Have you ever entered a room and noticed the aroma and how it made you feel? Sometimes we have emotional ties to a scent. For example, the smell of cookies in the oven may remind you of growing up in your childhood kitchen with your mom baking cookies just for you. You felt loved and special. If you smell cookies baking today, you may be flooded with your emotional memories. However, there is more going on. Even if you can’t detect a scent or something in the air, you may have an emotional or physical response to it.
First, let me explain that aromatherapy refers to the use of essential oils. It is not restricted to the use of oils aromatically. When working with essential oils, you can use them topically, aromatically, and some internally if they are Certified Pure Tested Grade. (CPTG) There are different reasons to administer essential oils in one of the three ways I outlined. I am going to focus on the aromatic use of essential oils because it is perhaps the most effective and easiest way to use the oils for health benefits.
All essential oils have components that are beneficial emotionally and physically. One reason essential oils are so powerful, up to 60 times more powerful than herbs, is that you are taking the distilled essence of the volatile aromatic compounds found in thousands of different plant species around the world. These compounds may be found in the leaves, needles, petals, peels, stems, seeds, or bark of a plant or tree.
These compounds are all-natural and act in concert with in the essential oil to bring you the same benefits the oil brings to the plant or tree. These compounds are produced by the plant to protect the plant from insects or disease, aid in reproduction, promote growth or repair from injury, and generally stay healthy. I once heard someone say, “Plants produce essential oils for protection because they can’t run!” What these self-produced compounds can do for the plant, they can do for us. It is all in the chemistry. Essential oils serve multiple functions for a plant, therefore essential oils may have more than one benefit for us. It is all about the chemical constituents, the compound groups, and their abundance or percentages found in each oil.
I will give you an example of Frankincense, used for thousands of years. Frankincense is steam distilled from the resin of the Boswellia tree and is composed of 87-88% of the compound group Monoterpene Hydrocarbon. There are three major constituents defining Frankincense as a monoterpene hydrocarbon: a-pinene (45-48%), limonene (9-11%), and a-thujene (7-11%). What this means is that the primary compound group Monoterpene Hydrocarbon chemically in our bodies promotes a healthy inflammatory response; supports healthy immune, nervous, and digestive functions; relaxes and calms while at the same time promoting vitality and energy, as it is also purifying for the skin.
Frankincense additionally contains small quantities of the compound groups Ester, Monoterpene Alcohol, and Sesquiterpene Hydrocarbon, with traces of other compound groups. These compound groups contribute to the cleansing, soothing, and calming aspects of Frankincense. Frankincense as with all essential oils, works at the cellular level. The oil molecules are so small they can cross through the cellular membrane into the heart of the cell to do their work. Just in this brief description, you can see that Frankincense is truly the “King of Oils” because it addresses so many needs or issues both emotionally and physically.
I emphasize emotional health for three reasons: 1) it impacts how we feel in our daily lives, 2) it influences our relationships, and 3) the consensus in the medical community is that our emotional health may dictate up to 85% of our physical health. Working to eliminate stress and treating your emotional health as you would your physical health is extremely important. Essential oils are a great way to be proactive for good health in every aspect, and diffusing is an excellent way to integrate essential oils into your body. You won’t even know you are doing something good for yourself and others!
First diffusing essential oils cleanse the air from pollutants and environmental threats. Diffusing removes toxins and most oils chosen for diffusing are chosen because they also smell good. They will not just cover odors, they will eliminate foul odors.
Most importantly, diffusing essential oils is the quickest and most efficient way to get oils into your body. Here is my favourite example. If you are going to have surgery that demands general anesthesia, they apply a mask to your face, release a gas for you to breathe, and ask you to count backwards from ten. If you are like me, the few times I have had general anesthesia I don’t remember getting past seven! This demonstrates how fast something enters our system when we inhale it.
Diffusing provides a fine mist that contains an essential oil of choice. There are two ways diffused oils enter the body. We inhale the oil when we inhale the mist, as well as the oil mist lands and is absorbed into our exposed skin. The skin is the largest organ in the body, and when an essential oil touches your skin, it goes directly into your bloodstream. Remember essential oils are extremely small and can therefore enter your pores and penetrate your skin to enter your bloodstream through capillaries near the skin’s surface.
When we breathe in essential oils there are multiple actions that take place to have the oil enter the body. First, as with penetrating the skin, the essential oil in the mist penetrates the nasal lining, is partly absorbed into the capillaries into the bloodstream, and also goes deep into our lungs. In the lungs, the oil is absorbed into the lung tissue as well as the blood vessels in the lungs. When essential oils are absorbed into the body aromatically through the lungs and blood vessels, this promotes the oil distribution throughout the entire body very quickly. When the essential oil enters your body via the bloodstream and lungs, it is very effective in supporting physical needs our body may have such as protecting us against environmental and seasonal threats. I stated the statistic that 85% of our health is related to emotional wellness. Our emotional wellness is what keeps much of our genetic material (DNA) in check. Research appears to support that many, if not most of us are born with genetic predispositions to many diseases, or how healthily we age for example. We can do our best to eat properly and eliminate toxins in our environment, but keeping emotionally healthy is perhaps the tantamount way to stay physically healthy. Maintaining emotional health is a key benefit of many essential oils.
