Are you sniffing your oils enough??

Recently an article of mine was published for Naturopathic Digest News and Review (NDNR) which discussed the power of olfaction (smell) for pain relief. I have always been fascinated with the topic of pain and, more specifically, how its intensity is affected by stress and emotions. I also have studied the power of the mind and am interested in how the placebo effect modulates symptoms and health outcomes. Therefore, I dug deep into the research to connect the dots between how pain, emotions, and the power of belief could be linked to the use of essential oils and how this could be applied clinically.

Does that sound like crazy task? Turns out, it isn’t really.

Due to the fact that the sense of smell can directly impact the emotional part of the brain, specifically in the region of the amygdala, essential oils have been studied for their effects on decreasing stress, modulating pain perception, and calming the body and brain.


The Smell of Fear

In fact, I just read a research article that utilized the power of smell to manipulate emotions in a negative manner. The study examined how little rodent babies could be programmed prenatally to fear the smell of peppermint oil. This means the researchers were able to make the little pups scared through a mother-to-pup transfer of emotion. Specifically the mothers’ offsprings’ fear of the smell of peppermint oil was present at birth as a result of programming her response to it. This was done by giving mom a shock every time she inhaled the peppermint. When her babes were born, they too exhibited a fear of the minty smell. (We still have a long way to go in humane animal research).

The study demonstrated that the sense of smell caused areas in the amygdala associated with fear to be activated in the rodent babies’ and moms’ brains. Interestingly, the mom didn’t need to be present for this response to occur, demonstrating a genetic imprinting of the fear response. Furthermore, the stress hormone, cortisol, was elevated in the pups showing a biochemical alteration in response to the smell.

Amongst other conclusions related to maternal caretaking behavior, this study had implications in regards to how the effect of a mother’s negative stress response to a stimulus can be passed on to influence her baby’s emotional response patterns. It also demonstrated how the sense of smell can have a profound effect on survival instincts and reactionary patterns. This brings us to the use of oils for emotions.


The Smell of Relief and Relaxation

This profound reaction to smell has been demonstrated in clinical trials by the use of aromatherapy to calm the brain and balance one’s mood. The good news is that oils naturally relax the body and decrease cortisol, so an extreme intervention to break this response is not needed. We can use this in a positive way for ourselves, without making rodents suffer.

Therapeutic essential oils contain constituents that are small enough to cross the blood-brain barrier. In fact, these components interact with our genetic programming (by methylation and histone formation) to re-pattern our emotional responses to stimuli. This results in relaxing our brains and bodies.

All we need to do is twist the lid and breathe in. Ahhhh…


Essential Tips for Calming Brain through the Powerful Sense of Smell:

My favorite oil recommendations to my clients for reducing anxiety and supporting mood include:

  1. Applying 1-2 drops of lavender on the bottoms of feet at night and inhaling deeply to help calm the mind.
  2. Putting lemon oil in their water to sip on all day (1-2 drops in 8 oz. of water). In fact, sniffing most citrus oils (orange, mandarin, tangerine, lime) is an “uplifting experience” and helps to focus the brain all throughout the day.
  3. Inhaling valerian or cedarwood to calm the brain. They can also be rubbed on the feet throughout the day to have additive effects on relaxing the body’s biochemistry.


What are your favorite ways to use essential oils for stress?



  • Debiec, J, Sullivan, RM. Intergenerational transmission of emotional trauma through amygdala-dependent mother-to-infant transfer of specific fear. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Jul 28. pii: 201316740. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Zabludovsky,K. Mother’s Fears Are Passed to Children Through Smell, Study Suggests. Newsweek. July 28, 2014.
  • Mercola, J. Mother’s Fears Are Passed to Children Through Smell, Study Suggests. August 14, 2014.
  • The Anxiolytic Effect of Aromatherapy on Patients Awaiting Ambulatory Surgery: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013; 2013: 927419. Published online Dec 17, 2013. doi: 10.1155/2013/927419. (Bergamot)
  • A systematic review on the anxiolytic effects of aromatherapy in people with anxiety symptoms. J Altern Complement Med. 2011 Feb;17(2):101-8. doi: 10.1089/acm.2009.0277. Epub 2011 Feb 10.
  • Citrus aurantium L. essential oil exhibits anxiolytic-like activity mediated by 5-HT(1A)-receptors and reduces cholesterol after repeated oral treatment. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2013 Feb 23;13:42. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-13-42. (Bitter Orange)


Disclaimer: This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic, Grade A essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been AFNOR and ISO standardized. There is no quality control in the United States and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only 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.

This information is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness.