Aroma and Brain: Can smell improve your brain functioning?

 "Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary, and fleeting yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountain", quoted Diane Ackerman. It's a scientifically established fact that aromasmells can actually improve our brain functioning. Aromatherapy is widely employed across the world in treating patients suffering from insomnia, migraine, digestive problems, eczema, asthma, stress, depression, and other mental disorders.

In this article, we shall look into various ways in which aromas and smells can help improve our brain functioning, and many more facts alluded to the same. 

 What is Aromatherapy?

Healing the mind, body, and soul using various scents or fragrances made from natural substances through massage, inhalation, or basic application techniques is termed Aromatherapy. 
The term 'Aromatherapy' was coined by Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, a French chemist.
This is not something unknown or new to us. Since ancient times, healers have been making use of this treatment, and evidence of this has been found in ancient Indian, Egyptian, and Chinese civilizations.

How does Aromatherapy work?

Stress, anxiety, work-related pressure, etc have become integral parts of our lives. Living blissfully and sleeping peacefully have become scarce in our sophisticated world. These negative emotions have vitiated our natural state of balance resulting in various kinds of disorders like asthma, diabetes, obesity, mental disorders, eczema, hypertension, cardiac troubles, etc. 

Aromatherapy tries to find the root cause of your problem. It doesn't obliterate the problem completely rather tries to soothe you, calming your mind, and wiping away the devitalizing thoughts. 

Now you must be wondering how this can heal your troubles and enable better functioning of the brain. Our brain is the primal organ of our system which controls almost everything related to our body. For holistic well-being, it is essential that both physical health and brain health stay fit. Since they are intertwined, any kind of disturbance in one can affect the other.

Aroma and smell in our daily lives

Smells, scents, or aromas play a significant role in our lives. They have great potential in affecting our moods, energy, and emotions. They also affect our psycho-physiological conditions. The scent of incense sticks, soil before the advent of rain, flowers like lily, jasmine, shiuli, lavender, rose, etc make us feel a sense of calm and transcend us into a serene ambiance. Many people claim to be more confident after applying a fragrance of their choice. Did you ever experience nostalgia after feeling the scent of something close to your heart? Did you ever sniff a lemon to get rid of nauseousness? Did your head ever ache terribly after sniffing a strong odor?

Why is the sense of smell so important?

In a survey done on teenagers, they were asked to choose between one of the given options.
1. Give up on their sense of smell.
2. Give up on their social media accounts.
Astoundingly, the majority chose to give up on their sense of smell rather than losing their social media account.
That's how little we care about it. We devalue it ignoring its prominence. Let me give you a quick note on the vitality of our sense of smell.

Our nose has 5 million receptor cells that sense the stimuli, and the circuit thus goes with the end result being the response sent by our brain, identifying the smell. The olfactory (smell) nerves play a vital role in this orchestration.

The flavor of the food you eat comes from what you smell. If you try to eat an orange, with your nose pinched, you could feel the sweetness but not the flavor of the lime. That's why food doesn't taste good when your nose is blocked.
A baby recognizes it's mother from her scent. 
Parallel to other senses, the sense of smell also aids in pattern recognition. 
Smelling fragrant flowers before sleep can lead to more positive dreams.
Another life-changing fact is that people over the age of 57, possessing a weak sense of smell, were found to be 4 times more likely to die within a 5-year period compared to people with a good sense of smell.

Benefits of Aroma and scents

1. Improves mood

The basis behind aromatherapy is that some sorts of smells stimulate your brain to release endorphins which help in elevating your mood and fighting away free radicals( waste). This soothing effect lifts your mood making you feel light, optimistic, and tranquil. In research at Chicago University, 84% of the shoppers found identical shoes more attractive when they were placed in a room with a pleasant aroma compared to one with no smell. Isn't it mindblowing?

Rachel Sarah Herz, an American psychologist says, "I love my nose. Because it makes my life delicious and joyful". She also adds, "Our sense of smell is fundamentally tied to the quality of our lives".

2. Improves memory and mental clarity

Research at Toronto University suggests that memories triggered by smells tend to be clearer, more intense, and emotional. This is because the part of the brain that processes smell (olfactory lobes) has direct connections to the parts of the brain that processes memories. Your sense of smell connects you right away to the Amygdala (emotional part of the brain). 

3. Reduces the risk of Neuro-degenerative diseases

As we age our ability to sense/ distinguish smells decreases due to cognitive decline. People who experience this have a higher proclivity to be attacked by neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, and Dementia.
A recent study of olfactory training in adults has found that it not only improved performance in identifying different smells but also aided in cognitive development.

4. Promotes Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to learn by adding new connections or improving existing connections of the neurons. Aromas and scents, also promote the plasticity of our brain. For, our neurons make new connections in response to experience. In research, it was found that animals exposed to multiple odors have an increased number of brain cells and more connections between them. 

Hope my article, 'Aroma and Brain: Can smell improve your brain functioning' is of some help to you. Feel free to express your views in the comments section below. Subscribe to our newsletter for updates.

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