Introduction: How Smell and Aromatics Affect the Mind and Body
Imagine the scent of freshly baked cookies, a whiff of grandma’s apple pie baking in the oven, and the volatile compounds emitted from the pine trees tickling your nostrils as you take a brisk winter walk.
It can be easy to overlook the influence that odors have on our mental and physical health in comparison to our other senses. Yet, just think how boring life, food, and experiences would be without them. With a greater amount of people experiencing the loss of smell within the past few years, perhaps our nose is becoming more appreciated.
Besides providing us with a richer life experience, science has demonstrated that scents have a profound impact on our memory, mood, and biology. Furthermore, the volatile, aromatic compounds found in essential oils also offer beneficial biochemical, physiological, and neurological effects. This ability to support emotional and bodily health simultaneously makes essential oils one of my favorite modalities to use with clients.
In this article, I will dive deeper into the mind-body applications of essential oils by highlighting a case study of a client struggling with anxiety. Specifically, I will offer an overview of my publication from the October 2022 edition of Townsend Letter.
Using Essential Oils for Enhanced Treatment Outcomes
With all the problems going on in the world, it can be challenging to keep ourselves in a growth mindset with a positive perspective. This is especially true when one has experienced trauma and/or has a psychiatric disorder.
A few weeks ago, I provided a resource that highlighted how essential oils can help to support our mental health during hard transitions. Furthermore, nature’s aromatics also have the power to keep us physically resilient, as well as uplifted, during the change of the seasons.
In my article in Townsend Letter, I further explain how essential oils can be integrated into psychiatry and primary care:
Due to their multifaceted properties, essential oils bridge the link between the mind and body. They are synergistic with many integrative and conventional treatments based on their influence on one’s mindset, mood, and biology. Various types of studies have demonstrated essential oils’ ability to modulate emotional patterns and promote mindfulness, as they enhance outcomes by removing psychological blocks to healing. 1-2, 5-6,12-25 I have found them to be extremely helpful in assisting clients to break through the fears, struggles, and setbacks that often arise when moving forward to create a new reality as a healed individual.
In previous articles in this journal, I have reviewed the cellular mechanistic pathways, emotional and cognitive processing effects, and functional applications of essential oils.1-2 These intricate particulars may have left the reader appreciative of essential oils’ prowess yet desiring more concise examples on how they could implement them into their clinical practice.
For this reason, in this article, I will be moving away from emphasizing the theoretical. Rather, I wish to demonstrate how I incorporate essential oils into my practice through a case study. I will provide this as an example on how they can be incorporated into any holistic and integrative treatment approach.
4 Things to Consider Before Applying Essential Oils in Clinical Practice
Prior to getting into the case, I will review several considerations a practitioner, as well as a consumer, should be aware of when using essential oils clinically. These include:
1. Addressing the Root Cause
It is important to first determine the underlying cause of any complaint and use a naturopathic and functional medicine approach to address it. This is to make sure that any pathologies and symptoms are adequately addressed, and that the treatment is appropriate for the individual at the specified time.
In my article in Townsend Letter, I give an example of how using essential oils as a practitioner has some advantages over general applications. This is based on the doctor’s ability to find the core dysfunction:
Although many consumers are using essential oils for general health, as practitioners we have the capability to boost their efficacy for our clientele. This can be accomplished by selecting an essential oil in a category that addresses the causative factors and complements our other interventions.
For example, lavender often works well for anxiety and sleep,6,14 yet if someone hates the smell of lavender flowers it will result in a more jarring reaction than a calming one. Perhaps in this case, we have done our due diligence and understand that the underlying issue for this person’s anxiety is based on an inability to focus and lack of energy, not a nervous system hyperarousal.
In this scenario, along with considering appropriate hormonal, neurotransmitter, digestive, oxidative stress, mitochondrial, and lifestyle support, we may be apt for selecting peppermint essential oil. This oil would help to alleviate the lethargy and cognitive fatigue that manifests into this type of anxiousness. 3-6
You just can’t get that preciseness from general consumer training, right!?
