There’s a lot more potential for aromatherapy than most of us realize, and that potential has barely been tapped according to a recent article in The New York Times.
Aromatherapy: the word conjures up images of noses hovering over tiny bottles filled with scented oils and of massages enhanced by intoxicating smells. We think of aromatherapy as a modality that works on the brain via the nostrils and then sends healing messages to the body. Many practitioners use aromatherapy to relax stressed or depressed clients. In fact, that’s the main application that gets touted on aromatherapy websites. Aromatherapy also gets used to heal infections, reduce nausea, combat insomnia, clear nasal passages, and sometimes to reduce pain.1 “Aromatherapy.” University of Maryland Medical Center. 16 October 2014. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/treatment/aromatherapy
It turns out, though, that the way aromatherapy gets practiced for the most part is the equivalent of walking the horse down the trail instead of riding it. In other words, there’s a lot more potential for using scent as a healing modality than most of us realize, and that potential has barely been tapped according to a recent article in The New York Times.2 Stone, Alex. “Smell Turns Up in Unexpected Places.” 13 October 2014. The New York Times. 16 October 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/14/science/smell-turns-up-in-unexpected-places.html?ref=health The reasons for this start with the fact that most of us have a basic misunderstanding of how the body deciphers scent.
While noses are nice, they aren’t the sole source of scent detection in the body. In fact, almost every organ-from the liver to the heart to the intestines and kidneys- has its own olfactory receptors. In fact, the human body has 350 different types of olfactory receptors. Each type of olfactory receptor reacts only to particular scents that other receptors don’t necessarily have any reaction to. If 350 receptors sounds like many, by the way, consider that the tiny mouse has over 1000 receptors, giving the rodent the clear advantage over you in locating the cheddar cheese remnant you lost on the floor.
As Jon Barron explained in a recent newsletter, a new study out of the German Rohr Bochum University has concluded that human skin, too, is full of olfactory receptors. “More than 15 of the olfactory receptors that exist in the nose are also found in human skin cells,” said study director Dr. Hanns Hatt. This does not mean the skin is full of little nostrils invisible to the eye. Rather, the olfactory receptors in the skin and elsewhere throughout the body function as chemical detectors, not necessarily interpreting scents as odors. If the olfactory receptor detects a particular chemical present in a particular scent, a cascade of chemical reactions gets set off, depending on which type of receptor meets which type of scent. In the case of nasal receptors, the scent sets off nerve signals that get interpreted by the brain as an odor. In the case of other receptors, the scent may trigger a chain reaction that ends up in promoting healing in the area of the body exposed to the scent.
The experts explain that this process works like a lock and key. Only a particular key will unlock a particular lock: there has to be a fit. In the same way, some scents exude chemicals that unlock the molecular structure of particular olfactory receptors. For instance, the researchers discovered that one type of skin receptor responds to a synthetic sandalwood odor called Sandalore. When the skin receptor detects the Sandalore scent, a chain of molecular reactions gets set in motion and that causes any damage to the skin to heal itself.
In experiments, skin exposed to the Sandalore scent healed 30 percent faster than skin that didn’t. The experts suggest that Sandalore products might be developed to not only heal skin injuries, but also, to reverse the effects of aging. Sniffing Sandalore sure sounds like a more pleasant way to repair wrinkles than checking into the hospital for a painful facelift. And Sandalore is just one of many scents, targeting just one of many receptors, currently being investigated by mainstream researchers.3 “Olfactory receptors in the skin: Sandalwood scent facilitates wound healing, skin regeneration.” 8 July 2014. Science Daily. 16 October 2014. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140708092555.htm Also, it should be noted that the researchers did not test real sandalwood scent, which may very well work equally as well.
From the point of view of industry, the discovery promises a gold mine. Not only does the existence of skin scent receptors open the door to the development of stinky drugs to heal skin disorders, but also, cosmetics manufacturers can create products that heal while beautifying. The problem is that scientists need to match the right scent to the right receptor, and they’re working with an endless array of possibilities.
So far, though, they’ve had some success beyond the Sandalore story. One big success was discovered in 2009 by the same team in Germany, with Dr. Hatt at the helm. The scientists found that an odor compound found in violets and roses, called beta-ionone, appeared to stop prostate cancer cells from spreading by switching off wayward genes.
Another amazing breakthrough came from researchers at Emory University, who found that when skeletal muscles were exposed to a scent derived from lily-of-the-valley, the muscles regenerated damaged tissue. Even the researchers were amazed by this phenomenon.
“This was totally unexpected,” said study director Dr. Grace Pavlath. “When we were doing this, the idea that olfactory receptors were involved in tissue repair was not out there.”
The point is that those who have snubbed their noses at aromatherapy, doubting its efficacy, may want to reconsider.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||“Aromatherapy.” University of Maryland Medical Center. 16 October 2014. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/treatment/aromatherapy|
|2.||↑||Stone, Alex. “Smell Turns Up in Unexpected Places.” 13 October 2014. The New York Times. 16 October 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/14/science/smell-turns-up-in-unexpected-places.html?ref=health|
|3.||↑||“Olfactory receptors in the skin: Sandalwood scent facilitates wound healing, skin regeneration.” 8 July 2014. Science Daily. 16 October 2014. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140708092555.htm|