an essential oil's fragrance through the olfactory system is fascinating.
When a fragrance is inhaled, the odor molecules travel up the nose, and are trapped by olfactory membranes (see the Yale School of Medicine study for an excellent graphic of this). These membranes are very tiny, and well-protected by the lining inside the nose. They contain about 800 million nerve endings, that receive the micro-fine, vaporized oil particles, carry them along the axon of the nerve fibers and connect them with the secondary neurons in the olfactory bulb in the brain.
Each odor molecule fits like a little puzzle piece into specific receptor-cell sites lining a membrane, known as the olfactory epithelium. When stimulated by odor molecules, this lining of nerve cells triggers electrical impulses, which are then transported to the limbic system and olfactory sensory nerves at the base of the brain. The olfactory bulb then transmits the impulses to
- the gustatory center (sensation of taste is perceived),
- the amygdala (emotional memories, such as fear and trauma, are stored), and
- other parts for the limbic system of brain, passing between the pituitary and pineal glands.
********** Limbic system is directly connected to those parts of the brain that control heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, memory, stress levels and hormone balance, the fragrance of an essential oil can have profound physiological and psychological effects.
The link between the sense of smell and emotions
The sense of smell is the only one of the five senses directly linked to the brain's emotional control center, the limbic lobe. Anxiety, depression, fear, anger and joy all emanate from this region. The scent of a special fragrance can evoke memories and emotions before we're even consciously aware of it. (Where smells are concerned, we react first and think later.) All other senses (touch, taste, hearing and sight) are routed through the thalamus, which acts as the switchboard for the brain, passing stimuli onto the cerebral cortex (the conscious thought center) and other part parts of the brain.
The limbic lobe (a group of brain structures that includes the hippocampus and amygdala, located below the cerebral cortex) can also directly activate the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is one of the most important parts of the brain, acting as our hormonal control center. It releases chemical messengers that can affect everything from your sex drive to energy levels. The production of growth hormones, sex hormones, thyroid hormones and neurotransmitters, like serotonin, are all governed by the hypothalamus. Thus, the hypothalamus is often referred to as the master gland.
Essential oils — through their fragrance and unique molecular structure — can directly stimulate the limbic lobe and the hypothalamus, exerting profound effects on your mind and body. Not only can inhalation of essential oils be used to combat stress and emotional trauma, you can also use them to stimulate the production of hormones from the hypothalamus.
In 1989, Dr. Joseph Ledoux (New York Medical University), discovered that the amygdala also plays a major role in storing and releasing emotional trauma. He found that aromas have a profound effect in triggering a response from this gland. Dr. Ledoux theorized that this could provide a major breakthrough in helping to trigger the release of pent-up emotional trauma.
The effects of fragrance beyond the brain
Olfactory nerves are like other nerves and organs of the body. They respond to electrical signals and impulses that form coded messages, dispatched to various areas of the body. This may be why inhalation of some oils, which can have such profound effects in the brain, will also increase the production of endorphins, neurotransmitters and antibodies.
Conclusion: The opening of a new medical frontier
Essential oils, and the power of their fragrances to stimulate the olfactory nerves, could well be one of the most exciting breakthroughs in modern healthcare. They remain a relatively unexplored frontier in medicine, but interest is growing.
The ability of their fragrances to directly impact so many important centers of the brain could prove to be an entirely new form of therapy, serving an important roll in complimentary medicine against many forms of illness.