Essential oils, if truly pure and unadulterated, are so much more than just something that smells good. But the moment we smell an essential oil, it activates amazing processes in our brain and body that nerdy research nuts like me will completely appreciate. But hey-even if you aren't into all the research and science, learning about this amazing process will give you even more awe for the way God made us! So check this out:
As explained in a presentation by Young Living's Chief Science Officer Dr. Mike Buch, the first thing that happens when we inhale an essential oil is it interacts with the hair-like olfactory neurons (circled in the picture above) in the sinus cavity. In about a microsecond or less, the oil molecules move down and bind to receptors in nerve cells as shown here:
Research has discovered that fragrance molecules in plant oils have specific shapes. When one comes along that is the right shape for the binding sites on receptors in the body, it opens up a chemoreceptor channel in the cell membrane and triggers action. This causes ions to flow right through the channel and cause an electrical reaction in the body.
Chemical signals are thus changed into electricity in the body. This is called action potential or nerve pulse. So when you smell an essential oil, the molecule attaches to the receptor, the receptor generates a signal, and the signal goes to the brain.
(Fascinating side note: The scientists who discovered how inhalation of a fragrance molecule causes an electrical action in the body took decades of research and subsequently won a Nobel Prize.)
The nerve impulses don't just go anywhere in the brain; they go to a very specific spot called the limbic system, especially the amygdala and the hypothalamus.
Some of the functions of the hypothalamus are to regulate blood pressure, control heart rate and adjust hunger and thirst.
If you smell an essential oil that has a vibrationally calming effect on the body, and the hypothalamus receives the input to relax, then it creates neurochemicals that are sent through the body to relax and calm.
Likewise if an essential oil has a frequency known to stimulate the body, then the limbic system will conform by sending the message to energize and become more active.
Dr. Pamela Dalton at Monell Chemical Senses Center used MRI of the brain to try and understand what was happening with emotions when people inhale fragrances.
The image on the left was taken of a 35-year old woman's brain when she was smelling roses. The amygdala became very active.
A few days later, they brought this woman back and this time, her husband had sent over some photos of her daughter's first birthday. When seeing these pictures, this woman became emotional and MRI showed her amygdala was activated again.
This was the first good medical evidence that fragrances are processed in the same part of the brain as emotions.
When we say that you can diffuse an oil and it can lift your mood, this is the physical, scientific action of how that happens and is hardwired in our brain.
Further research discovered something very unexpected.
This research discovered that there are not only olfactory/smell receptors in the nose but all over the body. They are also in the throat, in the lungs, in the heart, in the stomach and the liver, and on skin all over the body including the arms, legs, and feet.
So when someone says your feet smell, they're scientifically correct. ;)
Obviously we don't notice a smell with our feet, but somewhere in the brain, there are signals happening when you use oils topically and internally. Further research is being conducted on this discovery.
As more and more discoveries are made, it gives me more awe for the way God made us and how He made plants to benefit our body.
It's important to note that the body knows the difference between truly pure and natural fragrance molecules as well as synthetic molecules. This is why we see research that synthetic fragrances cause disruption of hormones and the entire endocrine system.
When we use truly pure essential oils, we can trigger this amazing God-designed process in our body for physical and emotional wellness.
Blessings of good health,
Sara Jo Poff
Natural Health Practitioner