Laboratory Research Describes Changes In Brain Inhaling Bergamot Essential Oil
The term "aromatherapy" gets a laugh from many people, and of course many physicians. They hear the word and think "nice smelly things that make me feel good -- right". What they don't know is that for many years, scientists around the globe have been at work researching the medical effects of essential oils. Interestingly, it is the "aroma" part of aromatherapy that's somewhat lacking in data. There's a few studies showing stress reduction in animals, but really very little noting that "aroma" therapy works in humans -- and just as importantly, how it works (medical science needs a mechanism before it considers a therapy valid in most cases). As a result, the medical establishment has a hard time accepting the use of essential oils for really any therapeutic application.
Recently published research was performed to uncover the mechanism for an aroma's perceived effects. Are their changes in the brain that could result in humans noting they feel differently? It makes sense that essential oils do illicit changes in the gray matter, as the olfactory sense is the one most closely connected to the brain. In fact, some scientist consider the smell sensors are actually brain cells that extend into the sinus cavity, with their other end directly wired to our emotional, motivational, and memory centers.
Scientists in Italy have elucidated the way bergamot oil lowers stress-induced anxiety, and affects mild depression. They note that there is a firing of brain cells in such a way that the essential oil "is able to interfere with normal synaptic plasticity". This process occurs in the area of long-term memory formation. That means that the inhalation of the oil interferes with the process of making a neural connection stronger when repeatedly expose to stress.
For example, think about feeling a familiar stress over and over. Like a sound that you particularly dislike: a lawnmower running, a dog barking, something like that. Here it only once or twice, or for not an extended duration, that's fine. But hearing it over and over, or continuously for hours, that's different. It doesn't get easier to take, in-fact that stress becomes unbearable. That's because the neural-pathway has been made stronger and stronger, so the same stress seems more intense. Bergamot essential oil makes it so that strengthening of the pathway doesn't occur, or is lessened anyway.
This may elucidate the stress-reducing effect found in an earlier Korean study. In this study, adolescents wore an amulet emitting the aroma of either bergamot or a placebo. Those wearing the amulet with bergamot reported significantly lower stress levels during the study's duration.
In the conclusion, the Italian researchers state that now the anti-stress mechanism of the oil's aroma is understood, there is a rational basis for the practical use of bergamot in complementary medicine. Complementary medicine is really alternative medicine that's been accepted as valid by the medical community.
This leads to much bigger implications for aromatherapy. Many oils are used aromatically for various purposes: stress reduction, relaxation, mental stimulation and the like. These oils are also more than likely eliciting measurable effects in the brain. For example, several essential oils have been shown to prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine in the laboratory, an effect that is likely happening within the body as well when these oils are inhaled.
With all the published research that's available, and this new elucidation of the mechanism of the aromatic aspect of aromatherapy, natural medicine practitioners hope we'll see more recommendations for "complementary" status. A great place to have a look at all the available data is pubmed.gov -- just search for "essential oils" and start scrolling through the pages. You'll see tons of papers regarding the antimicrobial actions of so many oils on so many microbes. There's research that shows immune system function being boosted at the same time. Then there's the very promising anti cancer research that's just getting underway. As aromatherapy in all its forms can no longer reasonably be laughed at, it may not be long for essential oils to finally be used for the wonderful medicines they are.