One of the most useful aspects of essential oils is the mood-enhancing properties. Every oil will create some kind of feeling in you. To realize why this happens you need to know a bit about how the essential oils work through our olfactory system: (Following is taken from Wikipedia – text & picture; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olfactory_system)
<<In mammals, the main olfactory system detects odorants that are inhaled through the nose, where they contact the main olfactory epithelium, which contains various olfactory receptors. These can distinguish a new odor from the background environmental odors and determine the concentration of the odor.
These olfactory receptors are connected to bipolar olfactory receptor neurons in the olfactory epithelium, which transduce receptoractivation into electrical signals in neurons. The signals travel along the olfactory nerve, which belongs to the peripheral nervous system. This nerve terminates in the olfactory bulb, which belongs to the central nervous system.>>
You might say that the olfactory receptors in the nose is the only place where the brain sticks out from the skull. In the olfactory bulb (1) there is a series of key-holes which accommodate different molecules. It’s a little like the round peg in the round hole. If the odor molecule doesn’t fit in the key-hole the odor will stay only in the nose, being analyzed by the brain and that’s it, most odors fall into this category. If, however, the odor molecule fits into one of the key-holes it will enter the limbic system of the brain, also called the reptile brain. )Following text & picture is taken from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limbic_system)
- Amygdala: Involved in signaling the cortex of motivationally significant stimuli such as those related to reward and fear in addition to social functions such as mating.
- Hippocampus: Required for the formation of long-term memories and implicated in maintenance of cognitive maps for navigation.
- Parahippocampal gyrus: Plays a role in the formation of spatial memory
- Cingulate gyrus: Autonomic functions regulating heart rate, blood pressure and cognitive and attentional processing
- Fornix: carries signals from the hippocampus to the mammillary bodies and septal nuclei.
- Hypothalamus: Regulates the autonomic nervous system via hormone production and release. Affects and regulates blood pressure, heart rate, hunger, thirst, sexual arousal, and the sleep/wake cycle
- Thalamus: The “relay station” to the cerebral cortex
In addition, these structures are sometimes also considered to be part of the limbic system:
- Mammillary body: Important for the formation of memory
- Pituitary gland: secretes hormones regulating homeostasis
- Dentate gyrus: thought to contribute to new memories and to regulate happiness.
- Entorhinal cortex: Important memory and associative components.
- Piriform cortex: The function of which relates to the olfactory system.
- Fornicate gyrus: Region encompassing the cingulate, hippocampus, and parahippocampal gyrus
- Olfactory bulb: Olfactory sensory input
- Nucleus accumbens: Involved in reward, pleasure, and addiction
- Orbitofrontal cortex: Required for decision making
As you can see the limbic system is situated in the middle of the brain – as if it was the heart of the brain.
The molecular structure of essential oils fit in this key-hole system, so the essential oils do enter the limbic system. The essential oils also transgress the blood-brain-barrier and therefore enters the limbic system through the blood as well. Since many of the molecules in essential oils mimic our own hormones, they can, among other things, help to regulate our hormone-system. Some essential oils are very valuable for mental clarity, help with mood-swings, facilitating sleep and much much more.
In my next post I will tell you a little about the different oils and how you can use them as mood-enhancers. I will also give you dosages and how-to-use tips. Stay tuned!