“Smell is a potent wizard that transports us across thousands of miles and all the years we have lived. The odors of fruits waft me to my southern home, to my childhood frolics in the peach orchard. Other odors, instantaneous and fleeting, cause my heart to dilate joyously or contract with remembered grief. Even as I think of smells, my nose is full of scents that start to awake sweet memories of summers gone and ripening fields far away”.
This eloquent quote expressed by Helen Keller so vividly says what many of us experience when exposed to aromas. Smell is the sense that reaches deeply and quickly into our emotional center to evoke feelings and memories of our past.
When was the last time you paused and took notice of an aroma? When did a certain scent evoke nostalgia by transporting you to that specific experience? Has scent soothed your anxiety, relieved insomnia or spiced up your social interactions? Odor molecules are chemical communicators that give specific and potent messages. “Neuroscience”, the study of the sense of smell, has become the “haute couture” of the academic world.
We are approaching the millennium and the sensory revolution is in full swing. The power and pleasure of scent and our sense of smell is being explored by scientists throughout the world. This positive effect scent has on human behavior is amazing researchers because the implications and applications are so exciting. The research that follows is provocative and lends itself to the innovative use of scent in the future.
With the help of technology, researchers are assisted in examining the brain’s response to olfactory stimulation. Dr. Tyler Lorig studied the brains response to odor by measuring electrical patterns in the brain when subjects smelled an odorant. Drs. Hong-Ming Cheng and Bruce Wexler used magnetic resonance imaging that produces highly detailed maps of metabolic activity in portions of the brain involved in odor perception. Both teams of researchers found that brain activity increased in specific parts of the brain when certain smells were picked up by the nose. These studies show that sensory information from the nose is processed by certain portions of the brain. Understanding how the brain receives and processes olfactory cues will add a new dimension to the mystique of the overall sensory experience.
The human olfactory system is fully mature at birth. Within two days after its birth, a baby recognizes its mother by its sense of smell. A link between a baby’s sense of smell and an early ability to learn was discovered by Dr. Ira Lott. Her research suggests that a baby who doesn’t remember her mother’s odor could be prone to learning disorders.
Sleep studies to see which scents have an effect on sleep found that most scents did have an effect. The olfactory receptors were stimulated when an odor was present and the brain was receiving the odor stimulation. This has exciting implications for the hearing impaired, who are unable to respond to auditory signals used in warning devices like fire and security alarms. Odorant molecules travel through darkness and can bend around corners to alert sleeping individuals to dangers that are not directly within their line of vision.
By the year 2000, we will have aroma-air-conditioning systems that will pump the sedating scent of lavender 20 minutes before we want to sleep. Pleasant odors will also be used to positively affect our dreams. Waiting rooms in doctors and dentist offices will be suffused with an aroma that calms.
Drs. Joel Warm and William Dember found that workers who occasionally sniffed peppermint and muguet while performing sustained attention tasks improved the quality of their work significantly. Releasing the scent of peppermint into the office environment could help increase employee alertness, attitude and performance. Just imagine the workplace of the future using a fragrance system to increase worker efficiency. It could ultimately create a more gratifying work environment. Implications for using scents that have a stimulating effect are being explored by automobile manufacturers and long distance truck drivers.
Research done by Dr. Rachel Hertz found that, memories evoked by our sense of smell are more emotional than memories evoked by our other senses, including sight, sound and touch. Our odor memory bank is housed in the brain’s limbic system, Limbic system controls or modifies our emotional and sexual response, hunger and thirst responses, artistic abilities, perceptions of space, body temperature, and cognitive ability. This portion of the brain also receives and stores information experienced by all the other senses, The electrical signals released by the sense of smell may trigger our strongest memories of the past. Positive or negative, our reaction to odor depends on our own personal and unique odor/memory association.
Pure essential oils that are scientifically document ed to have an antibacterial and antifungal effect are being used to naturally purify the air. By diffusing the essential oils into the air using an electric diffuser, it is possible to cover up to a 2.000 sq. ft. dwelling. Oils, such as eucalyptus, neutralize many of the microbes. inside the home. The use of essential oils in cleansing our interior environments is as exciting as the oil’s capacity for emotional cleansing. When inhaled, these pure oils go on a complex olfactory journey in which t they eventually reach the amygdala, the memory center for fear and trauma. Dr. Joseph Ledoux discovered that the amygdala plays a major role in releasing and storing emotional trauma. As we can see odor or fragrance has a profound effect in triggering an emotional response.
Gamblers in Las Vegas that used machines that were “aromatized” spent 45 percent more cash than other machines. Furthermore, people are more likely to buy, in a pleasant scented environment. Scientists have proven that certain essential oils such as lavender (the most highly researched essential oil). have therapeutic benefits to the respiratory system along with mood alteration and anxiety reduction. Aromatherapist have said for centuries that aromas can relax, increase workers performance, increase one’s capacity to remember, and change mood. But not until Dr. Shizuo Torii began his research in Japan in 1985 did the U. S. regard the use of aroma as anything more than pampering with “placebo” side effects. Now the Shimizu Corporation, Japan’s third largest construction company incorporates aroma systems into some of its buildings to relax and reduce stress. Commercial diffuser systems are also used by banks in Japan, where lemon or eucalyptus aromas keep workers efficient at their computers.
