I've been enjoying blending essential oils for a while now and love sharing my blends with clients and friends.
I want to be able to explain to anyone who buys my blends how and why these blends work from a scientific perspective. So I did a bit of research. Here's what I found:
All essential oils are made from plants. Plants have chemical constituents that our bodies need and react to. Most of our modern day medicines have links back to plants, herbs, and trees. A few examples are: aspirin (from willow bark), and for heart problems nature has given us digitalis (from the Foxglove plant). There are over a hundred organic compounds found in the plant world that benefit us. Learn more
So when we use an essential oil, we are absorbing the chemical constituents of the plant the oil came from which has therapeutic effects on the processes and tissues of the body. We absorb these chemical compounds through our skin and through our lungs. Some essential oils such as Sandalwood, cross the blood/brain barrier and therefore are directly able to interact with our brains.
Essential oils have the added benefit of being wonderfully aromatic in addition to being chemically therapeutic. Aromatherapy is the art and science of how smell effects us on a emotional level.
How exactly does the sense of smell interact with our feelings and emotions?
When an odor molecule is inhaled, it is first sensed by olfactory cells inside our nose. These cells extend into our nasal cavity via cilia (small hairs). There are receptors on these cilia that match to a specific odor. So when you inhale Lavender, for example, the unique chemical structure of the molecules of the scent Lavender zoom up your nose. When the molecule finds the correct receptor it locks into the receptor like a key fitting into a key hole.
When the molecules "lock" into the appropriate receptor, a cascade of neuro chemical events occur. The cilia send a signal to the olfactory bulb. The olfactory bulb is like a relay station sending signals to different structures within the brain. At this level, electrical and chemical signals are the same. The chemical constituents of the plant cause an electrical impulse to travel between synapses.
The olfactory bulb routes much of its information to the limbic system. The limbic system is composed of the amygdala, hippo campus, hypo thalamus, and cingulate gyrus.
Lets look at the structures of the limbic system and how they interact with oils:
1. Amygdala: The amygdala is responsible for emotional learning, fear and aggression. The amygdala receives information from the olfactory bulb. This is why some fragrances are calming and deactivate the fear response. That's why some scents may cause a fear reaction if there is a negative memory or survival significance linked to the smell.
2. Hippocampus: The hippo campus is involved in long term memory storage. This is why a fragrance can remind us of a person, time in our life, situation or event. I remember clearly the first time I smelled Cedar. My Dad took me to get a puppy and the breeder kept the puppies in a clean bed of shaved cedar. The fragrance hit me and I instantly loved it! It was so different and so intense and it effected me in a way that was wordless but powerful. And now, when I have time and am paying attention, when I smell Cedar I feel more alive, more positive and I remember the feeling tone of the first time.
This ability for a fragrance to stimulate a memory maybe the reason why we like some aromatic scents and don't like others. Some people love the scent of pine, its fresh and reminds of us being outdoors and Christmas. But....if you had a negative experience in a pine forest or sad memories of Christmas gone wrong, pine can be an unpleasant smell for you. If it is pleasant smell for you, it will activate positive memories through your hippo campus and these memories will have an actual bio chemical effect on our physiology in positive ways. All emotion is bio chemical event!!
3. Cingulate Gyrus: The Cingulage Gyrus regulates blood pressure, attention and heart rate. Essential oils have been shown to have positive effects on our cardiovascular system and some oils wake us up and help us pay attention!
There is another theory of how oils effect us. This is the theory of Energy Medicine.
Energy Medicine proposes that all living systems have a frequency. A frequency is the measurable rate of electrical energy between two points.The human body emits electromagnetic energy that can be measured in terms of frequency. Anything that has a frequency also oscillates (repeats). The principle of entrainment states that anything that oscillates will cause other oscillators in the vicinity to vibrate at the same frequency. For instance, when we listen to a sound that repeats, our brain waves start to oscillate at the same frequency. The Heart Math institute has done a ton of research as to how entrainment works, and specifically how the human heart acts as an oscillator that will entrain our brain waves and respiration.
So when we inhale an oil or absorb it through our skin, the cells of our body may resonate with the vibration of the oil. t In this way, essential oils are thought to effect the frequency of our electromagnetic system positively. We can only benefit from those substances that are vibrating at a frequency that is helpful and useful for the human body.
I hope this article has shone a little light onto the subject of how essential oils effect us in positive ways. I am enlivened by the idea that we are so connected to Nature!
The fact that we have evolved to have specific receptors in our noses designed to smell and derive benefit from the plants around us is a testament of our connection to all of Nature. We truly have evolved to live in synchronistic relationship with the natural world.
Sue Schmidt CMT, C.Ht
(720) 890 7453
References and Links
Connie Higley, Alan Higley, Reference Guide for Essential Oils, Twelfth Edition, Revised April 2010