What’s That Aroma?
Aromatherapy is an ancient practice that involves the use of scent to influence physical health and induce a calm, meditative state of mind. Often lumped together with a confusing collection of alternative and complementary practices, aromatherapy arguably doesn’t get the respect it deserves. These days, it’s most likely to be encountered in a day spa setting, where it’s used to enhance relaxation. Pleasant scents are nice, but did you know that science backs up the potential health benefits of aromatherapy?
The area of the brain that detects scent is among the oldest and most primitive portions of the nervous system. Small wonder that scent can have profound, often subtle, effects on the body and mind. For example, the delicious smells of cooking food can trigger hunger, while other scents may tap into emotions like trust and comfort. Warm spices, such as cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg, evoke pleasant associations, while citrus is usually considered energizing and refreshing. There’s a good reason savvy real estate agents tell home sellers to fill the house with the smell of baking bread. It’s reputed to make potential buyers feel cozy in the home.
Most pleasant scents come from plants; especially plants that yield essential oils. Yesterday I wrote about lavender, used for thousands of years to add a clean, fresh aroma to everything from soap to sleeping pillows. Fascinating recent research suggests that scents in the aromatic pine resin family can lower blood pressure significantly. So the next time you feel stress making you tense, try taking a walk in the woods. If that’s not feasible, sniff some fresh rosemary, pine, fir, or cypress to get that calming, grounded, woodland feeling.
Setzer WN. Essential oils and anxiolytic aromatherapy. Nat Prod Commun. 2009 Sep;4(9):1305-16.
Shiina Y, Funabashi N, Lee K, Toyoda T, Sekine T, Honjo S, et al. Relaxation effects of lavender aromatherapy improve coronary flow velocity reserve in healthy men evaluated by transthoracic Doppler echocardiography. Int J Cardiol. 2008 Sep 26;129(2):193-7. Epub 2007 Aug 8.