We certainly have come a long way and we can look forward to a very aromatic future. But it will take years to validate by chemistry the many benefits of aroma because we are still learning the effects of the sense of smell and other metabolic pathways. Thanks to organizations such as the Olfactory Research Fund, Ltd. and The Fragrance Foundation, the non-profit educational arm of the fragrance industry, we will continue to receive the latest information and inspiration. These organizations gave birth to Aroma-Chology, “a concept based on systematic, scientific data collected under controlled conditions. It is dedicated to the study of the inter-relationship of psychology and the latest in fragrance technology to transmit through odor a variety of specific feelings (such as relaxation, exhilaration, sensuality, happiness and achievement) directly to the brain.”
For the skeptics who challenge the powerful effect scent has on psyche and for those who would like to explore more, watch for the continuation of this article in the next issue.
Anneliese London, M. A. is an Assistant Professor,
Health Editor, Holistic Health Educator and Speaker.
Six ScentSational Applications
1. Wake up to the beauty of botanicals by putting a few drops of the exotic essential oil Myrrh into a sink full of hot water and let the steam diffuse the scent. Then dab Frankincense and Myrrh perfume oil on the pulse points of the body. Now sit, meditate, and enjoy the essences. (A word of caution: avoid during pregnancy).
2. Sleep deprived? Mist your bedroom using Lavender Herbal Metaphors Home Fragrance Spray. Saturate a cotton ball with lavender essential oil and place nearby for sleep. Lavender Scented Stones or French Lavender Dried Herbals in a bowl by your bed is mother nature’s way to win sleep for the most stubborn of insomniacs.
3. Get a energy boost as you drive to work by putting drops of tangerine or peppermint on a pad in your CarScenter. The CarScenter’ plugs into your vehicle’s cigarette lighter and by using a variety of essential oils, you can sur round yourself with scent that can either wake you up or calm you down.
4. Scent your surroundings or enhance air purification by plugging in an aroma lamp such as Aromalite’ dosed with essential oil. The micro-particles remain suspended in the air and fill the entire area with the desired scent. To create a mood, light a Herbal Metaphors Aromatic candle and create a land scope of warmth.
5. Give your face a scentual bath. Use the essential oils and dried herbal formulas in Aroma Sauna’s healing steam facial travel kit. Spray your face with Lavender Water to set makeup and to refresh or renew a tired face. To bathe away your anxiety, just fill a warm bath with Pleasure Garden Bath Crystals or sprinkle in Angel Bath Stardust. Then, splash on Angel Frisson Celeste to complete that heavenly feeling.
6. Put the power of scent into your wordrebe. Bring the ridded dimension of fragrance to your jewelry by wearing Aroma Vern’s Silver Moon Goddess Aromagems Frosted Teardrop scented pendents. Immerse yourself in the power of nature and create your own aromatic ambience by wearing Hillside Harbs Necklaces that are individually sculpted, and porcelain hand painted These aesthetic pieces are saturated with essential oils, the scents combine with your own energy and allows for exciting changes to occur.
Reader Resources and References Recommended Reading
Aromatherapy Scent and Psyche by Peter and Kate Damian: Healing Arts Press and your local book store.
The Reference Guide, lists 1100 fragrances, addresses, description etc… by The Fragrance Foundation: 212-725-2755
Aroma-Spa Therapy by Anne Roebuck: 800-263-1991
Scentsitvity Quarterly, 415-731-4034
Aromatherapy Quarterly: 416-663-9519 Aromatherapy Notes, free newsletter from Aura Codio: 800-437-3301
The American Alliance of Aromatherapy. 800-809-9850
Pacific Institute of Aromatherpay: 415-479-9121
National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy: 415-731-4634
Olfactory Research Fund, Ltd.: 212-725-2755
The Fragrance Foundation: Fax: 212-779-9058
“Angel Eau de Parfum and Angel MEN Eau de Toilette” by Thierry Mugler: Available at fine department stores nationwide
“Frankincense and Myrrh” Perfume Oil and Pure Essential Oil Drams by Power Point Productions: 800-414-6506
Aroma Massage by Australasian College of Herbal Studies: 503-635-6652
The History and Therapeutic Uses of Frankincense and Mirth by Power Point Productions: 800 414-6506
The Natural Orange Box by Alexander Deutsch: 310-652-2153
Aroma Sauna by Essentia Inc.: 800-655-7003
French Lavender Herbal Bag, Lavender Water and Pure Essential Oils by Aroma Therapeutix: 800-308-6284
“CarScenter” and “Scent Ball” Aromatic plug in diffusers by Earth Solutions: 800-883-3376
Herbal Metaphors Home Fragrance Mist, Scented Stones, Scented Candles by The Thymes Limited: 800-366-4071
The Classic AromaLite’ by Sitara Aromatic, Inc.: 800-AROMA-11
Abaca Gift Basket by Nadina’s Cremes: 800-722-4292
The Weekender and Pleasure Garden Bath Crystals by The Passion Tree: 888-873-3142
Aromatic Jewelry by Hillside Herbs: 804-295-5547
Frosted Teardrop and Silver Moon Goddess Pendant by Aroma V?ra: 800-669-9514