Aromatherapy is a practice that's been around since ancient times and is still very much widespread. Its influence has been maintained throughout history.
Many people, to this day, enjoy and believe in the effects of the practice. In addition, it offers a wide array of natural fragrances. The various health and medicinal attributes also make the practice much more meaningful.
Smell is the most powerful sense of the human body. Inhaling different fragrances can elicit various emotions from humans.
The relaxed feeling most people get during aromatherapy may be attributed to the incredible effects of oil scents. However, it's still bamboozling how these essential oils make people feel better.
Essential Oil Basics: What They Are and How They Work
Essential oils are natural extracts isolated from plants via steam distillation. These oils keep the natural scent and even flavor of their plant sources. They can be further extracted to get simpler structured oils, generally used as fragrance oils.
The complexity of the essential oil's components allows it to have the many benefits that it has been known for centuries. Throughout ancient civilizations until now, essentials have various uses. As a result, essential oils have versatile applications in cosmetics, health, medicine, and home care.
Essential oils are more known for their use in aromatherapy, a practice that has existed throughout history. Through this practice, they are discovered to help improve one's mental and physical health.
Some of its various benefits are arguable. However, most essential oils have antimicrobial, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, chemoprotective, cytotoxic, allelopathic, repellant, and insecticidal properties.
The Chemistry of Essential Oils: Understanding Their Properties and Composition
Essential oils contain several volatile secondary metabolites, primarily terpenoids and phenolic compounds. Such compounds contribute to their complex nature.
The scent of the volatile compounds is why their source extracts are referred to as essential oils. Because of such naming convention, their plant sources are known as aromatic plants. Essential oils are referred to as such because they have an "essence."
The functional groups of the component compounds of essential oils can be categorized under two major groups: hydrocarbons and oxygenated compounds. Hydrocarbons, as implied by their name, are mainly made up of carbon and hydrogen. Functional groups in essential oils under this category are monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes.
On the other hand, oxygenated compounds are initially hydrocarbons that have reacted with oxygen molecules. Plants usually produce these as a byproduct of their biochemical metabolic processes. Oxygenated functional groups found in essential oils are esters, aldehydes, ketones, and alcohol.
The chemical composition of essential oils may vary from plant to plant, regardless of species. Variations in the makeup of essential oils may be due to abiotic and biotic factors, methods of extraction, and conservation. In addition, volatile compounds present in essential oils are very reactive to various conditions.
How Smells Affect Our Emotions and Memories
The sense of smell is often overlooked. After all, breathing is a normal function of the human body. However, the human olfactory system is powerful as it elicits memories and emotions.
Ever wonder why the smell of freshly baked cookies almost always reminds us of comfort or home? Or how the smell of coffee makes us feel like we could finish all our tasks and be productive?
There is a phenomenon wherein a sensory experience triggers a rush of memories called the Proustian moment. However, the sensory organ responsible for this is the nose. Although in the case of the Proustian moment, taste plays a role as well.
The stimulus we receive from the taste of food can make its way retro-nasally. So, the flavor one tastes when eating is recognized as a smell. The phrase "tasting odors" is because scent and taste stimuli are recognized as one.
Scent stimuli are often detected first by the olfactory bulb. It is a frontal brain structure responsible for sending information to other areas of the body for processing. It sorts which part should be responsible for processing the stimuli.
The odor then goes through the limbic system. The signal then goes to the amygdala and hippocampus, the brain regions responsible for emotion and memory.
Humans can link certain odors to specific emotions because the amygdala processes them. After all, the sense of smell is the only fully developed sense of a fetus while in the womb.
It's consequently the most developed in children until the age of 10. So, childhood tends to be the foundation of the scents one likes or dislikes for the rest of their life.
Memories, even the deepest ones, can be linked to particular scents. In addition, scent and memory may be linked depending on how the hippocampus processes the stimulus.
Memories associated with scent are smell and emotion stored as one memory. So, adults who smell familiar scents associate them with ones they encountered as children.
How Essential Oils Impact Our Mental and Physical Health
Essential oils have existed long enough to establish their health and medicinal benefits. Their scents help ease fatigue, stress, and anxiety. But they also have different medicinal properties that can help with other ailments.
These properties are evident through years of tradition. But science has also backed up some of these benefits. For example, the science behind essential oils backed their uses for mental and physical health.
Essential oils impact mental health as most, if not all, of these oils have calming benefits. People who experience anxiety or stress are often advised to do mindfulness activities.
These are practices to help them clear their minds and slow down. An example of something they can do to help ease their mood is diffusing essential oils.
Certain essential oils help alleviate stress, depression, and anxiety and treat insomnia. These are also some of the properties essential oils like lavender are commonly known for and used for.
In addition, some essential oils like bergamot help treat symptoms of mental health illnesses. For example, bergamot significantly reduces the delusion and hallucination symptoms of schizophrenia. It also helps improve the overall cognitive health of the individual suffering from the illness.
Of the many benefits of essential oils, it's no surprise they're helpful for medicinal uses. For example, most essential oils possess antibacterial and disinfecting properties.
