Why waft in winter: Using essential oils for health

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Without a doubt, everyone is well aware of how many bugs inhabit our air space, especially at winter time. But are practitioners and the public equally aware, or well-motivated enough, to actually use the wellness-promoting essential oils at their disposal to their full advantage during the winter months? It may not be possible for us to have regular massages or even to use oils in our bathing rituals but we can certainly enjoy, without much effort, their myriad bug-busting benefits via atmospheric diffusion. World-renown USA herbalist, acupuncturist and aromatherapist, David Crow stated the following about diffusion: ‘the most effective way of utilizing essential oils for reducing atmospheric contagion, neutralizing air-borne illnesses and enhancing immunity is through the use of aromatic diffusers, ionizers, and nebulizers.’

A snippet of indulgence

How olfaction works

I must admit that the virtue of environmental diffusion is one of my personal soapbox topics, since I have personal and professional experience of the amazing value and potential of using aromatic diffusion for health and wellness.
Smell is evocative – I’m sure everyone will agree. Why is this so? Because olfaction, or smell, is immediate. Smells get routed through the olfactory bulb, the smell-analyzing region in the brain, bypassing the neo-cortex or conscious brain and going directly to the limbic system [the ancient reptilian or ‘smell-brain’] instead. The olfactory structures are closely connected to the amygdala and hippocampus, regions of the brain that process memory and emotion. Owing to the anatomy of the olfactory system, this is also the only site where the central nervous system [CNS] is in direct contact with the environment. Inhalation of essential oil molecules therefore directly affects the CNS, bringing about a range of rapid biological responses. Scientific research has shown that inhalation of essential oils can communicate signals to the olfactory system and stimulate the brain to exert neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, thereby further regulating mood. Smell also has a potent link to the subconscious, a fact to which smell-associated memories can attest.

Why diffuse essential oils?

In case you’re not yet convinced to immediately vow to diffuse daily, here are a few more reasons to persuade you to this fragrant practice – if not all year around then at least during winter time. Diffusing pure, clinical quality essential oils is an ideal way to improve and enhance health and ambience in the home, work, play or study environment. They are the mindful-living alternative to harmful, synthetic air sprays and environmental vaporization liquids.
Cold-air and ultrasonic diffusers disperse a micro-fine mist of essential oil droplets [1-3 microns] into the atmosphere and can fill a much larger area than heat diffusers, as will be explored below. These small droplets stay suspended in the air longer than larger molecules, allowing more of the oil to be inhaled and absorbed, if needed. In my personal opinion, it is preferable to use a cold process device rather than one requiring heat (e.g. candles or heating element), for various reasons, including fire hazard. It is generally accepted that for essential oils to remain most therapeutically effective they should not be overly heated, since the chemical structure of essential oils may be altered by excessive heat, which in turn affects the beneficial effects of the oils.

5 basic methods of diffusion

perfumed air

These methods can be defined as follows:
1. Atomizing
2. Vapourizing
3. Forced airflow
4. Heat
5. Passive evaporation

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