(Note: This is why I offer low-cost essential oils consults to the public to complement their integrative healthcare.)
2. Being Aware of Biochemical Individuality and Essential Oils’ Properties
Every individual will have their own smell preferences and unique biochemistry and microbiome imprint. These all effect the outcomes of any intervention. As stated in the Townsend Letter:
Based on this individual variability, some may do better with different essential oils in a category…
Biochemical individuality makes using essential oils empowering because patients must participate in their healthcare and be mindful on how different essential oils impact their wellbeing and symptoms.
The good news is that essential oils are very forgiving based on their synergism and overall makeup…
3. Being Mindful of the Basics, Without Being an Expert
Overall, essential oils are extremely safe; however, there are things to be aware of to prevent unintended consequences. These include:
-spacing them out with medications
-diluting them for topical and internal applications
You can read more about the specifics of these aspects here.
4. Quality Counts, A Lot
As stated in the article:
Just as with supplements, you won’t get as good results from essential oils labeled as “organic, pure” essential oil as you would from essential oils that are third-party tested for active constituents and have extensive quality and manufacturing standards. Unfortunately, standards and quality are not monitored with essential oils in the United States so one truly has to get to know their supplier and do their homework.
You can read more about this and see examples of tests that a manufacturer may require to ensure quality in “Exploring the Complexities and Caveats of Safe Internal Use of Essential Oils for Pain: Highlighting Intestinal Discomfort, Part 1.”2 I also have articles for quality on my database.
The Case Study: Annie’s Courageous Story
With the understanding of the above fundamentals about essential oils, it’s now time to present my case study with Annie (her name was changed to protect her privacy). She came to me with a chief concern of anxiety after several unsuccessful attempts to alleviate it with alcohol and conventional medicine. Annie was looking for an alternative solution.
In the article, I describe Annie’s presenting issue and additional symptoms, including insomnia. I then uncover the path we took that led her to a total mind-body transformation.
- Uncovering her trauma and offering holistic techniques and lifestyle modifications to address them
- Education on the importance of fostering self-care and building healthy relationships
- Specific essential oils formulations that helped to balance her hormones as well as her mood
- Integration of the essential oils’ protocol in conjunction with a holistic naturopathic and functional medicine wellness plan
- The remarkable improvement after six-months from Annie’s hard work on her road to recovery
Summary of Using Essential Oils for Mind-Body Medicine Applications
Being both gentle and potent, essential oils’ aromatic and biological effects effortlessly combine to modulate various psychological and bodily imbalances. As they soothe the mood, they also help to address multiple triggers (e.g., stress, microbes, environmental exposures, and immune burdens) that can lead to the manifestation of symptoms. This ability makes their use in perfect alignment with naturopathic principles and the functional medicine model.
Here are my concluding remarks on using essential oils for mind-body medicine and my experience with Annie:
In this case, we looked at the root cause, addressed the imbalances, and gave her new tools to help her navigate her emotions in a more constructive way. Essential oils were key factors to this transformation that assisted with her psychology as we modulated her physiology.
In a few months, Annie and I will likely adjust her essential oils formulations, as I like to change oils as one’s biological and emotional health shifts. In the meantime, Annie and I are thrilled with how well she’s doing.
This is just one example of why I feel essential oils are my “secret sauce” to better patient outcomes and happier clients.
Do you have an experience to share regarding a transformation with essential oils?
Please share below.
Naturopathic Medicine and Holistic Resources for Hormonal and Mood Support
- Free resources and more education on essential oils and mind-body wellness are available to you here.
- More information on the Joyful Blend.
- If you are struggling with mental health issues, please seek professional help: National Mental Health Hotline
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Get the full set of references from the original article here.
Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
Thanks Pixabay and Canva.