What is aromatherapy?
The use of scent is one of the oldest healing modalities known to man, as well as one of the "newest" and fastest growing. Healers through the ages have known the power of aroma, to stimulate, to relax, to alter mood and consciousness, and impact the physical body. Aromatic unguents and inhalants (incense) have been used in "medicine" since its earliest practice, dating at least to ancient Egypt, and probably earlier.
The modern term "aromatherapie" was coined in 1928 by Rene Maurice Gattefosse. He utilized the word to imply the therapeutic use of aromatic substances. As Aromatherapy developed into a practice, it adopted an holistic approach, encompassing the body, the mind and the spirit (energy).
Aromatherapy can be defined as the art and science of utilizing naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize and promote health. It is a natural, noninvasive treatment system designed to affect the whole person, not just the symptom or disease, and to assist the body's natural ability to balance, regulate, heal and maintain itself.
At the heart of aromatherapy is the fact that just about everything in the world has an essence - the thing that gives it its smell. The fact that these essences are insoluble in water has led to them becoming known as essential oils, the basic tools of the aromatherapist. In aromatherapy blending, only natural ingredients such as essential oils, absolutes, CO2s, grain alcohol, carrier oils, herbs and water are used.
How are the aromas released into the air?
"Diffusion is the process of dispersing essential oils so that their aroma fills a room, or an area, with the natural fragrance. From the simple to the elaborate, many methods exist for diffusing oils into a room..." Go to full article, "Aromatherapy and Essential Oil Diffusers", on the AromaWeb website
In the near future, the prototype aromaComposer will become the crème de la crème of commercially available aroma diffusers. It is truly the world's most advanced, totally controllable, multi-scent blending and diffusion system.
How do scent and the human olfactory system interact?
Viewed from an evolutionary perspective, smell is the most primitive of the senses. It was the first of our senses to evolve, and is the first to kick in after birth. Perhaps its ancient nature accounts for the emotionally charged, evocative nature of smell.
Smell has a more direct route to the brain than any other sense. Our sense of smell is estimated to be 10,000 times more acute than our other senses. Olfactory receptor cells are nerve cells that communicate directly with the brain. The nose contains millions of receptor cells, which mediate the olfactory system's high sensitivity to an extraordinary range of odors. Although some aromas are so subtle they do not register consciously, the nose and brain can detect 10,000 or more different odors.
How do odors affect our experience and behavior?
Olfactory responses to odors induce the brain, or at least parts of it, to stimulate the release of hormones and neurochemicals that alter body physiology and therefore human behavior. Odors are processed directly from the olfactory through the limbic system, a primitive part of the brain having to do with emotions, memory, sexual behavior and certain visceral activities. This is where "the pleasure center" is located, the stimulation of which relates to primal behavior and the reinforcement of learning.
How is aromatherapy currently being used?
"I suspect that aromatherapy will come into its own in the next century both as a form of alternative medicine and an aid to conventional treatment."
Andrew Weil, M.D.
It's already happening! Here are just a few examples of the breadth of its current use … and some new frontiers!
- In addition to healthcare settings, aromatherapy is being introduced into industrial environments and business offices to promote health and productivity.
- After-Flight Regulator essential oils blends developed by aromatherapist Daniele Ryman to treat jet lag, are now offered at some London hotels and at the duty-free shop in Heathrow Airport's international terminal.
- Japanese construction firms are enhancing efficiency and reducing stress among office workers by pumping fragrances through air conditioning systems.
- In healthcare, traditional and modern applications are broadly categorized as clinical/medical, aesthetic/cosmetic, and holistic/naturopathic.
- Aromatherapy is the fastest growing of all complementary therapies among nurses in the United States. It is now recognized by the U.S. State Boards of Nursing as a legitimate part of holistic nursing.
- A skilled practitioner will have suggestions for the use of aromatherapy to improve the skin, muscles and joints, circulation, digestive and respiratory systems and the reproductive and endocrine systems.
- In hospitals in Oxford, England, essential oils of lavender, marjoram, geranium, mandarin and cardamom have replaced chemical sedatives. These and other oils relax people, lower blood pressure, increase mental acuity, normalize body functions, reduce stress, and even act as aphrodisiacs.
- Aromatherapy might play a role in the management of chronic pain through relaxation. It is thought to enhance the parasympathetic response through the effects of touch and smell, encouraging relaxation at a deep level. Relaxation has been shown to alter perceptions of pain. Clinical trials are in the early stages, but evidence suggests that aromatherapy might be used as a complementary therapy for managing chronic pain.
What kinds of research projects are underway to help us understand how aromatherapy works and to expand its usefulness?
