SCIENCE OF AROMATHERAPY

AROMATHERAPY is a natural and holistic practice founded on the science of using essential oils (chemical compounds found in plants) therapeutically to promote overall well-being (more on essential oils here). There is evidence that our sense of smell in general influences our mood, memory, and behavior through its direct connection with the brain. Aromatherapy can evoke our sense of smell through direct and steam inhalation, or be applied topically to the skin where it enters the bloodstream.   

INHALATION: When an essential oil is inhaled, the scent is carried by our olfactory receptors and nerve cells to the nose, where the scent (or aroma) enters the brain and then into the limbic system - commonly known as ‘the house of emotions’. The limbic system of the brain is the oldest area of the brain, and is responsible for both our psychological and emotional responses and physical behaviors.  This includes our memories, associations, motivations, desires, as well as maintaining focus, keeping the body at physical and emotional homeostasis, and the regulation of our hormones. The limbic system is also in control of the body’s autonomic nervaous system and “stress response,” also known as “fight or flight” response to fears, stress, and anxiety.  

The sense of smell is the only sense that passes through the limbic system in its primary processing pathway to the brain, which is why Aromatherapy can have such profound therapeutic benefits on mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing. The particular psycho-somatic therapeutic responses we have to essential oils are determined by their specific properties, and can range from relaxing / sedative to energizing and stimulating.  

There are different ways to inhale the aroma of an oil -- through a diffuser or through direct inhalation. When we inhale an oil through the use of a diffuser, the steam sends the essential oils straight into the respiratory system.  The properties of the oil enters from the air and into our lungs, which may improve our air quality and support respiratory health. This is why oils are commonly diffused to help heal from coughs, colds, and upper respiratory infections.

Inhaling the aroma through direct inhalation, or bringing the oil up to the nose, is particularly beneficial for supporting the mind and emotions, since the oil molecules travel directly to the brain.  According to the Journal of Pharmaceutical Studies, inhaling the aroma of certain essential oils through Aromatherapy has been proven to have a sedative, relaxing effect. Research has also shown that Aromatherapy has a positive effect, both physically and mentally, in work-related stress conditions, such as teaching kids. There is evidence that ‘stopping to smell the roses’ has a positive, psychological effect on our wellbeing. Smelling pleasant scents and aromas, allows us to make a positive emotional connection to it, making us more grateful about the small things that can make a big difference. The practice of Aromatherapy is meant to induce feelings of relaxation, uplift the mood, and can be a natural way to support the mind and body during times of ‘dis-ease.’

TOPICAL: When essential oils are applied to the skin directly, the oil absorbs into the skin and penetrates directly into the bloodstream, due to its fat-soluble properties. Research has shown that after an essential oil penetrates the skin and enters the bloodstream, it then diffuses all around the body into various organs, such as our lungs, heart, digestive tract, and more.  This particular type of application is specifically beneficial for supporting skin conditions (eczema / rashes) or internal bodily conditions, such as indigestion, menstrual cramping, or bodily inflammation.

RESOURCES:

http://jpharmsci.org/article/S0022-3549(15)49151-8/pdf
https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2013/853809/
http://www.herbhedgerow.co.uk/can-essential-oils-get-into-your-bloodstream/
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201506/how-does-scent-drive-human-behavior
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23531112
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9519666
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3588400/
https://www.livescience.com/52080-essential-oils-science-health-effects.html
https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/a_scientific_reason_to_stop_and_smell_the_roses
https://healingscents.net/blogs/learn/18685875-how-essential-oils-enter-the-body
http://www.yalescientific.org/2011/11/aromatherapy-exploring-olfaction/
https://organicaromas.com/blogs/aromatherapy-and-essential-oils/the-science-of-aromatherapy-ch-1-neurocircuitry-of-smell