The Science Of Smell – Understanding The Benefits Of Aromatherapy

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Have you ever been feeling a certain way and then somehow when you are exposed to a certain smell or scent it changes your mood completely? Perhaps it led to a sense of calm, anger, irritation, eagerness, happiness or even made you more anxious. Well, there’s a scientific explanation for that. What you smell actually has an influence on the mood that you exhibit.

If you walk through a natural forest and inhale all the fresh air and the smells from certain trees, you are likely to start feeling energetic and lively. If you’ve been to a steam bath with a eucalyptus diffuser, then you have probably noticed that it makes you feel a lot more relaxed and even opens your nasal pathways for deeper breathing leaving you feeling refreshed.

The olfactory system plays a major role in the central nervous system functions. A study published in the U.S National Library of Medicine concluded that fragrances directly and/or indirectly affect the psychological and physiological conditions of humans. Fragrances significantly modulate the activities of different brain waves and are responsible for various states of the brain. This is the basis of aromatherapy.

By definition, aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine in which essential oils or other scents are inhaled to achieve therapeutic benefit. It is a holistic healing treatment that uses natural plant extracts to promote health and well-being.

The concept of aromatherapy has been in existence for ages. The practise of using infused aromatic oils as a mood enhancer is thought to have roots in China. However, the Greeks also played a role in its history. Megallus, a Greek perfumer, developed a fragrance he called megaleion, which consisted of myrrh. The “father of medicine” Hippocrates is said to have practised aromatherapy (before it was dubbed so) for healing purposes.

How aromatherapy works

Aromatherapy works in various ways, but the basic concept is the absorption of essential oils through the sense of smell and also through the skin.

Some of the tools that people use for aromatherapy are inhalers, diffusers, facial steamers, clay masks, aromatic spritzers, hot and cold compresses, bathing salts, body oils, creams and lotions for massage or topical application. These can be used alone or in combination.

The most common way of using essential oils is by inhaling them directly out of the bottle or using a humidifier or diffuser. You can also dilute them with carrier oils and then use them directly on the skin. Note that there are specific essential oils for specific uses, and therefore you have to use the right one in order to reap its benefits.

Benefits of aromatherapy

Aromatherapy eases anxiety and depression. A study by the National Library of Medicine concluded that rose water and other herbal oils have the ability to ease anxiety for postpartum women, cancer patients, hemodialysis patients and many other sets of people. An article on Medical News Today suggests the use of bergamot orange, chamomile, clary sage, lavender, lemon, neroli, rose and ylang-ylang for this particular effect.

Aromatherapy also aids in sleep. It helps to keep your mind calm and centred. Lavender oil has been proven to be one of the most effective when it comes to aiding in sleep. The second most popular is valerian. Other essential oils used for insomnia and better sleep include sweet marjoram, chamomile, peppermint, sandalwood, jasmine, rose, geranium, ylang-ylang, cedarwood, citrus, bergamot, and vanilla.

Some essential oils can not only reduce the effects of the common cold but can keep you from catching a cold in the first place. They provide relief from nasal congestion but might help inhibit infection as well. According to Healthline, eucalyptus oil may safely fight viruses and respiratory problems such as bronchitis. On the other hand, peppermint oil is used as a natural decongestant and fever-reducer. The two oils can also inhibit infection.

Aromatherapy improves the quality of life for people with dementia. Several essential oils have proven to be effective in dealing with dementia by improving memory and cognitive function. Peppermint and rosemary oils are said to stimulate the mind while lemon balm can improve a person’s memory.

It eases headaches and migraines. Studies have found that essential oils such as lavender and peppermint have the ability to reduce the intensity of a headache.

Aromatherapy relieves stress. Holy basil, which isn’t the same as the basil used in the kitchen has been said to treat physical and mental stress. Another essential oil with the same effect is sweet basil.

Disclaimer

If you choose to use the essential oils on your skin, ensure that you dilute the essential oil with a carrier oil to reduce the risk of skin irritation. For adults, every 15 drops of essential oil should be diluted with 1 ounce of carrier oil. For children, the mixture is much more diluted with a ratio is 3 to 6 drops of essential oil to 1 ounce of carrier oil. Some popular carrier oils are almond, coconut, and jojoba.

Essential oils should not be ingested. Even though there have been claims that they are natural and therefore safe to consume, they can cause significant poisoning even if small amounts are ingested. The symptoms of toxicity include drowsiness, slow/shallow breathing, coma (after large ingestion), seizures, persistent cough, choking, shortness of breath, wheezing, nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea, skin irritation, and eye redness. If you start to show any of these symptoms, you are advised to rinse your mouth and seek medical advice. Do not induce vomiting.

Be sure to do a patch test on your skin first, to see how it will react to the essential oil. If you start to see a rash or any slight irritation, discontinue its use completely. Although it is possible to react to any essential oil, the notorious ones are oregano oil, cinnamon bark oil, jasmine oil, lemongrass oil, ylang-ylang oil, chamomile oil, and bergamot oil.

To know whether the essential oil is pure, ensure that:

  • The label includes its Latin name, added ingredients and the country where it was grown
  •  It is from a reputable company
  • You compare prices. If an essential oil is significantly cheaper than its alternatives you should question its quality. Remember cheap can be expensive.
  • You avoid fragrance oils. These are made from essential oils combined with chemicals or entirely from chemicals and are not suitable for aromatherapy. The bottles should contain essential oils in their purest form.

Read about how Different Ways Smell Can Influence Your Mind

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