Study: Rosemary's Scent Improves Mental Function!
By Erin Froehlich More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the Id and Ego Blog Series
While aromatherapy may reek (horrible pun intended) of pseudoscience in the minds of some, a new study released this week offers physical proof that a smell can in fact, hold influence over the brain. Rosemary, they found, has more to offer than just a pleasant, pine-like scent. A smell of the herb actually pulls a compound into our bloodstream and enhances our mental performance!
Scent and Memory
Think for a moment about the smell of your parent’s home.
The smell of your favorite dish cooking.
The smell of your lover’s hair.
When you encounter these fragrances, it’s a déjà vu experience. It has been said that of any of our senses, our sense of smell has the strongest links to our mind and memory. Indeed, our olfactory bulb (which allows us to detect smells) is tightly wired with our amygdala, responsible for processing emotion, and our hippocampus, responsible for associative memory. Given this, it’s not surprising that from almost the beginning of human history, scent has been used to influence the mind and treat the body. The practice of Aromatherapy for example, has had a long history in medicine.
Scent and Medicine
The ancients of Greece, and Rome and Egypt regularly used scents of cedar oil and myrrh. People of the middle ages carried flowers in the belief that while foul smells might cause plague, smells of sweet flowers or posies could keep it away. (Interesting fact – Some say this is where the children's rhyme of "Ring Around the Rosie" originates. “Ring around the rosie” – the rosy rash of the plague. “Pocket full of posies” – a treatment or protection from plague. “Achoo Achoo” - the final symptom of plague or alternatively “Ashes Ashes” – the cremation of bodies. “We all fall down” – death.)
Today, with aromatherapeutic candles, perfumes, lotions and even car air-fresheners available in every well-stocked grocery store, the idea that scents can influence the mind and body is widely accepted. Feng Shui teaches that while bad scents negatively affect an area, good scents enhance it. (Uh, duh!) But can a scent ACTUALLY affect our mental state beyond the pleasure a nice smell offers?
Well, according to a new study, yes!
The Scent of Rosemary Enhances Mental Performance
As Dr. Mark Moss explained to reporters,
“Plants are very complex organisms and contain many different active compounds … The accumulation of knowledge regarding possible impacts of plant aromas and extracts could potentially lead to an identification of the best combination to promote specific effects.”
He and his team of researchers began their plant exploration with rosemary – an herb which previous studies have shown could enhance mental performance, but for which no one has ever found an explanation.
To determine its function, a blood test as well as a variety of cognitive and mood tests were administered to a participant group of 20 subjects exposed to varying levels of rosemary scent.
The results? Cognitive performance and, to a less extent, mood, improved with exposure to rosemary aroma! But this wasn’t even the big news.
“We were not surprised by the improvement in cognitive performance following exposure to rosemary aroma as this has been demonstrated previously…What excited us was the demonstration that performance was linked to plasma levels of 1,8-cineole following exposure.”
The absorption of this compound 1,8-cineole could be explanation Dr. Moss and his team were looking for.
“This compound is present in rosemary but has not previously been demonstrated to be absorbed into blood plasma in humans…It is our view that the aroma therefore acts like a therapeutic drug, rather than any effects being a result of the more sensory properties of the aroma...At its grandest conclusion might be the development of plant-based drugs that might extend mental capacity into old age through pharmacological challenge to decline”
Encouraged by the findings, Moss says he’ll continue his plant studies with further inquiries into rosemary – specifically whether or not it’s 1,8-cineole compound survives digestion – as well as studies on many other common plants including lavender and peppermint.
In the mean time, it probably wouldn't hurt to keep a twig nearby at work!