Studies Offer New Insight Into Aromatherapy Benefits
Aromatherapy–the use of scents and the sense of smell to create positive psychological or physical reactions–is being incorporated into massage services around the world. Its effects have been known long before modern medicine, but it’s only now that scientists are beginning to understand the processes behind it.
New studies offer clues on how the brain detects and processes odors, and recent research is providing new insights on how this can affect well-being.
A group of researchers in Utah and Colorado are observing odor responses in mice. The four-year study, conducted at the University of Colorado in Denver, shows that smells are first detected in the olfactory bulb before being directed to the brain. Here, it is passed on to the olfactory cortex, which conducts complex analyses of the smell.
The big discovery, however, turned up between the bulb and the cortex. The researchers found that the two parts communicated by sending out a rapid stream of nerve cells. The original idea was that the olfactory bulb filtered the information and the olfactory cortex decided on the smell’s properties, such as whether the source is edible, according to lead researcher Diego Restrepo of the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
As it turns out, information is first processed in the bulb, which sends it to the cortex. What follows is a dialogue between the two organs, after which the brain steps into the picture.
The current use of aromatherapy relies more on essential oils being absorbed through the skin. Combined with massage, this creates a feeling of relaxation and well-being. Certain oils are also believed to help prevent disease, speed up recovery from illness and stress, and strengthen the body’s resistance.
The study’s findings bolster the idea that scents have a psychological as well as physical effect. Scents such as rose and lavender are known to lift the mood, while citrus scents are often used to combat depression. These usually work best in creating environments, such as adding a few drops to a bath or inhaling scented steam.
Separate studies suggest that aromatherapy massage may help alleviate menopausal symptoms and reduce the risk of breast cancer in women between 45 and 58 years old. In the latter, the oils used were sweet orange, jojoba, sandalwood, and lavender. Although probably not an alternative treatment by itself, researchers believe that aromatherapy massage can work as a complementary therapy to conventional methods.