Lots of research has been done on essential oils and how they are thought to work. Studies on aromatherapy science have proven the therapeutic benefits.
Ever wonder how aromatherapy works? Before digging deep into the science behind aromatherapy, let’s define what exactly aromatherapy is. This is an important distinction. Lots of products from household cleaners to cosmetics these days claim to have aromatherapeutic benefits.
But not all products with so-called aromatherapeutic ingredients have therapeutic effects. That’s because many products contain artificial fragrances. Don’t fall for this devious sales claim!
Instead, aromatherapy science and its benefits can only come from true essential oils. These oils are very concentrated extracts that come from all the parts of a plant. This includes the leaves, stems, roots, seeds, and flowers.
The extract of each individual oil has active components. Researchers who study the science behind aromatherapy are especially interested in learning about the individual compounds of each essential oil.
Aromatherapy science: inhale, apply or drink
How essential oils work depends on how the oil is used. Inhaling an essential oil activates the limbic system. This includes the emotional center of the brain (the cortex). And, if you have a cut or insect bite, an essential oil can be applied topically.
Scientists believe that essential aromatherapy oils activate thermal receptors. Thermal receptors are a part of the nervous system. Essential oil compounds are capable of destroying harmful microbes and fungus.
If you’re sick, your condition can be improved with essential oils. Trained aromatherapists may suggest for you an essential oil to take internally (diluted with water). Researchers believe that taking essential oils internally may stimulate the immune system.
But when people think of aromatherapy, most people associate inhaling these healing fragrances. Our sense of smell may play a big role in how aromatherapy works. Researchers believe that smelling essential oils triggers parts of our brain that affect our emotions.
According to this analysis, lavender stimulates brain cell activity in the amygdala. This action is similar to the way some sedative medications work.
Essential oils, when rubbed on the body, are proven to have antibacterial properties. Compounds in these aromatherapy oils can also be antifungal and antimicrobial. The molecules from these oils may interact in the blood with hormones or enzymes.
How aromatherapy works: Lavender case study
Let’s take a look at how one aromatherapy oil works: lavender….
An analysis of lavender oil, published in Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine looked at the science behind how aromatherapy with lavender oil works.
In brain tissue, lavender oil reduced inflammation in certain cells that contribute to leukemia. Linalool is the major active compound in lavender oil. In this study on mice, lavender oil was found to inhibit the action of nicotine receptor sites.
Lavender oil, in this study, demonstrated that it may help protect brain function. Lavender oil compounds have been shown to have antioxidant properties. This study also shows that lavender oil stimulates the parasympathetic gastric nerve.
Simply put, this means that it helps improve digestion. Aromatherapy science even shows that scents can affect our brain waves. This study showed that essential oils when inhaled can increase alpha and theta waves. These two types of brain waves promote a sense of relaxation.
The science behind aromatherapy is not lacking. This is despite what you may find to the contrary on other websites that claim there is no proof that aromatherapy works. Every plant found in Mother Nature contains compounds.
Virtually every plant compound has medicinal, therapeutic benefits. If you believe that every natural substance on Earth contains beneficial properties, it should come as no surprise that aromatherapy works.
There is a word of caution. Aromatherapy oil extracts contain active volatile substances. Consult with a professional aromatherapist before self-administering.