Can your sense of smell really improve your wellbeing – and your health?
Here’s what my experience has been as a mother healing her children – and as a natural health practitioner guiding the healing of thousands of clients… Plus, what the science says about aromatherapy and how it works.
Let’s dive in.
Does Aromatherapy Work – and How?
Exactly how powerful is your sense of smell? It is actually one of the oldest senses in vertebrates. The olfactory nerve is a cranial nerve that has been shown to affect several areas of the brain and body. It is the only sense that has direct connections to the brain, whereas other senses must pass through different filters first (for example, what is absorbed through the skin must go through the lymphatic system, the circulatory system, and other filtering organs before reaching the brain).
The olfactory nerve is connected to the limbic system in the brain, which helps regulate your mood, memory and emotion. This is why certain smells can trigger memories or feelings. For example, perhaps your grandmother had rose bushes outside her house that you loved smelling as a child. Perhaps when she passed, there were an abundance of roses at her funeral. Perhaps walking up to a friend’s house and smelling roses triggers a feeling of nostalgia or sadness for the loss of your grandma. In this way, your sense of smell is very powerful at affecting our mood, memory, and emotions – and thus, the very chemistry of your body.
In fact, the Wolf of Wallstreet, Jordan Belfort, used a technique called anchoring to train himself and his team to smell success with essential oils.
More olfactory functions that scientists recently studied also include pleasure, attraction, intuition, perception, and judgment.
Aromatherapy is the use of volatile plant oils for the purpose of improving physical and psychological well-being. Essential oils are extracted from plants, and they carry many features of the plant itself in the oils. For example, many essential oils are antibacterial and antimicrobial because many plants carry self-defenses against bacteria for their own survival. Essential oils can be used in a variety of ways – through the olfactory (smelling) system, topically on the skin, or internally (be sure you learn which ones are safe to do and talk to a practitioner before ingesting essential oils, as safety is most important). If you want to begin to use essential oils, I would highly recommend becoming well versed in the knowledge of how to effectively and safely use essential oils.
Aromatherapy is an ancient medicinal method practiced in many cultures around the world. Relics relating to the use of aromatherapy were found in Cyprus (an island nation north of Egypt) and are estimated to be over 4,000 years old. However, many recent studies are confirming the benefits of aromatherapy for health and wellbeing.
Lavender, one of the most well-known stress-relieving scents, has indeed been found to reduce stress levels in several studies. Alongside lemon and mango, lavender reduces the expression of genes in a stressful situation and affects blood chemistry. However, aromatherapy is not just used to stay happy and calm. High blood pressure levels dropped by the use of diffusing essential oils for a short amount of time. The use of aromatherapy has also been found to reduce nausea in patients after surgery and is being further explored as a non-invasive, non-pharmaceutical alternative. Have inflammation? Thyme, clove, rose, fennel, eucalyptus and bergamot have shown to reduce inflammation by at least 25%, with thyme reducing it by 75%. A very interesting 2014 study showed that citronella/lemon oil stopped the growth of liver cancer cells through an olfactory receptor. This is just the tip of the iceberg – indeed, there are many uses for essential oils that can affect our health and wellness.
More uses for aromatherapy include:
- Sleep assistance
- Migraine relief
- Loosening congestion
- Bug repellent (including lice)
- Improving air quality
- Skin care
- Scalp care
- + many more.
When knowing that smells can go directly to the brain, we must be careful about what we allow to go up there! This is why the quality of your essential oils is of the utmost importance. In an effort to make oils cheap and affordable, many companies dilute the extractions with other filler chemicals. So while you may think you are diffusing a beneficial oil, you may be actually adding chemicals to the air that can affect your brain and health. Please know that fragrance or aromatic grade oils are different from therapeutic grade oils.
The method of extraction and distillation also matters – whether or not it is a clean process. I encourage you to do your research into the brands you use. After over a decade of trying countless essential oil brands – including the major commonly used and sold oils that I get asked about often – the only brands I can recommend are Primavera (U.S.)* and Shirley Price (U.K.). If you don’t see me talking about the one you love, then it didn’t pass my standards. I have had instances where sensitive people surprisingly reacted to top brands which sent me on the hunt for information with companies about the level of organic quality and manufacturing processes, which became a “no” on my list of what I will use on clients or recommend. However, if you feel strongly about the brand you use and have done your research on them, I applaud your informed choice.
Quality also matters with packaging of the oil. I would not recommend getting oils bottled in plastic or clear glass. It is important that oils are carried in dark-colored or amber glass to protect them from light, which will affect the oil.
