Aromatherapy works through two main channels, the olfactory system
through topical absorption (through the skin pores).
Let us begin by looking at the olfaction
first. Our nasal
cavities have thousands of olfactory
cells that carry scent
directly to the Olfactory bulb
which is located at the back of our
nose. It has nerve endings that send messages directly to the brain.
This is why when you walk down the soap aisle at the supermarket or
pass the perfume counter in the department store you may get a headache
right between your eyes.
sense of smell is 10,000 times more sensitive than any other sense and
recognition of smell is immediate.
Other senses like touch and taste must travel through the body via
neurons and the spinal cord before reaching the brain whereas the
response is immediate, extending directly to the brain.
is the only place where our central nervous system is directly exposed
to the environment. That is why inhalation directly affects the central
The Olfaction response by passes the Neo-cortex or conscious brain and
goes directly to the limbic system.
Smell is the strongest link to the subconscious and we retain memories
associated with smells for very long periods of time.
It is said that our bodies can process between 10,000-100,000 different
smells and remember them. That's a lot of memory retention.
Our sense of smell can be described as a lock and key. The first time
we smell something, that sets the lock in our subconscious mind and the
next time we smell that same aroma it is like a key that unlocks the
memories of when we first smelled it.
This is why smelling fresh gingerbread, for example, can remind you of
Christmas baking with mom, etc. How many times have you smelled
something and remarked, "Do you know what that reminds me of?"
As mentioned earlier, the olfactory nerves are directly connected to
the limbic system which houses all or our sensory experiences such as
memories, emotions, sex drive, hunger, pleasure, instincts etc., It is
the center of all of our emotions and therefore affects our emotional
The limbic system is involved in determining when the hypothalamus
stimulates the endocrine glands and autonomic nervous system. The
hypothalamus governs the pituitary gland which controls the release of
hormones throughout the body and exerts decisive control over the
autonomic and endocrine systems.
The autonomic system contains nerves leading to the body's glands and
organs. It is referred to as the involuntary system because it controls
activities that are usually thought to act independently of our choice
such as heart rate, body temperature, stress levels, respiratory and
digestive functions. These are all influenced by the hypothalamus .
The autonomic system reacts automatically to the different stressors
whether they be mental, or physical and initiates a complex series of
neurophysiological and biochemical changes within the body. These are
known as neurochemicals or neurotransmitters which communicate with
different organs of the body and bring about chemical changes.
For instance mood enhancers like serotonin , endorphins and enkephalin
are all hormones that are released by the hypothalamus's affect on the
The hypothalamus and the endocrine systems play a critical role in the
development of psychosomatic illness. More than half of the patients
that walk into a doctor's office have diseases of a psychosomatic
Does this mean it is all in their head, that it is not real? By no
means, what it does mean is that their minds are affecting the way
their bodies are reacting.
Doctors are realizing more and more that we cannot separate man into
Man is a holistic being comprised of body, soul, and spirit and when
one of these areas are out of balance the whole man suffers.
This is why Aromatherapy works. It brings balance to mind, body and
spirit which in turn brings harmony to the whole person.
Now that we have looked at how the mind affects the body let us look at
the second channel through which aromatherapy works, through
application to the body.
This is known as the physiological effects of aromatherapy.
As mentioned earlier, Essential Oils are minute molecules and are
therefore easily absorbed through application to the skin. This is
known as transdermal absorption.
Essential Oils do not dissolve in water but dissolve in fat therefore
they eagerly attach themselves to the natural body fats and fluids in
our body and gain access to the lymphatic and blood systems through the
connective and lymphatic tissues.
Here they can affect physical changes usually in about 10-20 minutes,
and indirectly stimulate or sedate the immune system and other various
Unlike other treatments which are taken internally, aromatherapy works
more effectively because it has direct access to the various body
systems and does not have to pass through the stomach where gastric
juices could deter its effectiveness.
In fact, internal
digestion is NOT RECOMMENDED and generally not used in aromatherapy as
some Essential Oils can be TOXIC IF TAKEN INTERNALLY.
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