An emerging trend in virtual reality (VR) — incorporating smells — could be an exciting and effective option for health care. Already many hospitals across the country are using VR to help patients manage pain, overcome phobias and calm anxiety. And VR therapies may become more common, particularly if insurers cover the high cost. But VR therapy employing the therapeutic benefits of smell has not been adequately explored.
“Smell hasn’t been explored enough in virtual reality, but it deserves to be,” says Judith Amores, senior researcher at Microsoft Research and research affiliate at the MIT Media Lab. “The potential benefits are incredible.”
According to WebMD, in one experiment conducted by Amores, participants wore a VR headset, which showed calming nature scenes, and a smart necklace she developed, which released the scent of lavender. When bursts of lavender were added to the VR experience, the participants reported feeling 26% more relaxed than they had without the scent. A device that monitors brain activity confirmed the results.
“Your sense of smell goes directly into the emotional center of the brain,” says Amores. “That means you can literally change how you feel based on what you’re smelling.”
Proven aromatherapy options that enhance health:
• Lemon beats the blues. According to The Healthy, citrus scents can boost your mood. A Japanese study found that exposing patients suffering from depression to a fragrant blend of citrus ─ mainly lemon oil ─ helped regulate hormone levels, boosted immune function, and markedly lowered the dosages of antidepressants the patients needed.
• Almond extract relieves pain. A Canadian study asked 20 men and 20 women to immerse their hands in painfully hot water ─ a common pain-tolerance test. When the women smelled pleasant scents like almond extract, they reported 38% less pain. While the odors had no effect on the men’s pain, both sexes reported better moods when exposed to pleasant aromas.
• Black pepper could help you quit smoking. Cigarette smoking is one of the most difficult addictions to overcome. In one study, says Verywell Mind, black pepper essential oil was used to reduce the severity of cigarette craving. Participants inhaled one drop of pepper oil on a tissue for two minutes whenever they were struck with a craving.
• Jasmine helps you sleep better. In a study presented at the Eastern Psychological Association Conference, researchers said that people who slept in rooms scented with jasmine slept more soundly than participants who slept in lavender-scented or unscented spaces. They moved the least during their sleep and rated their anxiety levels lowest after smelling jasmine, says The Healthy. They also performed better on cognitive tests, which the researchers said could be especially useful for students or athletes who have trouble sleeping before a test or a game.
• Cinnamon improves balance. Neurologist Dr. Alan Hirsch, of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, blindfolded 11 people and gave them a stability test. Ten of the participants had significantly improved balance after they sniffed the aroma of baked cinnamon from a hot bun compared to other scents. Further research has shown that the scent of cinnamon improves motor skills as well. Drivers who inhaled cinnamon had less road rage, decreased fatigue, and increased alertness on the road. So, consider buying a cinnamon scented air freshener for your vehicle!
• Roses give you sweet dreams. If you are prone to having nightmares, try placing a rose bouquet by your bedside. A German study found that women who slept in a rose-scented room reported more pleasant dreams compared to those who were exposed to the smell of rotten eggs. The latter group reported more negatives dreams. Experts explain that smell affects the brain’s emotional responses and pleasant smells, like roses, are often linked to happy memories and can promote pleasurable dreams.
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