Stopping to smell roses really can relieve stress

Feeling stressed? Stop and smell the roses. Or perhaps get a good whiff of lavender, lemon, mango, mint, coriander or other fragrant plants.

We`ve all heard the old adage that we should take breaks and "stop and smell the roses" to relieve stress. Now, scientists in Japan have reported the first scientific evidence that inhaling certain fragrances does indeed alter gene activity and blood chemistry in ways that can reduce stress levels.

The study, which appears in the American Chemical Society`s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, exposed lab rats to stressful conditions while inhaling and not inhaling linalool, which is a fragrance found naturally in lavender, mint, coriander, bergamot, lemon, mango and many other fragrant plants. After inhaling linalool, the rats which were exposed to stressful conditions had stress-elevated levels of neutrophils and lymphocytes return to near normal levels (both neutrophils and lymphcytes are key parts of the immune system).

In all, linalool is found in over 200 species of plants, mainly from mints, scented herbs, laurels such as cinnamon and rosewood, and citrus fruits. It is also found in some birch trees and other plants and has even been found in some fungi. The majority of the fragrant plants which contain linalool are noted for having a floral scent with a touch of spiciness.

The scientists also found that inhaling linalool reduced the activity of more than 100 genes that are normally significantly elevated in stressful situations. The findings could form the basis of new blood tests for identifying fragrances that can soothe stress, the researchers say. While linalool has been one of the most widely used substances to ease tension and emotional stress, until the new study the ways in which linalool affected the body had been an unsolved puzzle to scientists.

Aromatherapists have long believed in the power of fragrance to lower stress levels - and aromatherapy for stress relief has been popular for ages, although until the Japanese study there`s been little scientific evidence to support it. Now it appears that just like the advice our mothers and grandmothers gave us to "eat an apple a day to keep the doctor away", the advice "stop and smell the roses" from time to time may be yet another popular bit of old time wisdom that rings true.

In time, perhaps we will also discover proof that many fragrances soothe stress and have other health benefits as well. Who knows, we may even find that fragrances bring back pleasant memories of simpler times, such as the odors of fresh baked breads, apple pies, cinnamon rolls and a nice hot bowl of stew.

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