Highway to Health favorite Nicole Dreiske spent a fascinating hour with us in March--and was kind enough to provide this guide to our olfactory centers, and how to use essential oils for everything from stress reduction to healing after surgery!
Be sure to join Nicole and me as we look into Tai Chi, Acupuncture, and Acupressure--what Nicole calls the "Traditional Chinese Medicine trifecta" on Tuesday April 27 from 8-9am ET on SiriusXM 146. --Clare Marie
Because so much of what makes essential oils powerful is based on scent, let’s start by exploring smell and why smell is such a powerful sense.
Scents bypass the thalamus (the sensory switchboard of the brain) and go straight to the brain's smell center, known as the olfactory bulb.
The olfactory bulb is also directly connected to the amygdala and hippocampus. In fact they’re very close together, which may explain why the smell of something can immediately trigger a detailed memory or even intense emotion.
Smell is actually considered a very ancient sense because all living things, from single-celled organisms to canines to humans can detect chemicals in their environment. Odors are really just molecules, so smelling is the vertebrate version of chemical sensing.
But despite these deep roots, the importance of smell is easy to ignore. According to psychologist Johan Lundstrom, PhD, a faculty member at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, many internal and external factors influence how we react to a particular scent.
At a fundamental level, quirks of physiology and psychology can affect our sense of smell.
1. Some people are GENETICALLY “nose blind” to certain chemicals. For example, there are certain lucky folks with a simple, single-letter difference in their DNA who don’t smell the results of eating asparagus.
2. Hunger can also affect smell perception. In 2011, Researchers at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom, writing in Chemical Senses found that people are generally more sensitive to odors when they’re hungry; but, they’re slightly better at detecting food-specific odors after a full meal. The study also found that people who are overweight are often much more sensitive to food smells than those who are thinner.
3. Context is key. For example, the smell of cow manure can be unpleasant for many people. But for those who grew up on farms, manure can evoke strong feelings of nostalgia. And while many Americans find the scent of seaweed unpleasant, many Japanese (who grew up with seaweed on the menu) find its fishy aroma attractive. Basically, our cultural norms and previous experiences influence how we experience smell.
In a 2020 article in the Harvard Gazette, Dawn Goldworm, founder of 12.29, a scent branding company, said that smell is the only fully developed sense we have in the womb. It’s also the most developed sense in a child up until around age 10 when sight takes over. Goldworm even says that “smell and emotion are stored as one memory.” So childhood is often the period in which we create the foundation for smells we’ll like and hate for the rest of our lives.
Boost Energy, Reduce Pain, and Heal with Essential Oils!
There are literally hundreds of essential oils and an increasing number of studies about them. These five essential oils all have clinical research supporting claims that they can boost energy and relieve fatigue.
Peppermint essential oil
A 2013 study concluded that peppermint essential oil is effective for preventing fatigue and improving exercise performance.
Sweet orange and spearmint essential oils
A 2016 study concluded that the inhalation of sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) and spearmint (Mentha spicata) essential oils could improve athletic performance.
Spearmint and rosemary essential oils
Another 2016 study (this one done on mice) found that spearmint essential oil mixed with rosemary essential oil had beneficial effects on learning and memory, as well as brain tissue markers of oxidation that occur with age.
Rosemary essential oil
A 2012 study first showed the stimulatory effects of rosemary oil and how it impacts mood states as well as brain wave activity and the autonomic nervous system. Later, a two 2018 studies on school children confirmed that rosemary could help focus and memory.
Lemon essential oil
An older study in 2008 concluded that lemon oil reliably enhances positive mood. More research is needed on lemon essential oil, but traditionally the scents of citrus fruits have been thought to be uplifting.
Here are a couple more oils from "Highway to Health" listeners!
Eucalyptus and Peppermint
Combine just a drop of eucalyptus and of peppermint oil on your palms and rub them together. Put your palms close to your face and inhale for 30 seconds, breathing deeply. Bandit says this has eased his chronic bronchitis and lung stress. And he puts the rest on his mustache so he keeps breathing the volatile oils as he drives.
Lavender oil has been proven effective against both migraines and anxiety when used topically. Just put a little on your philtrum (the dip underneath the nose.) Lavender can also be a fast-acting healer for canker sores and other flesh ulcers. Many people obtained pain relief with a single application of the oil on the sore.
