There is increasing excitement among scientists and researchers about the association between sense of smell and its consequences on psychological and physiological health. Although, the research works are still in budding stage, several studies have revealed that natural fragrances such as that of vanilla, peppermint and coffee, do have therapeutic effects.
An Associate Professor of Psychology at the Wheeling Jesuit University, West Virginia, Dr. Bryan Raudenbush, revealed that studies have revealed that peppermint scent can distract one from painful stimulation. For instance, in one particular study, the participants held their hand in freezing water for prolonged periods. Those who were administered peppermint scent were able to hold their hands in water for longer period, than the others, and they rated the pain as being less severe. The researchers concluded that strong smells may distract people from any physical discomfort, irrespective of whether the discomfort is due to pain or even hunger.
Another study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry recently, states that, few researchers from the University of Tokyo revealed that inhaling a natural chemical found in flowers and spices, linalool, helped in considerably reducing stress levels in rats. Similarly, another study at Tubingen University in Germany revealed that vanilla fragrance helped reduce the startle reflex, making people feel calmer.
An expert in olfactory research from the Cardiff Universitys School of Biosciences, Prof. Tim Jacob, said that using conditioned association, smell could be used therapeutically to treat anxiety, sleep problems, blood pressure, and even clinically it could be possibly used for immune system pathologies, intractable medical conditions such as low back pain and drug rehabilitation.
Smell is also linked to memory, and when once conditioned, it can re-evoke a psycho-physiological state wherein it takes support of the association between smell and memory, Prof. Jacob said.
Further explaining this, he said that when a certain odour is associated with a particular state of mind, such as being positive or being relaxed, you may be able to recreate that state of mind, by simply introducing the associated smell to some extent.
In fact, some powers associated to the scent of vanilla, may be used to link smell and memory. Vanilla scent is often associated with a feeling of positivity, re-kindling childhood memories associated with vanilla such as holiday, ice creams, etc. Recreating such positive childhood emotions may help in relaxation or stress relief, and could be the reason behind power of vanilla scent, experts claim.
Prof. Jacob also suggests it may be possible to program smell associations for particular therapeutic tasks. A study of this kind was done with healthy male volunteers at the Cardiff lab being injected with insulin daily for four days, when their blood sugar levels fell. Simultaneously, they were exposed to a smell, and on the fifth day they were only exposed to the smell (without the injections) when their blood sugar still continued to fall.
According to Prof. Jacob, such findings bring about the promise of some good medical advances for diabetics using such natural inhalers, rather than injections, or may be insomnia could be cured by smell associated with sleepiness, but further studies are required for this, he concluded.