Aromatic and Topical – The How
Aromatic and Topical – The How
First – What is Aromatherapy? The term Aromatherapy is a bit misleading, as the aroma of an essential oil is only one facet of the oil’s interaction with the human body. Aromatherapy is really the entire branch of botanical medicine using volatile aromatic plant compounds (essential oils) for treatment of various conditions. Many actions of essential oils don’t even have to do with one’s sense of smell. Beyond acting through the limbic system (the brain region immediately affected by the smell sense), many essential oils have proven antibiotic, antiviral, antispasmodic, antifungal or other actions. But, we’ll start with the ‘aroma’ part – how essential oils interact with the body’s olfactory system…
The olfactory system, your ‘smell’ sense, is the only one of the five senses directly connected to the brain (way to go nostrils!). All other senses are routed first through the thalamus, then directed to the cerebral cortex and other brain regions. Each ‘scent- sensing’ cell is a receptor, sort of like an operator or person picking up the phone on the other end of your call – Each receptor in the nose reacts to some scents and not others. Each of these scent-cells is directly linked to the brain by one nerve fiber. In a way, it is difficult to sense a smell and first think about it before having a response – the signal does not travel first to the thought centers. Because each sensing cell is in direct contact with the chemical being sensed, and the cell is in direct contact with the brain, the physiological response to smell is quick and powerful. The olfactory region of the brain is closely associated with the limbic region (your brain’s headquarters) – the center of emotions, memory, sex drive and intuition. The limbic system is also connected to parts of the brain that control heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure and stress levels. Further, the olfactory region connects to the hypothalamus, which controls the entire hormonal system by influencing the pituitary. This gives us a good ideas as to why the aromatic compounds of plants – essential oils – can have an ‘aroma therapeutic’ effect. If we inhale an oil that has calming properties, our brain is literally receiving the message to CHILL OUT, and telling your body to do the same.
Topically – we learned earlier that by applying 1 drop of essential oil to your skin, within minutes (26, actually) every cell in your body is influenced by 400,000 molecules of that oil. They’re like little army men, going through the layers of your skin, traveling to every single cell and getting to work. When you’re applying an oil topically, there’s a really cool phenomena called Therapy Localization. This is when you touch a certain area of your body, and your brain responds by opening up the blood vessels, sending more blood to that region. You’re effectively telling your brain “Hey, brain, I know you’re sending out a gazillion messages per second, but can you concentrate on this area right here for a minute? That would be awesome.” For the most part when you using an oil topically, you apply it to the area you need it. If your stomach hurts, put an oil on your stomach that helps with digestive issues. If your back hurts, rub oils on your back. If you want to support body systems, or your body as a whole (such as for your immune system), apply diluted oils to the arms, back (spine), legs and abdomen for whole body support. Also, when using them topically allows them to bypass digestion! This means that your body’s digestive system does not have to be functioning at optimal receive the benefits of the oil. Vitamins and nutrient dense foods still have to be processed through the system. Essential oils do not. Whether you apply, ingest, or inhale, your body will absorb them right away. Your body does not have to process it and break it down. The essential oil goes where it needs to, without being told.
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