New Study Suggests Aromatherapy May Improve Brain Function

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The Aromatherapy Study: An Overview

A new study found that aromatherapy, specifically smelling scented oils while you sleep, could keep your brain healthy. Aromatherapy is a holistic healing practice that utilizes the scents of essential oils to promote relaxation, alleviate stress, and enhance overall well-being.

Your ability to smell is more important than you think. With age, the loss of your sense of smell has been linked to neurologic diseases. These diseases include Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, among others. The olfactory system, responsible for your sense of smell, is intricately connected to various parts of the brain, including those involved in memory, emotion, and movement control.

In an interview with NPR, the senior author of this groundbreaking study, Michael Leon, PhD, provided us with some insights.

Dr. Leon stated, “Most people who live in our affluent society are actually deprived chronically of the odor stimulation that their brain needs… The idea is that it will keep the memory centers of your brain in good condition throughout life and perhaps prevent memory loss later in life.”

A past study showed that experiencing 40 different smells twice a day improved memory and language skills. This suggests that aromatherapy, in the form of “smell training,” may be a method that could be useful for preventing cognitive decline.

But trying to smell 40 different things twice a day is not practical.

This is why Dr. Leon and his team from the University of California – Irvine tested if using a diffuser while you sleep can improve your brain function.

In this study, men and women ages 60-85 without memory problems participated. For six months, participants used an scented oil diffuser for 2 hours per day while they slept. There were 7 different scented oils used. The scents of the oils were:

• Rose
• Orange
• Eucalyptus
• Lemon
• Peppermint
• Rosemary
• Lavender

The Results of the Aromatherapy Study

Twenty were given full-strength oils that would be used for the diffuser, and 23 were given weak oils.

The researchers found that the full-strength oils increased cognitive capacity by 226%. There were even beneficial changes in brain structure.

So, it is clear to see that there may be cognitive benefits to using essential oils while you sleep. More research is needed to determine if this is effective.

This breakthrough is incredible. Especially because diffusers and scented oils are accessible for most people.

Keep an eye out for more research from this laboratory. Their unique approach may have found a way to lower the risk of developing dementias like Alzheimer’s disease.

DrTalks Video Resources for Memory

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DrTalks Video Resources for Essential Oils

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How Essential Oils Can Support Your Healing Journey


Woo, C. C., Miranda, B., Sathishkumar, M., Dehkordi-Vakil, F., Yassa, M. A., & Leon, M. (2023). Overnight olfactory enrichment using an odorant diffuser improves memory and modifies the uncinate fasciculus in older adults. Frontiers in neuroscience, 17, 1200448. Read it here.

Huang, P. (2023). Study suggests that exposure to different smells could help improve memory. NPR. Read it here.

Cha, H., Kim, S., Kim, H., Kim, G., & Kwon, K. Y. (2022). Effect of intensive olfactory training for cognitive function in patients with dementia. Geriatrics & gerontology international, 22(1), 5–11. Read it here.

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Daniel Chantigian
Daniel Chantigian, MS
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When it comes to complex scientific or medical topics, Daniel can successfully communicate with any audience via writing, social media, lecturing, and one-on-one discussions. Over the past decade, he developed these skills as a researcher at the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic, as a lecturer at the University...

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