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Smell Training Helps Boost Brain Power

It is easy to think of aromatherapy as nice scents that help you relax. After all, this has been the marketing focus for decades now. In its own right, this idea has more merit than one might expect.

But what if essential oils really do help beyond stress relief? What if essential oils do help support cognitive function? Or support increased memory?

I've been fascinated by neuroplasticity for years now. Neuroplasticity, or brain plasticity, as defined by Physiopedia, is "the ability of the nervous system to change its activity in response to intrinsic or extrinsic stimuli by reorganizing its structure, functions, or connections."

I find it incredible that each and every one of us produces new brain cells every day that we draw breath. I love science and am a bit of a Neuroscience geek. I get excited when I dive into new studies showing how we can (re)train our brains! (In fact, I better rein this in before a rabbit trail takes hold.) Despite my pitiful attempts at high school research papers, I have found I L.O.V.E. research - specifically, research on studies involving actions of essential oils in the body and brain or essential oil kinetics. (NO, I do not mean internal use of essential oils! This is never a good idea unless you are working with an Aromatherapist trained in this method).

Here's the crux of this edition... a particular method of therapy called Olfactory Enrichment Training (aka OET, Smell training, or scent training), has been featured in many studies showing increased cognition. The latest American study out of the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, University of California Irvine, has shown Olfactory Enrichment Training with essential oils improved memory by (brace yourself) 226%. Now, I'd love to put a thousand exclamation points after that, but it might look a little unprofessional. But yes, seriously, two hundred and twenty six percent! If you would like to see the study for yourself, here is the link.

As for me, my journey in aromatherapy started decades ago (see my story). The incentive to study aromatherapy for neurological health was sparked because of a family member diagnosed on the Autism spectrum. When my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's my interest increased in earnest.

When I was studying for my Aromatherapy certification and it came time to choose a topic for my final paper, I chose Aromatherapy as Complimentary and Integrative Support for Neuroplasticity as my topic. Back then, I focused on studies on Anxiety, Pain Management, Epilepsy, and Dementia & Alzheimer's via inhalation of (vetted) essential oils. There are multitudes of studies from all over the world that are proving the link between the holistic benefits of essential oils (especially inhalation) and cognitive wellness.

Though UCI focused only on memory in the study, there were likely other benefits, given the holistic nature of EOs, the multifaceted properties of individual oils, and the blossoming reputation for neurological support. Other studies focus on various neurologic and neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS, Alzheimer's and other Dementias, Anxiety, Epilepsy, MS, and Parkinsons.

This may seem too simple or maybe too amazing to believe. As for me, I get so excited that I have to calm myself down or else I'll be grabbing total strangers by their shoulders, jumping up and down, grinning from ear to ear, and exclaiming loudly "See? This is what I've been saying!"

Admittedly, I started my journey in aromatherapy on the premise of self-medication. I was treating myself for physical pain stemming from (a few) physical issues with my foot. I could barely walk. Then that research thing started to kick in and wham, I was hooked!

Next thing you know, friends wanted to smell my feet (again - my story) and wanted me to make blends for them and their families and wham, research pops back up! You see, there are safety concerns in aromatherapy (to name a few, follow links 1, 2, 3, & 4), and I could not begin to think of blending for others without serious grips on safety - which involved...research (check out Essential Oil Safety by Rodney Young and Robert Tisserand).

Research studies involving inhalation of essential oils and OET, are growing in leaps and bounds. Articles featuring the beneficial effects of inhalation of essential oils on a myriad of Neurodegenerative diseases (NDs) are abounding all over the world. Why? A few reasons are because it is effective, holistic, healing, affordable, and easy.