Bandit said his mother-in-law obtained almost immediate relief from swelling and pain after a total knee replacement!
Three basic methods of using essential oils:
3. Internally - Unless you’ve undergone advanced training and certification or are acting under the guidance of a trained professional, be cautious about taking oils internally. Of course, if you have food grade oils from known spices, fruits and herbs and you know you aren’t allergic, it’s perfectly safe.
How to use essential oils aromatically
Essential oil diffusers can be a good way to add pleasant and refreshing scents to a room or even your sleeper cab. Popular types of essential oil diffusers include:
· lamp rings
· reed diffuser
Note: Essential oils should never be directly burned -- the chemical structure of the oil changes dramatically when oils are incinerated.
On the road without a diffuser? Just add a few drops of your favorite essential oils to a cotton ball and place it in areas where you want to disperse the scent. You’ll be amazed by how well this simple solution works!
You can also freshen a smelly space in minutes by adding a few drops of your favorite citrus oils on a cotton ball, then place it in a gym bag, garbage can, or anywhere else that needs a “scent upgrade.”
The easiest way to get the aromatic benefits of an essential oil is by putting a few drops into the palms of your hands. Rub your palms together, then cup your hands around your mouth and nose and inhale, breathing deeply for as long as needed—but take it easy so you don’t hyperventilate.
COVID tip – Put a couple of drops of your favorite oil on your mask and you’ll be amazed at how pleasant it can be to keep that mask on!
How to use essential oils on your skin
You can use essential oils for personal “scent upgrades” and massage in a variety of ways. Just dilute essential oils with a carrier oil (see below) and apply the mixture to your skin. You can follow a recipe or combine oils using scents you like! Then you can put the oils in a rollerball bottle so to keep your favorite essential oil combination on hand.
You can also gently rub essential oil into pressure points such as your temples, wrists, and neck. Or use the oils and your handy rollerball to massage your feet!
How to use essential oils in the shower
It’s best to store essential oils outside of the bathroom due to heat and humidity, but you’ll find a lot of uses for them in showers. For example, you can add a few drops of essential oils to your shampoo, conditioner, and body wash.
To inhale essential oils while you shower, put a few drops on the shower walls and inhale deeply as you shower. Or add a drop or two of essential oil to a warm washcloth.
Here are some simple safety precautions for using essential oil.
People who shouldn’t use essential oils without a doctor’s recommendation include:
· older adults
· children younger than 12
· women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
· also make sure to consider pets in the environment. Some essential oils can be dangerous for pets.
Talk to a doctor before using essential oils if you take any medications or have any health concerns, including high blood pressure, low immunity, or epilepsy.
For more information about an individual treatment plan, you can easily find a trained aromatherapist with the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy’s online database.
Sensitive Skin, Phototoxicity and Irritation
Some oils can be skin irritants. To check for sensitivity to an oil, put a few undiluted drops on the inside of the wrist. Cover with a bandage and check the skin in two hours.
Some oils, particularly citrus oils, accelerate skin pigmentation when used on the skin before exposure to sunlight. When using Bergamot, Orange, Lemon and Angelica Root on the skin, wait at least six hours before exposure to sunlight.
When using oils topically, avoid contact with the eyes or mucus membranes.
Essential oils can sting when they get in the eyes or on mucus membranes. “Rinse” the affected area with a plain vegetable oil.
Dilute. Dilute. Dilute.
Essential oils are very concentrated and you can avoid skin irritation by using a carrier oil. That just means combining your essential oil with high quality plant oils like grapeseed, jojoba or fractionated coconut oil. Although lavender, peppermint and tea tree are often listed as being oils that can be used undiluted, it’s good to test them on your skin first. You can find some oils and proportions here!
Essential oil storage
Essential oils are volatile and they can be damaged by exposure to heat, oxygen and sunlight. A good quality oil comes in a dark bottle, either brown or cobalt blue. After each use secure the cap! Store your oil bottles in a cool, dry place where kids can’t get them. Most essential oils have a shelf life of two to five years, but citrus oils oxidize fast so they only last about six months. And remember to trust your nose -- the best test of freshness in an essential oil is its fragrance.
Nicole Dreiske is an alternative healthcare expert, educational innovator, and the author of THE UPSIDE OF DIGITAL DEVICES: How to Make Your Child More Screen Smart®, Literate and Emotionally Intelligent.
© 2021, Nicole Dreiske, All Rights Reserved