There is a growing body of evidence in the scientific literature suggesting that plant essential oils, alone or in combination with other therapies, may be beneficial in treating a number of health conditions.
The sense of smell has long been known to influence behavior in animals and humans, but scientists couldn't access the olfactory system's inner working to find out how. Then, in 1991, molecular biologist Linda Buck, then at Columbia University, New York, and then-colleague molecular biologist Richard Axel, cloned a large family of odor receptor proteins. This work allowed researchers to begin deciphering the olfactory code - a discovery that would lead to understanding how the brain knows what the nose smells, and ultimately how odors influence behavior.
"Ten years ago, the field was practically a backwater, and then Buck and Axel discovered the olfactory receptors," says [Duke University neurobiologist Larry] Katz. "That broke the field open and put it on firm molecular footing, attracting a lot of people into the field. Today, olfaction is a field that's truly exploding."
In the late 90s, Harvard Medical School started reporting on their research in this area and said that health and mood were directly influenced by aromas and that each aroma has a distinctly different effect. Olfaction, says neuroscientist Cori Bargmann, University of California, San Francisco, holds a key that might unlock the different strategies involved in assembling complex behaviors.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, an activity of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Institutes of Health (NIH), is currently supporting multiple studies in the area of aromatherapy under a variety of funding mechanisms.
Considerable university-based research has been completed and is currently underway, not to mention the corporate-funded research projects. Here is a brief sampling of the academically-based studies -
- At Rockefeller University, New York City, all the senses, save taste, come under scrutiny. Physician and PhD Charles Gilbert, a neurobiology professor whose research involves visual modality, says the interdisciplinary nature of the work involves molecular biology, systems neuroscience, and mathematics, among other disciplines.
- … doctors at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center found that the vanilla-like aroma of heliotropin significantly reduced anxiety in patients undergoing MRI scans.
- … a study among menopausal women … showed that moods improved in response to fragrance, even among those who didn't particularly like the scent.
- In the journal Integrative Psychiatry, an article reported that the effects of two fragrance oils on the human central nervous system (CNS) were studied using neurophysiological measurements. These were inhaled lavender and jasmine. The fragrance-specific characteristic changes were noted on quantitative EEG. It was determined that the effects of fragrance oils must be considered from two significant factors: psychological and physiological.
- A University of Cincinnati study showed that fragrances of peppermint and Lily of the Valley increased subjects' performance accuracy by 15 to 25 percent. A replication study at Catholic University using only peppermint achieved the same findings.
- At the Cardiff University School of Biosciences, using EEG recording [students] analyzed the effect of two essential oils, ylang ylang and rosemary, in the alpha wave content of the brain activity of second-year students. The generation of alpha waves by the brain is thought to be associated with the degree of arousal; high alpha wave activity being associated with a low level of arousal (relaxed state).While there are clear trends, rosemary suppresses alpha-activity while ylang ylang enhances it…. Rosemary is a well-known stimulant and ylang ylang is a soothing, relaxing aroma. The results are therefore supportive of the suggested effects of these two oils.
How accepted is aromatherapy now?
While we are just at the beginning of the boom in aromatherapy, acceptance is well established throughout several sectors of society.
It's not so long ago that any "alternative" therapy was classed as weird, flaky, downright dangerous or just a plain waste of time by many in the medical profession. How times change. You will always have the diehards, but more and more people in the medical profession are embracing natural therapies as valuable adjuncts to their own skills. Aromatherapy is one such practice that is now finding widespread acceptance from doctors, nurses and, crucially, administrators and funding bodies who once would have rejected it out of sight.
Thousands of scientists and researchers, as well as medical, beauty and health professionals, working individually or as part of professional organizations, are already satisfied by aromatherapy, as are the millions of people, particularly in England, France, Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland, where aromatherapy is widely practiced. The United States, Canada and Australia are the new frontiers.
As recently as 15 years ago there were but one or two English-language aromatherapy books and few published articles. Today there are dozens and hundreds, respectively.
Governmental support denotes mainstream acceptance, and The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), under the aegis of the National Institutes of Health, was funded for the year 2002 with more than $100 million to support research on the many untapped opportunities to define the safety and effectiveness of complementary and alternative medicine approaches, and to disseminate research findings to the public and healthcare practitioners.
According to an item from NCCAM on Frontier Medicine, "Frontier medicine includes the role of spirituality in healing, vibrational medicine, and subtle energies, such as homeopathy, reiki, aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies and Qi gong." Holistic Nurse Practitioner reports that "Aromatherapy, a branch of herbology, is one of the fastest growing therapies in the world today."