Remember, memory is not the only result exhibited through OET, as described in a recent review of such studies published in MDPI November 2023

"In this mini narrative review, we have collected the results of in vitro and in vivo studies which tested these EOs on validated models of neurodegeneration and in particular of the two main neurodegenerative diseases (NDs) that afflict humans: Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Since EO compositions can vary greatly, depending on the environmental conditions, plant cultivar, and extraction methods, we focused our attention to studies involving single EO molecules, and in particular those that have demonstrated the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. These single EO molecules, alone or in defined mixtures, could be interesting new therapies to prevent or slow down oxidative and inflammatory processes which are common mechanisms that contribute to neuronal death in all NDs."

In the conclusion, they reported on the need for further study of the properties of EOs for NDs:

"Today, there is a lack of drugs able to effectively slow down their progression after diagnosis or to prevent their onset in subjects with an increased genetic or environmental risk. EOs are an almost inexhaustible source of molecules with different activities at a cellular level, which include antioxidants and anti-inflammatory effects. These properties could be effectively exploited for slowing down or blocking neurodegenerative processes. Thus, EOs could be used to develop nutraceutical formulations, rather than drugs, for the treatment of NDs."

I'd love to go on and on presenting and quoting information, studies, reviews, and articles. I could likely go on forever. The data mentioned above have plenty of references you can look into if you would like. My job here is just to let you know that Aromatherapy has been and continues to be an amazing source of support for wellness; not just emotionally and physically, but so much more...naturally!

In light of the burgeoning research, Ambient Essentials is excited to offer the ReMinder Program. This program features both a guided in-person and in-home aromatherapy program featuring a scheduled routine for inhalation of hand-picked essential oils. Our essential oils are vetted, certified organic or wild unsprayed, GC/MS, third-party tested*. If you would like to know more about the Reminder Program, look here.

Sources and Studies:

Abd Rashed, A.; Abd Rahman, A.Z.; Rathi, D.N.G. Essential Oils as a Potential Neuroprotective Remedy for Age-Related Neurodegenerative Diseases: A Review. Molecules 2021, 26, 1107.

Abuhamdah, Sawsan, et al. "Pharmacological and neuroprotective profile of an essential oil derived from leaves of A loysia citrodora Palau." Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology 67.9 (2015): 1306-1315.

Bae, Woom-Yee, Jae-Sun Choi, and Joo-Won Jeong. "The neuroprotective effects of cinnamic aldehyde in an MPTP mouse model of Parkinson’s disease." International Journal of Molecular Sciences 19.2 (2018): 551.

Javed, Hayate, et al. "Neuroprotective potential and underlying pharmacological mechanism of Carvacrol for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases." Current Neuropharmacology 21.6 (2023): 1421.

Jayaraj, Richard L., et al. "Effect of citronellol on oxidative stress, neuroinflammation and autophagy pathways in an in vivo model of Parkinson's disease." Heliyon 8.11 (2022).

Ojha, Shreesh, et al. "β-Caryophyllene, a phytocannabinoid attenuates oxidative stress, neuroinflammation, glial activation, and salvages dopaminergic neurons in a rat model of Parkinson disease." Molecular and cellular biochemistry 418 (2016): 59-70.

Piccialli, Ilaria, et al. "The antioxidant activity of limonene counteracts neurotoxicity triggered byAβ1-42 oligomers in primary cortical neurons." Antioxidants 10.6 (2021): 937.

Vora U, Vyas VK, Wal P, Saxena B. Effects of eugenol on the behavioral and pathological progression in the MPTP-induced Parkinson's disease mouse model. Drug Discov Ther. 2022 Sep 17;16(4):154-163. doi: 10.5582/ddt.2022.01026. Epub 2022 Aug 24. PMID: 36002316.

Zhu S, Li H, Dong J, Yang W, Liu T, Wang Y, Wang X, Wang M, Zhi D. Rose Essential Oil Delayed Alzheimer's Disease-Like Symptoms by SKN-1 Pathway in C. elegans. J Agric Food Chem. 2017 Oct 11;65(40):8855-8865. doi: 10.1021/acs.jafc.7b03224. Epub 2017 Sep 27. PMID: 28915354.

*Several modes of testing are considered in the procuring of our stock.


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