It's just a nice smell...or is it?

Updated: Mar 14


It's time to get serious. To get down to business. To focus, concentrate, stop procrastinating. There's work to do. I know this because I have just put Basil, Bergamot & Rosemary essential oils into my oil burner. The smell of this blend always reminds me of studying for my Master's Degree in Human Resource Management when exams were looming. Thankfully I'd discovered the wonders of essential oils for home use by then. Each time I had an exam to study for I would put this blend into the oil burner. Why? I'd read once that Basil helps you focus, Rosemary clears a foggy mind & Bergamot just makes you feel good. Plus I liked the smell.


This smell now acts as a trigger for me. Whenever I smell it, my brain registers that it's time to focus & get down to it. And you know what, I always find it helps me do just that. But why? How can a smell do this? How do essential oils have this affect from just smelling them?

It is the chemical constituents or compounds within an essential oil that affect the mind & body. When an essential oil is exposed to air, odorous molecules evaporate into the atomosphere where we breathe it in. Two things then happen.


One, the molecules, which are tiny, are absorbed into the body's bloodstream via the lungs and mucous membranes in the nasal cavity. Once in the bloodstream these chemicals are then transported around the body and have the ability to affect the body's systems.


Two, the odorous molecules in essential oils are detected at the back of the nose by a strip of tissue called the olfactory epithelium. This is where the olfactory receptors are, think of them like locks and the odorous molecules are like keys. When a key fits one of these locks it sends an electric signal (neurones) to the olfactory organ.

These electrical signals continue to the limbic system (amygdala, hippocampus, thalamus, hypothalamus, basal ganglia, and cingulate gyrus), this part of the brain is associated with emotions, memories, motivations and pleasure. The brain responds to these electrical signals by releasing neurotransmitters such as serotonin (involved in regulating mood and social behavior, appetite and digestion, sleep, memory, and sexual desire and function) and dopamine (involved in regulating movement, attention, learning, and emotional responses).

This is why inhaling an essential oil has a quicker effect on the body than when it is absorbed through the bloodstream. This pathway is a direct line to the brain, the equivalent of the red phone. Via the bloodstream it's a bit more like the scenic tour to the brain, "as we leave the lungs we will pass through the heart before heading off up to the carotid arteries". You get the picture.


It is not just mood that is affected. The hypothalamus is the command centre for monitoring and regulating bodily systems. It sends hormones to the pituitary gland, which in turn produces and sends hormones to the endocrine glands such as the thyroid, adrenal and ovaries. Studies (Haze, Sakai & Gozu, 2002) have found that inhaling essential oils can affect the sympathetic autonomic nervous system - heart rate, skin temperature, breathing rate. Inhalation of black pepper increased adrenalin 1.7 fold, while inhaling Rosa damascene decreased it by 40% against comparison with a control group.


So, do you still think it's just a nice smell?

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