Mental wellbeing

Smell your stress away

oranges are not the only smelly fruit Scientific basis for the effect of aromatherapy on stress

Aromatherapy is a complementary therapy which uses fragrances to treat various conditions. Now scientists in Japan have uncovered the first evidence that some scents may help alleviate stress.

Scientists investigated the effect of a chemical called linalool on stress. Linalool is found in tea, oranges, grapes, mangoes, lemons, tomatoes, basil and lavender - many of which are used in aromatherapy. Linalool plays a role in creating the distinctive tastes and fragrances of these items.

Previous studies have shown that linalool can have a positive effect on the symptoms of stress in the body such as the heart rate, mainly because of its sedative properties.

The new study looked at the actual physical response of rats to linalool when under stress. The rats were placed in a restrictive tube for a few hours, with some of them being exposed to linalool scents.

The results of the experiment showed that levels of neutrophils and lymphocytes (key parts of the body's immune system) were increased by stress, but that exposure to linalool reduced these levels to near normal. Similar results were found for the activities of over 100 genes that go "into overdrive" in stressful situations.

In their conclusion to the study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the scientists suggest that their method could be applied to humans to see if linalool and other scents have a similar effect on stress levels.

This article was published on Thu 23 July 2009

Image © dundanim -

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