Natural Health Resource Center

  • Natural remedies, homeopathy, herbal preparations, and other alternative health practices can offer a natural way to maintain ones health. However, herbs can be very powerful and it is important to know how your body responds to different combinations and doses. This section provides some guidance when selecting alternative health options.

What is Aromatherapy & How it Works

People respond to the sense of smell on an emotional level more strongly than any other sense. For example, a single aroma can trigger a whole string of forgotten memories. The area of the brain associated with smell is the same area as that associated with memory. The olfactory nerves are located within the nasal cavity and respond to particular aromas.  They send the information to the part of the brain where memory and emotions lie. This area connects with another part of the brain (hypothalamus and pituitary gland) which governs our hormonal systems. These aromas trigger a variety of chemical actions within the body, including the release of specific chemicals.  Enkephalin reduces pain and creates a feeling of well-being. Endorphins also reduce pain and induce sexual feelings. Serotonin helps relax and calm. Because the olfactory nerves are a direct extension of the brain's limbic system, reaction to smell is relayed immediately.


Scientific Glance

The olfactory epithelium lies within the nasal cavity.  The nerve endings are sensitive to molecules floating about in the air that get stuck on the mucous surface. The contact of such molecules with the cilia of the olfactory receptors is transduced into neural messages(see diagram below).

There is little understanding of how transduction occurs and how various molecules are transduced differently. Most believe that the physical structure (shape) of a molecule plays a deciding role. It appears that the relevant sensory code for olfactory quality is probably a pattern of excitation across different receptor groups.

Olfaction tells us how our food tastes. It is also used in identification (e.g., a mother can identify her infant by smell alone almost immediately after birth).

Olfaction is also used in signaling across distances (e.g. pheromones from female moths attract male moths).

The most common ways that people lose their sense of smell are through the common cold (too much mucous), viral infection of olfactory epithelium, or a cracked cribriform plate caused by an accident.

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