Inside your brain is your limbic system, a structure made up of different parts of your brain that spans both hemispheres. When you inhale essential oils you are absorbing them into your bloodstream which means they are carried to your brain, specifically your limbic system. It is here that they are processed and used to send signals to other parts of your limbic system that control your emotions, hunger levels, stress levels, heart rate and other physical and emotional functions. The most common way to absorb essential oils is through inhaling - this is done through your olfactory bulb.
How does the brain respond to olfactory stimulation?
When you smell essential oils, your body can respond by releasing chemicals into your body. For example - serotonin aids in calming your body, endorphins which help you relax by releasing tension in your muscles.
Scientists are only now looking deeper into the effects of essential oils on our limbic system and how inhaling them can benefit your mind and body. In most recent studies, scientists have been researching how essential oils affect brain activity and cognitive functions, testing whether part of the human brain becomes stimulated when inhaling essential oils, which may affect thinking processes, emotional behaviour and moods.
A few studies to get you excited about the future for essential oils and aromatherapy:
- Significant improvement in overall stress levels can be attained for some individuals from using a custom blend of 12 essential oils. (Steflitsch, 2015)
- Peppermint essential oil has been found to enhance memory and increase alertness in healthy subjects. (Moss, 2008)
- Scientists note the significant effect of Lavender essential oil in reducing stress in new mothers. (Kianpour, 2016)
- Rosemary essential oil has been found to positively impact memory quality as well as alertness in healthy adults. (Moss, 2003)
- Research suggests that aromatherapy with Petitgrain essential oil can positively affect workplace performance. Researchers believe that the combination reduces stress and increases attentiveness. (Huang, 2016)
- With an upcoming test, students showed less exam stress after inhaling Lavender essential oil. (Kutlu, 2008)
- In healthy adults, Ylang Ylang essential oil causes a significant increase in calmness when enjoyed aromatically. (Moss, 2008)
- Researchers are interested in doing more research to find out how essential oils can combat mental fatigue. They tested a small group of participants using a custom blend of Peppermint, Basil, and Helichrysum essential oils. (Varney, 2013)
- Orange and Lavender essential oils have been found to alter the emotional state by improving mood. (Lehrnera, 2005)
- Inhalation of Ylang Ylang essential oil can also increase self-esteem and confidence by helping to create a balanced sense of personal competence with personal value, as concluded by one pilot study. (Gnatta, 2014)
Essential oils affect each individual differently
However with all that is going on in the world of essential oils and aromatherapy it’s important to remember that not everyone will experience the same results. Everyone is wired differently inside their brains and it may be easier or harder for some people to react to the effects of essential oils. It’s not yet understood why this is, or if there are certain categories to fall under in order to receive the benefits of essential oils - but it all lays in the exciting new breakthroughs we have to look forward to.
Giving aromatherapy a try
There are so many ways you can try essential oils to enhance your mood, experience elevated happiness, relaxation or increased focus. Remember that the olfactory system is how we talk to the brain to change our moods. Try one of these methods to see if the affects work on you:
- Smelling essential oils from the bottles
- Rubbing essential oils onto your skin with a balm
- Smelling the vapours from essential oils
- Using a candle with essential oils
- Using a diffuser with essential oils