Keith Kelsen’s Scent Narrative   PTSD and Scent Trauma Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, we explored Scent Trauma. We reviewed significant studies that held the promise of better understanding the environmental triggers for sufferers of post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.  First of all, scents and odors are molecular, genetic and Neurobiology connections to one’s olfactory system.  We learned that one can “re-experience” PTSD with just a whiff of the original scent and the original tormenting experience can come back in a flash.

New Research Points to a PTSD Cure

This same phenomenon offers the promise of “scent therapy” to help one recover. In the recent study, Extinction Reverses Olfactory Fear Conditioned Increases in Neuron Number and Glomerular Size [1] it was noted that recovery was possible.  The research creates hope in an era where we have seen countless consequences from PTSD, suicides, acts of insanity and ongoing trauma for all those concerned. The possibility of a cure would end the suffering of many people worldwide.  In PTSD, cues that are seemingly not specific actually have the potential to precipitate traumatic memories with strong emotional components.

Re-programming Fear

“This is the first study to examine olfactory systems in adult mice with regard to the potential to reverse the behavioral and neuroanatomical effects of emotional learning using extinction,” said Dr. Filomene G. Morrison, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School, the lead author of the paper. “…extinction training—the process of learning that a fearful cue is no longer fearful—in adult rodents closely parallels aspects of exposure-based psychotherapy for humans, where an exposure to a stimulus that was associated with trauma shares many aspects of the initial traumatic memories.”

Brain Plasticity is a Key

For people with PTSD, it is very common for their memories to be triggered by smells, sights, sounds, or even feelings that they experience. The research shows that hope may lay in the reprogramming of the brain.  This is known as brain plasticity, the ability to re-program the “software” in our own minds. It requires understanding what the “triggers” are that cause the psychotic reaction.  These triggers can bring back memories of the trauma and cause intense emotional and physical reactions.  PTSD suffers can feel an increased heart rate, sweating and muscle tension, all indicators of severe stress.  In stressful conditions, we react as we are trained.  In the case of Military trainees, they react with the core of their training.

Olfactory Intrusions Trigger PTSD Memory

Research is showing that a scent can be a trigger to this reaction.  It is clinically well known that “olfactory intrusions” or scent associations in PTSD disable the individual.   It’s this involuntary recall of odor memories and the event associated that can cause very irrational behavior in an otherwise normal situation.  This is the key to the behaviors and actions others experience around the PTSD sufferer.  How can scent and smell help cure this?  The theory is that, in a safe and supportive environment, to have the patient associate a voluntary recall via a scent that may help them “unlearn” their trauma. By reprogramming the involuntary trigger recall of emotional memories as well have the potential to help to diminish emotional arousal as grounding stimuli.

Fear Extraction Needs More Study

Most noteworthy, the work needs to advance. This is especially true in the area of perception of cues involved in both learning and memory. The possibility exists that “fear extraction” may occur in the work of this reprogramming.  While scent research goes back decades, even hundreds of years, it still needs more exploration.  Despite major advances in the understanding of our olfactory system, the study of emotional memory is still limited. This field is wide open for exploration. I believe the findings will have far reaching effects in developing a treatment.

The“Scent Narrative” is now proven clinically. Various remedies incorporate the use of the audio narrative and the visual narrative.  Scent is proven to be attached to strong emotions. The physiological well-being is a holistic approach. The olfactory cortex itself also plays an important role in emotional processing. Clinical observations support the notion that scent-evoked memories can play a major role.  Scent memory is different than other types of memories. Learning and Memory are tied to the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and amygdala. Together they are all a part of the “neural circuitry” involved in PTSD.

Virtual Reality (VR) as a PTSD Treatment

PTSD treatment has a new breakthrough, Virtual Reality.  In a New York Post article, Dr. Dawn Jewell used the immersive nature of  VR to help patients through exposure therapy, where the patient virtually re-visits the site of an incident with the guidance of a therapist.   Scent added to the holistic approach improves this new technique in treating PTSD.  Positive scent exposure therapy can make progress. Research is validating scent’s impact on health and well-being.

The study quoted above showed that the most effective route for decreasing anxiety and slowing an overactive mind is inhalation of specific scents! Many are calling it Scent-based Medicine as an alternative to traditional pharmacology.

Dr. Hans Hatt has Found Scent Receptors Outside the Nose

Research is quickening on the validation of scent and its impact on health and Scent-based Medicine.  In understanding the potential cures, we have to understand the complexity of olfactory sensors in the human body.  Scent receptors are not limited just to the nose, they are in fact distributed throughout the body.  Dr. Hans Hatt and his team of biologists found that more than 15 of the olfactory receptors that exist in the nose are also found in human skin cells.

“I’ve been arguing for the importance of these receptors for years,” said Dr. Hatt, who calls himself, The Ambassador of Smell, “It was a hard fight.”

The whole concept of scent receptors outside the nose seems impossible.  It is, however, scientific fact that our odor receptors are among the most ancient chemical sensors in the body. The conclusive study was done at the Ruhr-University Bochum. Dr. Hatt is a professor at the Faculty of Biology and owner of the chair for cell physiology.  Especially relevant, he was the first to recognize that olfactory receptors also play an important role in cells outside the nose.  All leading to the method of deploying the best scents for the reduction of anxiety and stress.

Reduce Anxiety and Stress with these Scents

To reduce anxiety and stress, these are the leading scents.  Scents with the properties to calm individuals include:

  • Bergamot (citrus Bergama).
  • Lemon (Citrus limon).
  • Clary sage (Salvia sclarea).
  • Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia).
  • Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile).
  • Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens).
  • Rose Otto (Rosa damascene).
  • Sandalwood (Santalum album).
  • Jasmine (Jasminum Officinalis).

New PTSD Assessment Techniques Needed

New protocols are essential.  Questions about the effect of smell must be part of the assessment of PTSD.  The anticipated result?  PTSD assessment and treatment must now include scent. Most of all, it underscores the intuitive knowledge that scent has healing properties. Therefore, scent is finally coming of age because scent-based therapy is attractive and it is excellent at managing moods, especially those in emotional distress and anxiety, like PTSD. Its wide adaptability and ease of use make it easy to tailor to diverse applications.

[1] Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Oct 13; Epub 2015 Sep 29. Morrison FG1Dias BG2Ressler KJ3.

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