New study shows smell of lavender could enhance memory
Most of us think that taking in a nice aroma is simply a pleasant experience.
Medical research, however, is demonstrating that some fragrances can have a profound impact on our memory and cognition.
In a recent medical study, the fragrance of lavender enhanced memory after a stressful, standardized test.
In aromatherapy, plant extracts or the oils of specific plants are used as a way of enhancing the immune system, accelerating healing, improving memory and cognition as well as depression, anxiety and sleep.
Although the exact origins of aromatherapy are lost to the pages of ancient history, the use of fragrances in healing and ceremonies have been documented in our earliest civilizations.
Although aromatherapy was initially dismissed as a placebo, the medical research on the effects of aromatherapy on stress hormones, sleep and mood has been accumulating and is quite positive. The most common way that aromatherapy is used is to breathe in the essential oil through the nose.
Recent medical study done at the Oregon Health and Science University and published in the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine demonstrated that the essential oil of lavender significantly improved memory after a stressful standardized test.
In this study 92 participants were divided into several groups -- lavender essential oil group, placebo coconut oil group and a water group. Two additional groups were used to study the psychological effect of essential oils.
The final results were quite revealing. Those in the lavender group demonstrated significant improvement over the placebo and water-only groups for memory after the stressful test.
Other data from this study also demonstrated that lavender oil actually lessened the feeling of stress about the test itself. The study demonstrated that there is a psychological effect of lavender but that there is also a direct physiological benefit on the brain.
Even though we may not realize it, smell may be our most sensitive sense. Our eyes and ears can differentiate approximately one million colors and a half million tones respectively. Recent medical research suggests that the human nose can differentiate over one trillion different odors.
It is no wonder that aromatherapy can affect the brain so profoundly.
This therapy, in my opinion, should be used as an add-on to other medical therapies and not as a stand-alone approach.
Several of the larger health food stores carry a large selection of essential oils, as well as books on their use. One needs to be cautious with some essential oils because direct application to the skin can be irritating.
Consulting an essential oil expert is recommended and there are currently several certifications for essential oils use.
A current trend in essential oils is to ingest them. I feel that the most effective way of getting essential oils into your body is through the nose and skin, not through your bowels.
There is a large body of historical evidence for the use of essential oils, not just as a fragrance but as a healing tool. It is certainly useful as an additional therapy for a variety of medical conditions including pain, anxiety and insomnia.
• Patrick B. Massey, MD, PH.D., is medical director for complementary and alternative medicine at Alexian Brothers Hospital Network and president of ALT-MED Medical and Physical Therapy, 1544 Nerge Road, Elk Grove Village. His website is www.alt-med.org.