Olfactory: Powerful Influence of Essential Oil Aromas on Both Mind and Body
The fragrance of an essential oil can directly affect everything from your emotional state to your lifespan. What makes them unique, essential oils work differently than any other natural substance?
Unique features of essential oils are:
- Pass easily through our skin and cells membranes.
- Diffuse through the entire body within half an hour.
- Go directly to the brain through the olfactory bulb.
- Affect our feelings and thoughts because smell is our most emotional sense.
- Perform multiple functions because of their structural complexity
This explains 'why' one essential oil, using only a couple of drops, can do so many different things for you all at the same time - emotionally, physically, and mentally.
When any scent or fragrance is inhaled, the odor molecules travel up the nose where they are trapped by olfactory membranes that are protected by the lining inside the nose. Each odor molecule fits like a little puzzle piece into specific receptor cell sites that line a membrane, known as the olfactory epithelium. Each one of these hundreds of millions of nerve cells is replaced every 28 days. When stimulated by odor molecules, this lining of nerve cells triggers electrical impulses to the olfactory bulb in the brain. The olfactory bulb then transmits the impulses to the gustatory center (where the sensation of taste is perceived), the amygdala (where emotional memories are stored), and other parts of the limbic system of the brain.
Because the limbic system is directly connected to the parts of the brain that control heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, memory, stress levels, and hormone balance, therapeutic-grade essential oils can have profound physiological and psychological effects. The sense of smell is the only one of the five senses directly linked to the limbic lobe of the brain, our emotional control center.
Scent stimulates nerves to fire in the emotional center of the brain, but it also stimulates the master gland to release hormones. Hormones affect the fight/flight response, as well as digestion and heart rate. In this way, essential oils can affect us in many ways all at once, just through their fragrance.
Anxiety, depression, fear, anger, and joy all emanate from this region. The scent of a special fragrance can evoke memories and emotions before we are even consciously aware of it. When 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 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 sex drive to energy levels. The production of growth hormones, sex hormones, thyroid hormones, and neurotransmitters such as serotonin, are all governed by the hypothalamus. Thus, the hypothalamus is referred to as the "master gland." Essential oils--through their fragrance and unique molecular structure--can directly stimulate the limbic lobe and the hypothalamus.
Not only can the inhalation of essential oils be used to combat stress and emotional trauma, but it can also stimulate the production of hormones from the hypothalamus. This results in increased thyroid hormones (our energy hormone) and growth hormones (our youth and longevity hormone).
A therapeutic-grade essential oil can increase cellular oxygen up to 21 percent - no other plant component comes close. For instance, hydrogen peroxide increases cellular oxygen only 9%.
Bacteria and viruses cannot live in a negative ion environment. And, there has never been an instance of any bacteria or virus developing resistance to or mutating in the presence of a high quality essential oil - without doubt the reason being due to the extremely complex compounds.
Many essential oils can remove chemicals and metals out of the air by breaking their molecular chain. For instance, therapeutic lemon essential oil can dissolve a styrofoam cup - try putting a couple drops of Young Living's Lemon on a styrofoam cup and see for yourself. This is also why when we add a couple drops of our essential oils to a glass of water for flavored water we say to use only a 'glass' glass - high quality essential oils such as Young Living's will breakdown anything made from a petro-chemical. Everybody tested in the United States has styrofoam chemicals in their body tissues, which would suggest when you drink a glass of water with lemon essential oil it can help the body eliminate toxins. Read more about ingesting Young Living oils.
In a large clinical study , Alan Hirsch, MD, tested the fragrances of peppermint, to trigger significant weight losses in a large group of patients who had previously been unsuccessful in weight-management programs. During the course of the six-month study involving over 3,000 people, the average weight loss exceeded 30 pounds. According to Dr. Hirsch, some patients actually had to be dropped from the study to avoid becoming underweight.
Another double blind, randomized study by Hirsch  documented the ability of aroma to enhance libido and sexual arousal. When 31 male volunteers were subjected to the aromas of 30 different essential oils, each one exhibited a marked increase in arousal, based on measurements of brachial penile index and the measurement of both penile and brachial blood pressures. Among the scents that produced the most sexual excitement, was a combination of lavender and pumpkin fragrances. This study shows that fragrances enhance sexual desire by stimulating the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain.
In 1989, Dr. Joseph Ledoux , at New York Medical University, discovered that the amygdala plays a major role in storing and releasing emotional trauma. From the studies of Dr. Hirsch and Dr. Ledoux we can conclude that aromas may exert a profound effect in triggering a response from this almond-shaped neuro-structure.
In studies conducted at Vienna and Berlin Universities, researchers found that sesquiterpenes, a natural compound found in essential oils of Vetiver, Patchouli, Cedarwood, Sandalwood and Frankincense, can increase levels of oxygen in the brain by up to 28 percent (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 on not only emotions but on learning, attitude, and many physical processes of the body such as: immune function, hormone balance, and energy levels. High levels of sesquiterpenes also occur in Melissa, Myrrh, Cedarwood, and Clove essential oils.
Young Living oils can provide many benefits to the human body without side effects, whether it is through diffusing or simply inhaling the aroma straight from the bottle. Proper stimulation of the olfactory nerves may offer a powerful and entirely new form of therapy that could be used as an adjunct against many forms of illness. Therapeutic essential oils, through inhalation, may occupy a key position in this relatively unexplored frontier in medicine.
- Hirsch, AR, Inhalation of Odorants for Weight Reduction, Int J Obes, 1994, page 306
- Alan R. Hirsch, MD, FACP, Dr. Hirsch's Guide to Scentsational Sex, Harper Collins, 1998 1993 Dec. 20;58(1-2):69-79
- LeDoux, JE, Rationalizing Thoughtless Emotions, Insight, Sept. 1989