On a more commercial note, the giant cosmetic manufacturer Shiseido has created a Zen fragrance that produces an effect in the brain similar to the one produced by Zen meditation, so this new fragrance actually improves one's state of mind. And the term Aroma-Chology (a Service mark of the Olfactory Research Fund) was coined in 1982 to denote the science that is dedicated to the study of the interrelationship between psychology and … fragrance technology to elicit a variety of specific feelings and emotions - relaxation, exhilaration, sensuality, happiness and well-being - through odors via stimulation of olfactory pathways in the brain, especially the limbic system.
So what does the future of aromatherapy look like?
As previously noted, the aromatherapy boom has barely begun! As ongoing research continues to reveal the profound and powerful relationship between smell and human behavior, the applications for aromatherapy will continue to explode.
For instance, the new Sensory Neuroscience Research Center in the otolaryngology department at West Virginia University which focuses on vision, hearing, vestibular and somatosensory research is about to expand to include olfactory in its studies.
While the medical and healing uses of aromatherapy are expanding in a very public way, other uses, such as in entertainment, have barely begun to be explored.
As an example, given its power to stir memory and facilitate changes in mood and feeling, it is surprising that olfactory has so far played a minor role in development of Virtual Reality products and experiences. Creative work is now underway in this exciting field, and the aromaComposer is positioned to be an integral player in this new market.
So, what does the future of aromatherapy look like?
Truly … the sky's the limit!
How many different blends are possible?
Theoretically, tens of thousand of blends can be produced from a selection of 16 original component oils when combined in various proportions, thousands being useful. In the case of a 32 component/note system these numbers and the potential variations go up wildly.
Notes regarding calculation of useful blends:
- In most cases, blends would composed of less than six notes, although the system is fully capable of exceeding this, so blends greater than this number are excluded for the purpose of establishing usefulness.
- We have excluded potential combinations that may not be esthetically pleasing. Some components naturally combine while others clash.
- We have eliminated extremely subtle differences between some blends that only a highly trained nose can detect.
Is it possible to make one that covers a larger area, even a room?
Yes, but this is not the best use of this technology. The blending ability functions well at any scale, but the time required for a scent to reach people would be increased significantly (Seconds become minutes) This could still be satisfying experience, though. Due to the large amount of coverage within a non-targeted or broad-targeted space, much more air and oils would be used. A good ventilation system would be necessary to remove old scents and residue. With proper design, it is possible to focus the system across a bar within a nightclub, or a zone within a themed environment.
Is the aromaComposer a smell Synthesizer? How is this system different than so call scent synthesizers and other multi-scent systems, Smell-o-vision type?
The aromaComposer system is not a synthesizer, but rather a "synergizer". It is not intended in anyway to simulate or synthesize smells from a series of substances either natural or synthetic, but rather to automate the process that aromatherapists use in crafting useful synergies from various pure essential oils and/or absolutes.
Multisensory Integration - Can the aromaComposer diffuser be integrated into a more complex (multisensory) system?
Yes, the aromaComposer system, by itself, can be integrated into any number of multisensory systems.
In simple forms, the aromaComposer works by itself and in combination with three-dimensional sound, the optional Vibroacoustic Lounge and, when desired, with visual display systems. The aromaComposer's control system is designed to play specially encoded CDs and DVDs that already have audio, aroma, visual and chair controller data on them, thus permitting many possible system configurations for various needs, budgets, and markets. In addition, the aromaComposer's system controller can be interfaced with computers and biofeedback devices, and can be adapted to control many other sensory delivery devices.
Is the aromaComposer appropriate for use in Multisensory Environments (MSE's) or for Snoezelen applications?
"Multisensory research is now an interdisciplinary scientific field concerned with the neural and psychological mechanisms of intersensory interaction". The concept of the Multisensory Environment is now widely accepted as an effective therapy for special needs populations and for the staff that care for them. Developed from the Dutch "Snoezelen" concept there are thousands of MSE's worldwide developing new ways to encourage awareness, exploration, and learning. As an example, one particular company alone created over 3,000 multisensory environments, into a variety of settings, in 20 countries including: schools, hospitals, nursing homes, developmental centers, mental health facilities, autism programs, early childhood programs, day treatment programs (for both children and adults), group homes, rehabilitation centers, hospices, and many more.
Our aromaComposer system is vastly superior to and more capable than anything available within these spaces today. Our new controller technologies and blending capacity give us a distinct advantage over others in this field.
What about aromatherapists?
Does this system replace aromatherapists?
No! On the contrary, this system was designed to extend their reach. This valuable tool empowers the therapist, enables the process, and envelops the user in a multisensory environment designed to touch them in a way they have never before been touched.