How do you Smell?

Uncategorized Jan 15, 2018

Do you ever stop to think about how your nose works?  Or pondered, how can smelling essential oils shift my mood or state of mind?

It' a great question to be able to answer when working with essential oils. Here's a quick primer for you that I hope you can use!

Consider the process of being awakened by the smell of smoke. You could be fast asleep and be awakened and in an instant, everything changes. 

Here is what happens in an instant!

  • The aroma molecules move past the receptor sites in your nose. 
  • The olfactory nerves send a message to your limbic system.

  • Your limbic system has a stored "aroma-print" for smoke

  • This print says: Smoke = fire = danger = send adrenaline! 

Within a few whiffs of the aroma, you are energized by stress hormones to take action.

Let's say that another way.
You detected the smell of smoke,  your brain responded accordingly by releasing a biochemical - hormonal response ( stress hormones)  that changed your thoughts and emotions.

Yay!  Your olfactory system saved the day!
Thank you nose, the nose always knows!

This is how aromatherapy works!

As we inhale aromatic molecules, each oil has a unique chemical structure and electromagnetic frequency, that our limbic system analyses and responds accordingly. This information is relayed from the hypothalamus, by sending a signal to the pituitary gland,  which produces a hormonal response, initiating a change in our biochemistry!

For the aroma geeks like me, read on if you want to go a little deeper for more "olfactory facts" from the last Alliance of International Aromatherapists (AIA) Conference at Rutgers University I attended.

How Odors Change the Brain, Expectations and Experience,
Affect Odor Perception –The Implications for Aromatherapy,
by John McGann, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology, Behavioral and Systems Neuroscience Rutgers University.

Fun facts about our olfactory systems. . .

  • We have 390 smell receptor sites, vision is based on 3 receptors (rods and cones), hmmm.
  • Our smell sensitivity is EXCELLENT as compared to a mouse, spider monkey, pigtail macaque, squirrel monkey, dog, vampire bat, fruit bat, hedgehog, and rat!!)
  • Your olfactory system is not static – it continues to learn until your last days!
  • Human odor discrimination is excellent, we can tell a trillion odors apart (Bushdid et al)
  • Loss of olfactory abilities has an unexpectedly large impact on human health, notably mental health.
  • We saw images from “inside” the mouse brain, (they literally installed a window to observe) as compounds were inhaled and each individual odorant lit up specific spots in the brain.
  • A particular odor may be made to evoke a particular emotion or mental state through experience.

Well, we are pretty magical beings, aren't we?

Be well,
Jodi Baglien

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