Stop and smell the flowers: Scents really do soothe stress

Numerous researchers have reported on the benefits of aromatherapy as a way to help manage stress. Here’s a look.

woman smelling yellow flower

Savor some scents
Feeling stressed? Then try savoring the scent of lemon, mango, lavender, or other fragrant plants.

Researchers in Japan reported the first scientific evidence that inhaling certain fragrances alter gene activity and blood chemistry in ways that can reduce stress levels.

In the 2009 study, Akio Nakamura, PhD and colleagues noted that people have inhaled the scent of certain plants since ancient times to help reduce stress, fight inflammation and depression, and induce sleep. Aromatherapy, the use of fragrant plant oils to improve mood and health, has become a popular form of alternative medicine today.

>> Trust through the fragrance of lavender

Linalool — a naturally-occurring chemical component of many essential oils — is one of the most widely-used substances to soothe away emotional stress. Until now, however, linalool’s exact effects on the body have been a deep mystery.

The scientists exposed lab rats to stressful conditions while inhaling and not inhaling linalool. Linalool returned stress-elevated levels of neutrophils and lymphocytes — key parts of the immune system — to near-normal levels.

Inhaling linalool also reduced the activity of more than 100 genes that go into overdrive in stressful situations. The findings could form the basis of new blood tests for identifying fragrances that can soothe stress, the researchers say.

Source: American Chemical Society / Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (July 2009)

Stressed out? Some botanicals can help you relax
In today’s fast-paced society, people are looking for many different ways to de-stress, relax and slow down. Certain foods and drinks might help.

Some popular ingredients currently being used in products to promote relaxation or reduce stress include botanicals such as chamomile, passionflower, and valerian. Most people are familiar with chamomile in tea form as a mild sedative and muscle relaxant.

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Another less well-known botanical, gotu kola, has been known to enhance cognitive function, including memory and alertness, and reduce mood disorders. Passionflower is a sedative, and valerian is a muscle relaxant.

>> The art of aromatherapy to soothe and heal

Several businesses are creating ingredients from these botanicals to meet the demand for products that promote relaxation. One company has created an ingredient for beverages from a plant extract derived from lemon balm leaves of the species Melissa officinalis L. that acts simultaneously on stress and its associated symptoms like sleep disorders thanks to its specific composition. Another company created a pure form of the amino acid L-theanine to be added to beverages shown in a study (Yoto et al. 2012) to reduce anxiety, and keep blood pressure down in adults.

Source: Institute of Food Technologists / Food Technology magazine (December 2013)

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