Aromatherapy and the Endocrine system
The Endocrine system is a collection of glands that produce hormones that regulate metabolism, growth and development, tissue function, sexual function, reproduction, sleep, and mood, among other things and it very often gets overlooked when we are treating ourselves or ailments. Hormones act as chemical messengers, they are produced in endocrine glands and released into the blood stream, circulating around the body until they reach the receptors of the target organ. Just a small change in the hormone level can cause disruption.
It is a major system that works with the Nervous system in unison to co-ordinate many of the body’s functions: the two systems are directly linked to the brain. The Endocrine system plays a huge role in our fight or flight response and our stress response through its endocrine glands releasing too much or too little of a hormone.
How does aromatherapy work with the Endocrine system?
The endocrine system has the ‘master gland’ of the body called the hypothalamus which controls homeostasis. It is at the hypothalamus that incoming messages from the nervous system stimulate the secretion of hormones to act on the pituitary gland, which in turn activates other endocrine glands. For example the nervous system tells the hypothalamus that there is a mountain lion in front of us so it orchestrates the release of several hormones that will aid us to fight or fun at our full potential in order to survive.
The limbic system is found on the inner border of the cerebrum and consists of a complex inner ring of brain structures. The major function of this system is to interpret total sensory input into the brain as either pleasant or unpleasant. It is this system that essential oils work directly on. It is made up of the olfactory bulbs, hippocampus, hypothalamus, amygdala, anterior thalamic nuclei, fornix and cingulate gyrus.
All the sensory information is collected in the hypothalamus and integrated together, this information is then passed the wider limbic system which passes the information to the Endocrine system. Which then responds by producing the relevant hormones for each situation. The hypothalamus will then inform the body how to react (fight or flight). The frontal lobe of the brain will evaluate the outcome of the actions taken and store relevant detail in the memory.
Originally the limbic system was known as the smell brain we now know that it integrates all sensory and emotional perceptions which is why you can smell a scent and it instantly reminds you of a person. This is because the olfactory bulb is at the top of the nose which then sends information to the limbic system which is then in turn linked to the Nervous and Endocrine systems and can play a part on both. Hormones are chemical as are essential oils although they cannot mimic the effects of hormones the body can recognise their components once they are entered into it.
Regular aromatherapy treatments can help the body to restore and heal itself, aid developing a restful sleep pattern and promotes appropriate levels of hormones (bringing the immune system back in balance).