People spend a fortune on aromatherapy products marketed by health and beauty companies believing that this would help them relieve their stress and improve their health conditions. Stress is known to be a risk factor for heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and many other medical disorders.
However, a recent study by a group of researchers at Ohio State University might just make them disappointed. The researchers reported in April 2008 in the Journal “Psychoneuroendocrinology” that these expensive scented oils may help people’s mood but would not do much on their health. Just like many home remedies, there is no hard evidence to support that these so-called ‘good smell’ would be good for the body.
Knowing that the placebo effect could have a very strong impact on one’s health, the researchers hope to test the claimed stress-relieving and healing properties of 2 of the most popular aromatherapy scents, lavender and lemon, in a measurable way.
In the study, 56 healthy male and female volunteers underwent a series of tests over 3 half-day sessions. Each of them was tested in advance to make sure that each had a normal sense of smell.
To test the impact of the smells, the nostrils of the participants were taped with cotton balls laced with essential oils and distilled water.
To see if the smells could help manage pain responses, the subjects’ feet were dunked in ice-cold water.
To see if it would improve healing, a standard test was performed in such a way that tape was applied and removed repeatedly on the same spot of skin.
To test the impact on the mood, the subjects were asked to complete 3 standard psychological tests during each session.
To test the impact on stress levels, the subjects’ period blood tests were taken and their blood pressure and heart rates monitored.
The series of experiments conducted on lemon or lavender oils did not show any positive health effect on the immune system or on the body’s ability to mitigate pain or stress. Nevertheless, the lemon oil did show a clear mood enhancement
The researchers claimed that the current study is probably the most comprehensive study ever done in the area, but they admitted that they still failed to discover any quantitative results on whether these oils provide any physiological effect for people in general.
The human body is infinitely complex. Therefore, if one uses these oils and feels better, there is no way for scientists to prove that it does not improve that individual’s health.
In conclusion, good smells may make people feel better but one should not rely on them to change the physiology.