Sunday, September 13, 2009

Aromatherapy for weight loss. Part 1. Science behind the idea.

13 Spetember 2009

Hi there! It's me Svetlana. Let's shift gears from homemade cosmetics (I promise though, we are going to come back to every single topic of this blog and add some more info) and talk about... aromatherapy for weight loss. How does it work? Why would we try it? What is the science behind the unusual idea? And is there any science?

Aromatherapy for weight loss


Have you ever heard the term “emotional eating”?
After a long, stressful day at work, have you ever opened your fridge and “ate your pains away”? Did you catch yourself up reaching for a chocolate bar to lift up the mood and make you feel happier? If so, I have good news for you: we can trick your brain into a state of happiness, curb appetite and cravings, and decrease the chances of emotional eating, by using old and powerful art of… aromatherapy. The term “aromatherapy” was invented by a French chemist R.M.Gattefosse, and it means a therapeutic treatment involving essential botanical oils. Essential oils are the concentrated essences that are the product of the distillation or expression (cold press extraction) of plants, including flowers, leaves, wood and grass.

Aromatherapy has been used by certified therapists in wide variety of medical conditions, from high blood pressure to migraines, and is used as a part of a complex weight loss programs. Alone, aromatherapy will not miraculously shed pounds off your body, but when used in a complex with other measures, it provides a great and, certainly, pleasurable addition to any weight loss and maintenance plan. As I like to say, we have nothing to lose, so why not to try it. If you don’t have any allergies and use essential oils according to directions, you will at least enjoy the aromatic part, and if you are persistent and organized with your weight loss plan, the pleasure of scents may be followed by rewards of a leaner body.

You will ask me: how on Earth smelling various substances, instead of eating a good chunk of semi-sweet Godiva, would make you happier and less hungry? To answer this question we have to make a short journey to the human brain physiology. I don’t want to bore you with unknown and complicated terms and difficult concepts, so I will make it short, clear, and to the point. I would like to clarify how the human brain works in response to smells and what is a physiologic connection between smells and weight loss.

First of all, it’s important to know that there are no large randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled studies published in the medical literature on this topic. In the era of a booming pharmaceutical industry, when hundreds and hundreds of potentially life-saving drugs are waiting in line to be studied and hopefully approved by the FDA, there is no way the super-busy Food and Drug Administration will spend time and resources studying aromatherapy. The data represented in this chapter are derived from literature on the brain physiology and alternative medicine, including Ayurveda. I also studied publications and interviews by Dr. Alan Hirsch who dedicated his professional carrier to studying and treating people with various disorders of smell and taste.

Dr. Hirsch is the founder and neurological director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Hirsch specializes in the evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of many smell- and taste-related disorders. Dr. Hirsch has conducted more than 200 studies on sensory phenomena and disorders. Many of these studies have explored how enhancing certain smells and tastes can change eating patterns, mood, perception and even learning speed. Also he studied effects of smell and taste on weight loss, sleep, consumer preferences and sexual habits, among many other topics.

Dr.Hirsch’s most notable studies have involved smell and weight loss. Unknown to most people is the fact that your senses of taste and smell have a profound effect on hunger, appetite, satisfaction, and pleasure. It was noticed that people who lose sense of smell, gain on average 10-20 lbs over time. It triggered the hypothesis that if people gained weight losing sense of smell, they, perhaps, may lose weight inhaling certain aromas, which became a center of Dr.Hirsch’s studies.

At first I was very skeptical of the idea that smelling various essential oils may affect the brain chemistry and desire for food. However, studying this topic in greater details, I came to understanding, that the concept has a strong physiologic background, and is worth of exploring. Now I am a great proponent of the aromatherapy as an important part of weight loss, weight management, and overall well-being program, and personally use essential oils on a daily basis.

After we are born, we quickly develop a large array of experiences and learned responses. During the breastfeeding, a baby develops the simplest brain response to food: hunger triggers crying (unhappiness), then the smell of the mother’s breast milk is followed by the taste of it, and, eventually, satiety and the sense of well-being. Later on, visual clues add to the reflex. The simple chain of responses looks like this: see the food/smell the food=want the food, eat the food, and become happy. In essence, food=happiness. This part is simple. The next question, which we rarely ask ourselves, is: why do we become hungry in a first place? That’s where it gets little trickier.

People usually associate hunger with an empty stomach or a low blood sugar. Even though intuitively it may sound true, Dr. Alan Hirsch states it may not be the case. Dr.Hirsch says that we feel hungry or full because of a special center in the brain called hypothalamus. A small area of the hypothalamus, known as the ventromedial nucleus, or a satiety center, regulates many basic functions and drives, including satiety and is directly connected to an olphactory bulb, the region in the brain responsible for the sense of smell. The satiety center in the hypothalamus signals a sense of satisfaction or fullness to the rest of the body, and we stop eating. Scientists conducted experiments on rats when they deliberately damaged the satiety center of the hypothalamus, and the rats ate and ate uncontrollably, until they died.