Specifically, tea tree oil is known for its antiseptic properties and for treating acne and athlete's foot. Likewise, it is a popular ingredient in many skin care products.
Essential oils are used in ayurvedic medicine to treat some common ailments. For example, mint oil helps fight fatigue and treat headaches, colds, and other respiratory conditions. In addition, bergamot also helps improve digestion and reduce cholesterol levels.
How Essential Oils Affect Our Brain and Nervous System
Essential oils affect our brain and nervous system through scent. Smelling a familiar essential oil scent sends a stimulus to the brain's olfactory hub.
The signal is then sent to the amygdala and the hippocampus for processing. But how do these regions of the brain process scent stimulus?
Upon receiving the stimulus, the nervous system acts on it. First, it allows the brain to release hormones. More specifically, the brain is stimulated to release neurotransmitters or what is commonly known as hormones like serotonin and dopamine once the olfactory system receives the signal from inhaling the oils.
The released neurotransmitters regulate a person's mood. In addition, this hormone release triggers some memories that link to the scent stimulus. This process is most likely why most people find essential oil scents comforting.
Essential oils affect the brain by the scent stimulus it receives when humans smell the fragrances of the oil. Some studies show that the scent stimulus recognized by the brain influences the nervous system and other physiological processes.
Such stimulus and neurotransmitter release affect various physiological processes: blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, brain waves compositions, and cortisol levels. The influence of smell on the brain, the nervous system, and the physiological processes mentioned arguably occur concurrently.
Essential Oils and Stress: Reducing Cortisol and Promoting Relaxation
Throughout history, essential oils have been known for their use in promoting relaxation. In addition, essential oils can help reduce stress. The feeling of being relaxed is due to the reduced cortisol levels in the body.
Cortisol is a hormone the adrenal gland produces that is released into the bloodstream when a person is stressed. When the cortisol levels are high, it indicates that you're exposed to so many stressors. However, it may also harm your body when left unchecked. High cortisol levels may lead to symptoms of Cushing syndrome.
Some common essential oils for promoting relaxation are lavender, clary sage, ylang-ylang, sweet orange, lemongrass, vetiver, bergamot, and neroli. But, of course, these are only some of the best and most popular ones. The most relaxing scent for one person may differ from another's.
Essential Oils and Pain: Easing Discomfort and Reducing Inflammation
As mentioned earlier, essential oils have many medicinal benefits. Some oils even have anti-inflammatory properties. Essential oils well known for their pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties are lavender, rose, bergamot, wintergreen, peppermint, rosemary, eucalyptus, chamomile, clary sage, ginger, clove, lemongrass, and frankincense.
Inhaling these essential oils signals the brain to release endorphins, hormones that help relieve pain or stress. This hormone likewise improves mood. Hence, it's almost always known to be one of the "happy hormones" that the human brain produces.
Essential Oils and Sleep: Promoting Better Sleep Quality and Duration
Essential oils have many benefits for one's mental and physical health. Sleep is vital in ensuring one's optimal well-being. So, it's also no surprise that several essential oils are great for rest.
Some common essential oils can promote better sleep: lavender, ylang-ylang, chamomile, peppermint, bergamot, sandalwood, cedarwood, marjoram, clary sage, vetiver, eucalyptus, and valerian oils. Essential oils that can help improve sleep induce the release of melatonin.
Melatonin is a hormone vital in regulating sleep. The brain releases it to regulate a person's sleep-wake cycles.
All-in-one Essential Oil: Egyptian Musk
Several essential oils can help your needs. Adulting can be very tough, after all.
Of the ones mentioned in the previous sections, lavender, chamomile, clary sage, and bergamot were all noted to help with stress, pain, and sleep. The versatility of most oils only shows the myriad benefits of essential oils.
If you enjoy unique scents or scent blends, use Egyptian musk oil instead. The various component oils in this essential oil blend make it the perfect go-to oil for all your needs.
Egyptian musk contains myrrh, cedarwood, rose petal, frankincense, patchouli, ambrette seed, and amber oil. Some components of Egyptian musk help relieve pain and improve sleep.
Specifically, cedarwood, frankincense, and rose oils have such benefits. So, if you don't want to remember a list of the best oils or find unique and earthy scents relaxing, Egyptian musk might be for you.
In the same vein, the specific type of scent one may find helpful may differ from one person to another. One may even use any essential oil not mentioned earlier as long as it helps them with whatever they need.
Essential oils have exhibited a myriad of benefits throughout history. With the backing of science, more and more of these benefits are proven.
These proven benefits only add to the versatility of essential oils. These oils may be helpful in almost all aspects of human life. However, they are most especially known for their medicinal and health benefits.
The busyness of daily adult life brings about chronic stress, pain, and bad sleep quality. The many benefits of essential oils show their great effects in helping promote relaxation, relieve pain, and improve sleep.
Certain oils may be famous for specific benefits. At the end of the day, the essential oil you use depends on whether that scent can help you with what you need it for.
After all, our perception of scent depends on the olfactory foundations set in our early childhood. So, with its many benefits, choose the essential oil that best suits your needs.
Who knows? You can even use scent blends like Egyptian musk to address all your needs!
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