A meandering path to a healthy home, healthy body and healthy food.
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011
The Science of Smell
Fall is a time for brilliant colors and savory smells of comfort. Just thinking about the sweet aroma of caramelized onions or pumpkin muffins makes me salivate. Those smells are what make a house a home, but they can also affect our mood and performance.
I’m intrigued by the effects that smell has on our brains. Did you know that if you inhale the scent of orange or peppermint while exercising you can increase your performance? On the other hand, the exotic, floral smell of jasmine has a stronger relaxing effect on the body than lavender.
Some companies even take our sense of smell to the bank by pumping out aromas of chocolate, vanilla or floral notes that increase our urge to buy — brilliant. That explains the sickly, sweet smell permeating out of Abercrombie or that Cinnabon aroma that brings out our most primitive weaknesses.
Rose is a powerful, multitasking scent. In one study, volunteers were divided into two rooms with identical sneakers in them. One room was infused with the scent of rose, while the other was odorless. 84% preferred the sneakers in the floral-scented room and were willing to pay $10 more for them. Realtors, get your rose room spray out.
Even better, when you combine the visual of real roses with the smell, you can evoke a mood more powerful than a pill. Harvard researchers suggest that a vase of roses can induce a strong sense of joy due to that winning combination. Why not try it? Keep a vase of roses on your desk at work and see if you’re just a little nicer.
Aside from joy, the scent of rose is also known to help improve memory. I’m thinking I need to get myself a vat of roses. I have to admit, every time I walk in theDutch Floral Garden(formally called The Dutch Connection) at Belvedere Square, I find myself mesmerized by the stunning collection of roses and their intoxicating smell. I always leave with a little pep in my step.
Citrus oils really pack a puckering punch. They are known for increasing oxygen to the brain, boosting energy and immune function. Crisp, clean lemon also acts as a mood enhancer and grapefruit essential oil can improve hand-eye coordination.
I know you’re ready to buy gallons of these oils. Fortunately, you don’t have to. Essential oils are highly concentrated, steam distilled oils from flowers and plants. It takes about 10,000 pounds of flowers to make one pound of rose oil. Due to their intensity, they must be used with care. Of course, if you’re pregnant or nursing, you should talk to your doctor, who will know nothing about this, so just stick to a few drops of lavender essential oil blended with olive oil.
Just make sure that you use pure essential oils. Those fragrance oils in candles and room fresheners are nasty little pillars of wax. I admit, some of them do smell good. It's hard to get a natural candle that smells like fresh baked cookies. There's a price, though. Did you know that fragrance oils consist of hundreds of synthetic chemicals. 95% of the chemicals found in these oils are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum, and include chemicals such as benzene derivatives, aldehydes, and others capable of causing cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders and allergic reactions.
You can find these essential oils atThe Health Concern in Towson, MD or at most local health food stores. Make sure that you never use essential oils undiluted on your skin. A few drops added to a carrier oil such as olive oil will go a long way. My favorite is a few drops of peppermint oil on a plug-in aromatherapy gadget called a Scentball by Aura Cacia. Within minutes my head feels clearer and the room smells crisp and spicy.