According to Dr Alan Hirsh of the Smell and Taste Research Foundation in Chicago, by the year 2000 many of us will be living in houses that have aroma-air-conditioning systems. Ten minutes before we want to wake up they'll start to pump a stimulating aroma into the air. Our eyes will open. When we go into a cafe for breakfast we're induced by pre-packaged aromas to eat more (or less). At work, aromas will be designed to cut the error rate, while in the gym they'll be designed to invigorate. When you come home, there will be a relaxing aroma in the house, and when you go to bed, a soporific or amorous one, depending on your choice.
Dr Hirsh and his team have carried out forty-six research studies including one involving 12,000 people which looked at the effect of olfaction on learning. Among other things, Dr Hirsh has discovered that people will judge a product better value when bought from a shop where there is a pleasant aroma, and in another trial he found that when a mixed floral was suffused throughout a room of calculus students, they increased their speed of learning by 230 per cent. When gambling machines in Las Vegas were 'aromatized' with a certain aroma number 1, Dr Hirsh discovered that the punters spent 45 per cent more cash!
These and other recent discoveries are leading us into an aromatic future - whether we know it or not. Next time you go into an office to make a furious complaint, and come out unplacated but subdued, consider the possibility that the waiting room was suffused with an aroma to make clients calm down. It is possible, and it gets more probable every day.
Science is catching up with what aromatherapists have been saying for years: aromas can improve performance and capacity to remember , and they can make you alert and relaxed and change your mood. Aromatherapy uses natural aromas which have, of course, been used for similar purposes throughout the centuries. But, while it is nice to have one's work confirmed, we now have the situation where even more man-made synthetic, non biodegradable chemicals will be pumped into the atmosphere. Do we really need them when naturals will do as well, if not better?
The reason aromas have such a direct action on the brain is that aroma molecules connect with receptor cells in the cilia extending from the olfaction bulb - which is itself actually an extension of and part of the brain. Olfaction is thus the most direct interface between the brain and the outside world. Through our sense of smell, aroma molecules set off a cascade of reactions involving proteins, enzymes, cell depolarization and second messengers - all leading to an electrical impulse being sent to the brain. The part of the brain most directly involved is the limbic system, evolutionarily the oldest part of the brain, and home of our emotions.
The olfaction bulbs are extraordinary organs, looking like two small upside-down spoons. Directly under the match-head sized bulbs is the cribiform plate, thin bone, but the olfactory neurones pass through perforations in this and end - inside the nose - in protein - rich cilia, which are the site of the receptor cells and ion channels which concert an odour into, eventually, an electrical impulse to the brain. That's the theory anyway; it has not been proved. The cilia are embedded in a layer of mucus which is about the size of two shirt buttons on the top and either side of the nasal cavity. Aroma molecules must pass through this before reaching the receptor cells on the cilia.
Reference: The Fragrant Mind / Valerie Ann Worwood
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