How can we trick the hypothalamus into signaling full? Our nose is connected to the hypothalamus through a network of nerves. When a smell travels through the nose, it comes in contact with smell receptors (nerve endings) inside the nose. The smell sensors in the nose send electric signals to the so called “olphactory bulb” (the group of nerves at the top of the nose, responsible for the sense of smell). The olphactory bulb gets stimulated and sends signals to the satiety center in the hypothalamus in the brain. The hypothalamus, which is a part of the emotional (“limbic”) system of the brain, interprets the signal (thus, a smell) as pleasant or unpleasant, good or bad, delicious or disgusting. Depending on this interpretation, the hypothalamus then sends its own signals to the rest of the body, including a small pituitary gland at the base of the brain. Pituitary gland releases hormones into a bloodstream, which either stimulate or suppress hunger, depending on how the hypothalamus interpreted a scent.

Now the interesting stuff. Dr.Hirsch notices that if the nose is not fully open, it starts smelling more deeply. The deeper you smell, the more the hypothalamus gets stimulated. Normally, only one of two nostrils is fully open at any given time. Smelling through the nostril that is not fully open can cause greater stimulation of the hypothalamus. Try to illustrate it by a simple experiment: close one side of your nose with a finger and smell anything with a distinct smell (perfume, lotion, spice, - anything). Now close the other side and smell. Did you notice the difference in ease of smell and in scent? One side is harder to smell/breathe through, but the scent is stronger. Why? Bear with me for two more minutes, because you are about to make an interesting discovery. After the odor molecule is inhaled, it reaches the top of the nose or the olphactory membrane. In this area millions and millions of olphactory receptors (nerve endings of an olphactory nerve, responsible for smell detection) are found. Each odor molecule attaches to a particular receptor site on the olphactory nerve. These receptors are very specific and different from each other, and are designed to detect only particular odor molecules and “ignore” the others. This allows us to discriminate between various smells.

Ones the odor molecule attaches to a specific receptor, the electrical stimulus is triggered. This stimulus, unique for each smell, transmitted to the olphactory bulb at the top of the nose. Here this unique for each odor electric signal is magnified many folds, so the brain can react to it. The magnified signal reaches the limbic lobe of the brain, which is our emotional center. The limbic lobe stimulates the hypothalamus (the satiety center) which determines our sense of hunger or fullness, and our actions to eat or not to eat, and does so automatically, without us thinking. So when we smell food, the interpretation in our brain triggers complete mindless actions to reach the food and eat it. Moreover, as the satiety center in the hypothalamus sits in the limbic lobe, which is the emotional center, the connections between emotions and desire for food are very close. A certain emotional state can trigger cravings for food. Does “Eating the pains away” sound familiar? Are you following me?

Now let’s talk about how aromatherapy will help us to lose weight and keep it down. Have you noticed that many people who work with food are not overweight? I mean chefs, candy store and chocolate factory workers, pastry chefs or ice cream parlor staff. I can assure you that after hours and hours of smelling all those delicious foods, their brains are so overloaded with certain scents, that it creates the sensation of fullness and eliminates the desire for these particular types of food. Remember Dr.Hirsch formula: the deeper we smell the stronger the brain response, the more the hypothalamus (satiety center) gets stimulated?

By using aromatherapy we will produce the same effect: “overindulging” our brains with certain smells we will curb our cravings and overeating. On top of that, using certain scents which are associated with security, well-being, good moods, happiness, we will make our brains feel safe, relaxed, secure, happy, and thus prevent “emotional overeating”. By stimulating the hypothalamus with “right” smells, we can change our emotional state, reduce cravings, decrease appetite, which will inevitable translate into loosing weight! Imagine you are in your office having a stressful morning, and the kitchen smells of freshly baked bagels somebody just brought in. Of course you have an immediate urge to eat one. How about pulling out essential vanilla oil and smelling it for several minutes to overindulge your sense of smell and feel secure. This will replace the urge to eat a bagel with relaxing comfortable feeling of being secure, happy, and comfortable, despite the challenging task you have to accomplish. The responses we talked about occur completely unconsciously, without our intellectual involvement, because the hypothalamus and the emotional center are located outside the rational cerebral cortex. But here is the beauty if it: using essential oils to help with weight loss and appetite control empowers our unconscious reflexes to put us back in control when the conscious willpower fails.

Next time I will talk more specifically about what essential oils one may try to use for additional benefits of weight loss and how to do it exactly.

Keep reading!
Svetlana

Recommended web sites to visit:

http://www.weightlossresources.co.uk/weight_loss/weight_loss_tips/aromatherapy.htm (good site)

http://www.gritman.com/EO_Papers/Weightloss.html
http://www.buzzle.com/articles/aromatherapy-cellulite-remedies.html (aromatherapy for cellulite)
http://www.cherylsherbs.com/aromatherapy_and_weight_loss.htm
http://www.cherylsherbs.com/aromatherapy_and_weight_loss.htm
http://ezinearticles.com/?Aromatherapy-And-Weight-Loss&id=108829
http://www.scienceofsmell.com/
http://www.scienceofsmell.com/media/pdf/RussMasonInterview.pdf
http://www.silkyscents.com/essential_oils

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