5 Scents That Heal
The secret to better sleep, more energy and fewer cold symptoms may be right beneath your nose: A growing body of research shows that certain aromas can improve your well-being.
"Scents trigger a reaction in the nervous system," explains Dr. Julie Chen, an integrative physician and owner of Making Healthy EZ in San Jose, Calif. "And that can have an effect on the entire body."
To find out which ones have the greatest healing powers, we sifted through the studies and consulted the experts. Get a whiff of these mind and body benefits!
1. Lavender for better sleep
Tired of counting sheep? Try sniffing this fragrant purple flower. Researchers at Wesleyan University found that people who breathed in lavender essential oil before bedtime slept more soundly -- and spent more time in restorative slow-wave sleep -- than when they whiffed a placebo.
"This aroma can help both adults and children relax," adds Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami. In one study, she and her colleagues found that babies cried less and snoozed more when lavender-scented bath oil was added to their nighttime bath.
2. Peppermint for more energy
Put down that double espresso and unwrap a red-and-white striped candy: The cool smell stimulates the area of the brain associated with alertness and attention, say researchers from Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia. In a series of studies, the scientists found that people who breathed in peppermint were faster and more accurate during clerical tests. They were also more aware and less frustrated while driving.
3. Eucalyptus for cold symptoms
"Eucalyptus helps clear nasal passageways," says Chen. Developing research suggests that it may help break up mucus, also loosening coughs, according to the National Institutes of Health.
What’s more, a study published in the journal Respiratory Medicine shows that eucalyptol, the active ingredient, has anti-inflammatory properties and may ease inflamed airways. "Whiffing eucalyptus won’t get rid of a cold," says Chen. "But it may lessen those symptoms and suffering."
4. Jasmine for a happier mood
The next time you’re feeling stressed out, harness the power of this little white flower. German research found that the sweet smell increased levels of GABA, a mood-boosting chemical, in the brain. Jasmine has also been shown by Thai researchers to increase alertness and alleviate depression.
5. Green apple for pain relief
The aroma of an apple a day may keep headaches away. In a study done at the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, migraine sufferers who whiffed green apple experienced less pain over a shorter period of time than when they breathed in an unscented placebo. It could be that the smell distracted them from the pain, say the researchers, or it could be that it reduces the muscle contractions that intensify migraines.
The Right Way to Whiff
"If done properly, aromatherapy is generally safe, with few side effects," says Chen. "That’s why it works well as an adjunctive therapy, or in addition to conventional treatments and medications."
Chen advises looking for scents with few additives. "I like essential oils," she says. But don’t take a deep breath directly from the bottle or rub the liquid onto your skin, which can lead to irritation. "Wave the cap beneath your nose or use an aromatherapy diffuser," she says. Want to inhale a scent, like lavender, while you sleep? Put a few drops of the oil on a tissue or handkerchief and stash it beneath your pillow.
Some scents are also available in topical products -- like eucalyptus, an ingredient in vapor rubs -- formulated for safe use on skin. (Check the packaging for age restrictions and instructions for application.)
And remember, it is possible to be sensitive to certain smells and products, says Chen. So if you or your child starts to experience any unpleasant symptoms, like headaches or irritation, stop whiffing.
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