When we inhale essential oils we breathe them through our nostrils. If you pinch the top of your nose, that is the location of your olfactory nerve. When inhaled essential oils are received by the olfactory nerve, this nerve then delivers neural information to the amygdala.
The amygdala is a small, almond-shaped cluster of nuclei located deep within the brain’s temporal lobe, and it plays a crucial role in emotional processing and emotional health. The functioning of the amygdala is complex and involves various chemical and neural processes. Key neurotransmitters and chemicals involved in the functioning of the amygdala include; glutamate the key excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain, GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid) the key inhibitory transmitter in the brain, serotonin the regulatory neurotransmitter, dopamine which is involved with reward or punishment processing, norepinephrine which is a neurotransmitter and hormone involved with the “flight or fight” response, and endorphins which are a natural opioid produced by the brain for regulation of pain and emotions.
The chemical processes in the amygdala involve the release, reuptake, and binding of these neurotransmitters in response to various emotional stimuli. When the amygdala perceives a potential threat or emotionally salient event, it can initiate a cascade of chemical signals that result in the generation of an emotional response. This response can include increased alertness, heightened fear, or the initiation of the fight-or-flight response.
Here are critical aspects of the amygdala’s role in emotional health in more detail:
1. Emotion Processing: The primary function of the amygdala is to process and regulate emotions, particularly those related to fear, threat, and reward. It helps to assess the emotional significance of various stimuli, including facial expressions, environmental cues, and sensory information.
2. Fear Response: The amygdala is particularly well-known for its role in the fear response. When the amygdala detects a potential threat, it initiates a cascade of physiological and behavioural responses, such as increased heart rate, sweating, and the release of stress hormones like adrenaline, all designed to prepare the body to respond to a perceived danger.
3. Emotional Memory: The amygdala is involved in the formation and storage of emotional memories. It can enhance the consolidation of memories associated with emotionally charged events, both positive and negative, which can influence future emotional responses and behaviour. Remember my reference to cookies baking in an oven?
4. Social and Interpersonal Function: The amygdala also plays a role in social and interpersonal interactions by helping individuals interpret the emotional states and intentions of others. It helps in recognizing facial expressions, vocal tones, and body language, which are essential for understanding the emotions of those around us.
5. Emotional Regulation: While the amygdala is primarily associated with the generation of emotional responses, other brain regions, such as the prefrontal cortex, help regulate and modulate these responses. This regulation is crucial for emotional health, as it enables individuals to manage and control their emotional reactions in a healthy and adaptive way.
6. Mental Health: Dysfunction or abnormal activity in the amygdala has been implicated in various emotional and mood disorders, including anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and mood disorders such as depression. These conditions often involve dysregulation of emotional responses and heightened sensitivity to emotional stimuli.
With these attributes, the amygdala plays a crucial role in the functioning of the limbic system, of which it is a part. The limbic system is a complex network of brain structures (including the amygdala) involved in emotions, behaviour, motivation, and memory. The limbic system is often referred to as the “emotional brain” or the “emotional processing center.” The amygdala is often considered a key component of the limbic system because of its central role in processing and regulating emotions, particularly those related to fear and the formation of emotional memories.
The amygdala is situated within the temporal lobes of the brain and is adjacent to several other limbic structures, making it well-integrated into the overall limbic system. As part of the limbic system, the amygdala has extensive connections with various parts of the brain, including the hippocampus, hypothalamus, and prefrontal cortex, all of which are critical components of the limbic system. These connections allow for the integration of emotional responses with memory, motivation, and decision-making. For example, the amygdala can influence the release of stress hormones through its connections with the hypothalamus, affecting the body’s physiological responses to emotional experiences. Having an adrenalin rush is something we have all probably experienced. The hormone release demonstrated in an adrenalin rush shows the power of the amygdala and the limbic system.
CPTG essential oils are all about the chemistry. Limonene is a powerful chemical constituent found in all citrus essential oils, which makes it a part of the compound group Monoterpene Hydrocarbon. A January 2021 study released in Behavioral Neurology concluded that the antidepressant-like effects of limonene are probably mediated through inhibition of neuroinflammation and attenuation of nitrite levels in the hippocampus. That means limonene, found in CPTG citrus essential oils, through diffusion of these oils is excellent for mood enhancement, creates uplifting emotions, and aids in motivation. Limonene is but one of the many constituents found in various essential oils that can impact our emotional health in a positive way.
Think about the ramifications of finding a safe, all-natural, effective way to assist your body to heal on the emotional and subsequent physical level. It is mind-boggling and all about the chemistry.
Essential Oils Unlocked; PJ Hanks, 2019
Behavioral Neurology, January 29, 2021; Limonene through Attenuation of Neuroinflammation and Nitrite Level Exerts Antidepressant-Like Effect on Mouse Model of Maternal Separation Stress.
Lorigooini Z, Boroujeni SN, Sayyadi-Shahraki M, Rahimi-Madiseh M, Bijad E, Amini-Khoeih