Keith Kelsen’s The Scent Narrative: Time to Chill-out with Scent

Clinically significant findings proved institutional aromatherapy programs have been effective in treating Generalized Anxiety Disorder characterized by chronic excessive worry, without drugs. Subjects experienced relaxation, emotional wellbeing, and agitation vs. restlessness, fatigue, concentration problems, irritability, muscle tension, and sleep disturbance.

The sad truth is that many people today suffer from anxiety.  It seriously impacts their quality of life, relationships and even ability to survive.  Although everyone experiences anxiety from time to time and this is normal. As Wikipedia states: Generalized anxiety disorder is a common, chronic disorder characterized by long-lasting anxiety that is not focused on any one object or situation. Those suffering from generalized anxiety disorder experience non-specific persistent fear and worry, and become overly concerned with everyday matters. Commonly used solutions are benzodiazepines for anxiety disorders including Xanax, Niravam, Klonopin, Ativan and Valium medication for anxiety and sleep.

Studies have shown that these drugs, while relieving symptoms, are rarely a cure and can often have unintended side effects.  Scent may be a solution in dealing with it.  In her 2004 study, Dr. Katie Lemon studied the effects of nine essential oils on anxiety and depression in 32 acute care psychiatric patients. This investigation studied the effects of scents in alleviating depression and anxiety.

“It was an evaluation of the aromatherapy service offered as part of the Surrey Oakland’s NHS Trust’s Day Hospital treatment plan. The research was designed to identify if there was a significant difference in perceived levels of anxiety and depression between a control group receiving massage with carrier oil alone and a test group receiving holistically prescribed essential oils diluted in carrier oil during massage.  Half were randomly assigned to a control group and the other half to the aromatherapy test group. The test group received six, fortnightly massages lasting for 40 min. The essential oils were selected according to physical and psychological symptoms, e.g. anxiety, depression, headaches and sleep problems. The control group received massage with grape seed carrier oil without the essential oils in an identical environment to the test group. Results indicated a significant difference between aromatherapy and control groups. The test group showed a marked improvement in the results of the three questionnaires.

The study compared levels of depression and anxiety in a control group receiving massage with carrier oil and an experimental group receiving essential oils diluted in carrier oil during massage. The group receiving massage with essential oils showed significantly more improvement in scores on depression, anxiety, and severity of emotional symptoms than did those receiving massage alone. Clearly, the research continues to show mixed findings on the efficacy of aromatherapy. This may be due, in part, to study limitations, such as small and convenience samples, one-time or short-term interventions, and methodological issues. “ [1]

The result?  Proof that scent has an innate ability to create a calmness.  As other of my blogs have noted, scent receptors are not limited just to the nose, they are in fact distributed throughout the body.  As profiled in our Scent Narrative titled: Scentual Healing, Dr. Hans Hatt and his team of biologists found, “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.” 2 Dr. Hatt has been a professor at the Faculty of Biology and owner of the chair for cell physiology at the Ruhr-University Bochum, where the study was done.  He was the first to recognize that olfactory receptors also play an important role in cells outside the nose.  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.  Scent is finally coming of age as a critically important sense. Research is quickening on the validation of scent and its impact on health.  Many are calling it Scent-based Medicine as an alternative to traditional pharmacology.

These clinically significant findings, even in the absence of statistical significance and noted institutional aromatherapy programs, have been implemented for relaxation, emotional wellbeing, and agitation.  Generalized anxiety disorder is “characterized by chronic excessive worry accompanied by three or more of the following symptoms: restlessness, fatigue, concentration problems, irritability, muscle tension, and sleep disturbance”.[2]  “It is the generalized anxiety disorder is the most common anxiety disorder to affect older adults. Anxiety can be a symptom of a medical or substance abuse problem.  A diagnosis of GAD is made when a person has been excessively worried about an everyday problem for six months or more.  A person may find that they have problems making daily decisions and remembering commitments as a result of lack of concentration/preoccupation with worry.[3]

The most effective application route for decreasing anxiety and slowing an overactive mind is inhalation of specific scents.  The following have been identified as leading scents with properties to calm individuals.  The oil is available to smell. Ideally, it is in a no heat and no propellant environment.

Scents that are known to reduce stress and can aid in anxiety are

  • Bergamot (citrus bergamia).
  • 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).

The most therapeutic effects are from pure plant-extracted oils.  If not pure, they may actually cause allergies, headaches, and chemical sensitivities. Factors that cause oxidation of essential oils include exposure to oxygen, heat, and light. Storage also affects the shelf life of essential oils,  The potential for allergic reactions and skin irritation from essential oils increases when essential oils oxidize.

The proper handling of the oils and possible problems in storage conditions are reduced when there is only one company between distiller and consumer. Solutions require dedication and a holistic view to healing. This work requires an understanding of engineering, technology, software, the Internet, botany, biochemistry, physiology, and essential oil therapeutics, including administration, toxicity, interactions, and more.  Based on years of work, solutions are appearing with the promise as a safe alternative or complement to traditional health care interventions to relieve stress, reduce anxiety, and improve mood.

Suggestions for future research include intervention studies that isolate the effects on mood, memory, and sense of well-being. The accessibility, low cost, and low side effect profile make scents attractive for managing moods, especially those in the area of emotional distress and anxiety. Its wide adaptability and ease of use make it easy to tailor to diverse applications. It’s time for all of us to make the more “sensible” solution that has the most benefits for the least cost. We are at the precipice of an exciting time where technology and natural elements come together, and it is time to explore scent.

[1] An assessment of treating depression and anxiety with aromatherapy Dr. Katie Lemon

[2] Schacter, Gilbert, and Wegner’s book Psychology: Second Edition

[3] Psychology, Michael Passer, Ronald Smith, Nigel Holt, Andy Bremner, Ed Sutherland, Michael Vliek (2009) McGrath Hill Education, UK: McGrath Hill Companies Inc. p 790


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