On the wisdom of the ‘smell brain’ and how aromas affect our body


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The sense of smell is one of the most neglected senses of the body. We heed our nose for everything, but we fail to recognize its specialty and role in our day to day activities like eating, remembering and even emoting. Aromatherapy touches this particular sense of the body and evokes the desired response from an individual. But how is this possible? How can a mere sniff affect a whole lot of emotions and regulate bodily functions? This article has answers to all questions on how aromas work and have the power to alter almost anything in the body.

The smell brain and the limbic system: Let us go technical and look into details on how we perceive and respond to smell. Though the nose is said to be an organ of smell, it is just a mere organ, engaged in nothing but being a passage to the brain. Olfaction or the sense of smell does not begin at the nose, but the brain or the olfactory bulb. Each of the nasal passages contain about 50 million sensory receptors waiting to carry ‘odor’ messages to your smell brain. When the receptors or neurons sense odorous molecules coming through the nasal passages, they send their axons to the olfactory bulb, a projection of the brain on the upper part of the nose. Specific odor molecules bind to their respective chemoreceptors. The process then moves into the limbic system of the brain, where memory is used to recognize and sort out the odors as pleasant, unpleasant, old, new or recent.

The limbic system is one of the oldest parts of the human body and was initially referred to as ‘rhinencephalon’ or ‘smell brain’. It is the smell brain which plays a vital role in making aromas effective. Since the limbic system is also the seat of emotion, memory and important body parts, smells are associated with memories, so much so that particular smells evoke particular memories from the  past. Basically, the memory aroused will evoke an emotional response depending on the experience associated with the memory. A simple example would be, if you had a bad experience with beef tallow in your young age, the smell of tallow would evoke an unpleasant response from your limbic system. This, in turn, will set off a series of unpleasant sensations and unhealthy changes in the parts of the body controlled by the limbic system.

Aromatherapy and emotions: Aromas can have a huge impact on your emotions. After being processed through the olfactory bulb, aromas enter the limbic system and affect your emotions, moods and even your health quotient. The concept of aromatherapy is pivoted on one basic fact – changes in emotion/mood can help relieve the symptoms or disorders caused by a disease. As the limbic system or smell brain controls other regions also, it regulates bodily functions too.

Mood-effects and Hedonics in aromatherapy:
Not all essential oils are liked by everyone and not all aromatherapy sessions suit every patient. Only specific oils, scents and herbs work well with regard to particular ailments. This is because of a factor called Hedonics – the personal degree of pleasantness a person would place on a specific odor or smell. Research reveals that smells can effect mood-swings and alter health conditions in a person. This means, a pleasant smell can increase your health ratio while an unpleasant odor can take you toward disease and ill-health. Since odors can create or alleviate stress, aromatherapy or essential oils can influence a person’s positivity and self-confidence levels.

In brief, the limbic system or the smell brain is more than just a brain. It is an integral part of the human body, which creates a profound effect on your body cells. When treated with aromas, the smell brain responds instantly (unlike drugs or medications) and cures immediately, without side effects or other medical issues. With aromatherapy, nothing chemical happens as everything is 100% natural and effective.