The term “aromatherapy” usually conjures up pleasant smelling day spa treatments, or often some seemingly frivolous aromatic application. While it’s been the case for some time that researchers have been investigating many medical uses of essential oils: anti-viral, anticancer etc, there are very few studies that look at the effects of inhaling essential oils. There’s a few showing lowered aggression and less stress in mice and rats, yet almost no research performed with human subjects. From the scientific research, it is clear that essential oils are real medicine, with real medical applications, but does their inhalation for the effect of the scent have valid scientific backing?
Fortunately, a very interesting study validating aromatherapy’s aroma-therapeutic action has recently been published. It gets directly to the heart of the matter: the brain. It is within the brain that a response first occurs from smelling an scent. Our smell sense is the only one of the five with the direct connection to the brain; all the others have their signal first travel through another physiological structure to get there. And the smell sense is wired right to our most primitive centers, the ones that control emotions and unconscious activity.
Italian researchers published a study shedding light on the neurological process that occurs when inhaling bergamot essential oil. By using brain wave data, behavioral response data and changes in messenger chemicals, they were able to deduce that the stress-reduction action is a result of blocking the strengthening of certain neural connections. This blocking prevents the sense of stress from building up over time.If you think about the way stress works, its not a one time thing. It’s the same thing happening again and again — the feeling of stress builds over time because the circuit in your brain is getting stronger. Consider an experience you find stressful; it could be a noise like, like a jackhammer for example. Hearing it once is no big deal, hearing it all day every day could drive you…well, make you very stressed. Inhaling bergamot essential oil interferes this building up process (and has an immediately uplifting affect at the same time — quite a bonus).
This may elucidate the stress-reducing effect found in an earlier Korean study. In this study, adolescents wore an amulet emitting the aroma of either bergamot or a placebo. Those wearing the amulet with bergamot reported significantly lower stress levels during the study’s duration.
In the conclusion, the Italian researchers state that now the anti-stress mechanism of the oil’s aroma is understood, there is a rational basis for the practical use of bergamot in complementary medicine. Complementary medicine is really alternative medicine that’s been accepted as valid by the medical community.
Making the statement about the oil’s value in complementary medicine gets one thinking about the rest of aromatherapy. Anytime on is using an oil’s aroma for a desired emotional or psychological response is probably eliciting some measurable change in the neurochemistry.
There’s so much data published on the great many medicinal actions of aromatherapy essential oils that they’re likely catching the eye of some in the conventional medical community. It’s not a reach at all for much of aromatherapy’s more researched oils and actions to be given the same stamp of approval as bergamot. A search of the database of the National Institute of Health for “essential oils” yields pages and pages of results. Now with the affirmation that even the “aroma” part of aromatherapy has valid therapeutic actions, perhaps the use of essential oils will be more quickly embraced.