Food Grade also matters. Some oils can be used on the tongue or ingested in small amounts for different situations, but this can only be done if they are of the highest quality possible. Make sure you are well-versed in essential oil safety and are under the care of a practitioner before ingesting oils.
My Top 3 All-Around Favorite Oils
Essential oils have been an enormous gift for my family and our health. They are little liquid jewels in a bottle and carry a high vibration of healing (when using a high quality brand). There are so many oils I love for their many differing qualities, but if I had to go to an island and could only choose 3 oils – these are it:
- St. John’s Wort
ST. JOHN’S WORT
This is my favorite carrier oil! (A carrier oil helps the skin better absorb the benefits of essential oils.) St. John’s Wort has such a wide variety of uses and benefits. It can be used alone or in combination with other oils.
Benefits of St. John’s Wort:
- High in Vitamin E
- Assists with nerve injuries
- Calms bee stings and bug bites
- Soothes bruises and burns
- Releases muscle tension
- Assists wound healing
- Breaks up scar tissue
- Mood lifting
- Non-irritating (a very gentle oil)
- Soothes sunburn
- + so much more!
I love yarrow so much that I wrote an entire blog post on just this herb/oil. Truth be told, I never leave the house without this oil – especially with three active boys who love adventures. I have witnessed yarrow essential oil stop blood gushing from my son’s head at the skatepark, and stem blood flow from my husband’s serious arm injury while on a hike. There have been so many times that this oil has come in handy – it is a must-have for the mama and/or adventurer.
There are high quality yarrow essential oils that are naturally yellow or green. I highly recommend the blue yarrow because of the beautiful properties it has to help assist with the blood.
Here are some of the situations for which I have recommended yarrow for clients, or used myself:
- Calm inflammation from joint pain
- Soothe irritated skin
- Heal infections
- Calm heavy menstruation
- Relax strained calf muscles
- Ease bruised hamstrings
- Soothe jaw pain from toothaches
- Inhibit bleeding from a tooth extraction
- Treat hemorrhoids and varicose veins
- Keeps psychological equilibrium intact
- Stimulates a stagnant, sluggish liver
- Cooling a fever
- + many more.
Frankincense is a truly ancient oil that can be used for many different needs. Its aroma is strengthening, grounding, and earthy. I often use it on myself before zoning clients.
The many benefits of frankincense include:
- Powerfully anti-inflammatory
- Helps alleviate anxiety and nerves
- Assists asthma
- Protects against infections
- Lightens sun damage and dark spots on the skin
- Clears negativity
- Fights cold sores
- Aids concentration
- Supports the immune system (see more oils that also do this here)
- Soothes muscle aches
- + many more.
Using Essential Oils
As mentioned before, I highly recommend becoming well versed in the knowledge of essential oils before or as you use them. I would also recommend being under the care of a practitioner if you are wanting to use essential oils as a tool on your healing journey.
As for stimulating the olfactory nerve in aromatherapy, you can do this in many different ways. There are a variety of different kinds of diffusers, with water-based being the most common. I actually love this diffuser because it ionizes the oil, making it hang in the air much longer than a water-based diffuser.
If you need a quick and economical solution, you can fill a bowl of steaming water and mix an essential oil in a little bit of epsom salt, then dump the epsom salt into the bowl of hot water. This could diffuse the oil into a small room, or if you need the benefits directly into the nasal passage or sinuses (as in the case of congestion or a migraine/headache), you can put your face over the bowl and drape a towel over your head, breathing in the steam.
You can also simply rub a little oil onto your wrists and occasionally smell them (make sure it is a safe oil for your skin, otherwise add a carrier oil). There are also a variety of essential oil necklaces or bracelets on the market that may be to your liking and convenience.
Here is some more of what I’ve written on essential oils:
- 5 Best Essential Oils To Conquer Viruses & Boost Your Immunity
- From Fake to Fresh – Why You Should Toss Your Toxic Air Fresheners
- What Is The Ultimate Essential Oil Every Mama Needs?
- How To Protect Your Lungs: The Ultimate Guide
- How To Get Better Skin: 3 Ways To Ditch The Toxins
- How To Really Clean Your House Without Toxic Chemicals
It is my hope that this is a resource for you to move forward with these amazing healing tools. Becoming a Master Aromatherapist opened up my knowledge of healing herbs and plants even more, and it has been an enormous gift in my life.
Cheers to more ways to heal!
*P.S. If you ever wish to purchase oils from the Primavera brand, feel free to use my discount code amberbodilyhealth if you wish.