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Aromatherapy May Do
More Than Soothe Your Spirit

(HealthScoutNews) -- Imagine inhaling a certain scent that would help protect your lungs from damage if you found yourself in a smoke-filled room.

A California scientist says his research into the healthy properties of aromas could make that a possiblity one day.

Kwang-Geun Lee, of the University of California at Davis, released findings at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society yesterday in Boston that suggest some smells could act as antioxidants, the healthful agents found in fruits and vegetables.

"Exposure to these aromas may help to prevent (oxygen) damages, which are a factor in many diseases," Lee says.

Humans have known about the positive effects of smell for thousands of years, and "aromatherapy" has become a household word. Scientists have a good understanding of how smell works, from the sensors in the nose that take in information to the areas of the brain that process the data, says George Preti, a researcher at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia.

However, Lee says, scientists still aren't sure why odors seem to have healthy effects on the body.

At his laboratory, Lee distilled and extracted 30 chemicals that produce aroma from 10 plants. Then, he tested them for the presence of antioxidants.

In initial research, Lee found levels of antioxidants -- similar to those in Vitamin E -- in soybeans, mungbeans, kidney beans, eucalyptus leaves and several types of spices, including basil, thyme, rosemary, chamomile and cinnamon.

Experts believe antioxidants block certain types of cell damage caused by molecules called free radicals, which are caused by exposure to tobacco smoke and some chemicals.

Foods rich in antioxidants help destroy free radicals, and scientists think they reduce the risk of diseases such as cancer, heart disease and stroke. However, more research will be needed to figure out if the antioxidants in the aromas actually affect the body, Lee says.

If they do, he says, it's possible they could be released in a room full of smokers to counteract the damaging effects of tobacco.

Preti notes that some body creams have antioxidant properties, and it's not "too far-fetched" to believe that odors could do the same.

However, if researchers do try to put aromas to work to protect a person's health, they'll need to use a lot of them, Preti notes.

"Most of the things you smell are at very low quantities. Your olfactory abilities are fairly sensitive. Most things aren't in high enough quantities to cause any physiological or unhealthy sensations," he says.

What To Do

To learn about research on antioxidant therapy for heart disease and other conditions, visit the Linus Pauling Institute.

For more on Vitamin E, a major source of antioxidants, visit the National Institutes of Health.


Reference Source 101

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