Hi and welcome to my letter N post in the #AtoZChallenge. Today, I’m really struggling to find a word that fits my theme of aromatherapy. I mean, I don’t own any essential oils starting with the letter N. I originally intended on using the word “nose” and going into some theories of smell. Then again, I’m really too lazy to dig deep into this. So instead, I decided to talk about the (lack of) scientific evidence for aromatherapy.
Indeed, there is little to no solid, scientific evidence behind the use of essential oils for physical health. One of the reasons may be that it’s hard to create truly controlled studies. After all, a proper trial would use a double blind, placebo-controlled design. This means that neither the patients nor the doctors or staff administering the oil, should know whether they get real essential oil or a placebo. However, obviously most people will be able to smell whether they are inhaling an essential oil oor a placebo.
Generally speaking, essential oils do not effect physiological signs of the body. For example, lemon and lavender oil were tested in a study on pain control. They were not found effective on any of the physical signs of pain (heartrate, pain ratings, stress hormone levels, etc.).
However, the oils did improve mood. One reason for this may be that smells are strongly connected to emotions and memories. In fact, when a smell signal is transmitted from the nose to the brain, it reaches the limbic system as well as the olfactory cortex. The limbic system, particularly the amygdala, is responsible for emotions and emotional memories. For this reason, smells can directly trigger positive (or negative) emotions.
Besides, the placebo effect can be really strong. This means that, if you expect something to work, it is likely to help at least somewhat. I’ve even heard, though not specifically in aromatherapy, that the placebo effect can alter brain chemistry. For example, people’s brains respond to fake painkillers by producing endorphins, which are the body’s own pain-relieving chemicals.
All this means that, even if there’s no scientific evidence behind aromatherapy, it can still be useful. Like, when you believe that, say, lavender essential oil will help you fall asleep, it actually will. If for no other reason, it will aid in your bedtime routine, and a set routine is always helpful.