Essential oils can have a profound effect on emotions and thinking patterns and the physiological way in which the effect occurs, making them valuable tools in building and maintaining health. When you inhale a fragrance, the molecules travel up the nose where they attach to receptor cells in the olfactory epithelium. They stimulate the lining of nerve cells that trigger electrical impulses to the olfactory bulb, which then transmits impulses to three places - the gustatory center, where taste is perceived; the amygdala, where emotional memories are stored; and other parts of the limbic system of the brain.
Of our senses, only the sense of smell is related directly to the limbic system of the brain, which is the emotional control center. Fear, joy, depression, anger and other emotions also come from this region of the brain. This is why scents can provoke powerful memories.
Additionally, the limbic lobe can activate the hypothalamus, which, among other things, serves as the hormonal control center. Odor also has a powerful effect on other physiological functions such as breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure.
It is these connections that are responsible for the powerful relationship between inhaling an essential oil and reduction of stress or emotional trauma, stimulation of the production of hormones, increase in energy levels, and other positive effects.
Although there are not a lot of them, there are some studies showing the positive effects of using essential oil products. Researchers at the Universities of Berlin and Vienna concluded that sandalwood and frankincense can increase levels of oxygen by as much as 28%. (The People's Desk Reference for Essential Oils Essential Science Pub 1999). Increased oxygen to the brain can cause a number of positive effects, including improvement in immune function, and energy levels.
Dr. Alan Hirsch from the Smell and Taste Treatment Center and Research Foundation, successfully used essential oils to reduce appetite and assist in weight loss in 3000 subjects during a 6-month period. This study was reported in the Annals of Clinical and Laboratory Science vol. 14, Sept/Oct No. 5.
As you might imagine, the quality of the oil is very important in terms of whether or not there is any therapeutic value in using it. Not everything sold or labeled as a pure essential oil is a therapeutic-grade product. The most powerful oils are known as first press - future pressings of the plant are weaker and weaker, and therefore less potent. Additionally, synthetic reproductions of oils are not only ineffective, but some can be toxic.
Just as it is best to get your nutrients from whole foods, it is best to get the therapeutic effects from the whole essential oil, rather than from extracts claiming to have therapeutic effects. They rarely do. And, the studies and historical use we are relying on to make recommendations of these products all involved the use of the whole oil product.
How can you tell what you're getting? In the U.S., we have no standards for the manufacturing of these products or the claims being made. So, you should know your supplier and know that only first press and pure essential oils are used in manufacturing, without any toxic chemicals. Also, you will find that you get what you pay for. Some of the essential oil products I have seen in health food stores do not sell for enough money to cover the cost of the drops of essential oil, let alone the packaging and other costs associated with marketing them.
In summary, high-quality essential oils are effective for both physical and emotional healing and can be a valuable part of your health "tool box."
Written by Dr. Pam Popper of The Wellness Forum