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At the top of your nasal cavity rests your olfactory nerve cells, the cells responsible for your sense of smell. Every nerve cell has different receptors that react to different scents. It’s like puzzle pieces. Certain odor molecules fit certain receptors. When all of the pieces are in place, an electrical message is fired off to the brain. The same part of the brain responsible for mood and memory formation also processes the messages sent from the olfactory nerve cells. That’s why scent can trigger memories and change your mood—all of these functions are uniquely tied together in our brains!
You’ve probably had a point in your life where the scent of a certain cologne made you miss someone. Maybe a whiff of a particular type of cookie brought back a childhood memory. Whatever the trigger, the memory recollection is almost instantaneous! That’s because our sense of smell is the strongest and fastest sense.
It’s a proven fact that good aromas make people happy. It’s also the basis for the perfume industry. Essential oils have long been used for their medicinal qualities and for their scent, but it wasn’t until the 1930s that the two benefits became entwined. The term “aromatherapy” was coined in France by Dr. Marguerite Maury, when she began her health and beauty treatments with essential oils.
Since those early days, we’ve learned a lot. There’s even a branch of science called aromachology (the psychology of aroma) that evaluates how certain smells affect mood and cognitive function. This knowledge is being used to assist claustrophobic patients stay calm during an MRI calm simply by scenting the room. It is helping companies become more productive through the use of natural fragrances. In most cases, the person receiving the sensory message isn’t even cognitively aware of these effects, but the nose knows and the body and mind react. It’s fascinating.
Now that we know the power of scent, we can use it to our advantage. We can change or create our mood or story. We can boost our energy and become more alert, or we can reduce stress and sleep better. We can diffuse anger and frustration or heighten confidence to get through a presentation. The naturally occurring chemical constituents within essential oils are what make them so powerful. It’s also what lends these oils their medicinal properties. And now that we know how these essential oils work, we all have the ability to affect our mood—and our health—at the simple twist of a cap.