Clinical aromatherapy supports the limbic system in wondrous ways! When essential oils are inhaled they are transported through the olfactory system straight to the thalamus. The thalamus is a part of the limbic system and is the information super highway. Its job is to keep things running smoothly.
There are ongoing debates over which components actually define the limbic system. I'm going to talk about just a few of the limbic system components that are most relevant to children impacted by trauma, the hypothalamus, amygdala, hippocampus, and thalamus. Each of them has components within but I will try not to get overly technical. Let's explore each of these components briefly.
The limbic system which many have heard more about, consists of the thalamus, hypothalamus, septal nuclei, orbital frontal cortex, cingulate gyrus, hippocampus, parahippocampal gyrus, and brain stem.1 The amygdala coordinates behavioral, autonomic, and endocrine reactions to environmental stimuli, but it mostly responds to fear and anxiety emotional stimuli.
The hypothalamus within the amygdala is involved in sexual function, endocrine function, behavioral function and autonomic control.1 The hypothalamus essentially acts as a bridge between the nervous system and the endocrine system. It is responsible for controlling the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is the master gland that controls all the other glands in our bodies. So the hypothalamus plays a significant role in controlling and communicating with the endocrine system. This is important because of stress hormones like cortisol and their effect on the endocrine system. The hypothalamus is also connected to many areas of the brain so it is instrumental in consciousness, cognition and emotion as is the thalamus.
The amygdala receives direct input from the olfactory bulb. This is why when you smell a familiar aroma it can transport you back to a happy, sad, or scared place emotionally. Which is also why certified aromatherapist and clinical aromatherapist do not use individual oils in grief work. The olfactory bulb is the channel through which clinical aromatherapy can be so beneficial in supporting children impacted by trauma. This direct link between the olfactory bulb to the amygdala is a powerful way to support behavioral function, endocrine response to fear and/or stress, autonomic reactions (involuntary reactions to stimuli) and more.
The hippocampus is located in the temporal lobe and helps control the 'mother board' of corticosteroid production, contributes to the ability to understand spatial relations within the environment, and is vitally involved in declarative memory functions by encoding and helping retrieve memories.
Corticosteriod's can either inhibit or stimulate the production of specific proteins.2 Corticosteroids are integral in sodium and fluid balance in the body, as well as metabolism and inflammation.
Declarative memory is any memory that can be explained in words. A child with trauma may not be able to use their words to share some of their memories until they feel like they’re in a safe place and ready to work through them. At 49 years old and in a healthy relationship for 17 years I'm just now to the point where I'm able to access some of my trauma memories and work through them with a therapist trained in PTSD. Each person works through things as they're able.
The thalamus is like the brains sensory super highway. Different components of the thalamus receive information from the spinal cord, retinas, ears, amygdala, temporal lobe and more. This means the thalamus is critical in sensory processing. The thalamus takes that sensory information processes it then relays it to the appropriate location in the brain. This is why the thalamus is important in all of the higher functions of the brain including emotion, consciousness and cognition like the hypothalamus. It’s connection to multiple areas of the brain and it’s role in processing the information it receives then transferring that information to the appropriate brain area is why I call it the super highway. As such, the thalamus is responsible for the brain working systematically.
The intricacies of the brain are vast and fascinating. There are hundreds of essential oils that impact the neurological system. There are some essential oils that have psychotropic activity. Some essential oils are neurotoxic, some are stimulating to the central nervous system, and some are depressing to the central nervous system. Working with a certified clinical aromatherapist can assure that you’re using the safest and most effective essential oils for your families need.
Please see the last post in this series on February 13th titled How Developmental Trauma Affects the Efficacy Essential Oils.
Additional Reading and video:
Executive Systems of the Brain: https://www.khanacademy.org/science/health-and-medicine/executive-systems-of-the-brain/emotion-2014-03-27T18:40:38.294Z/v/emotions-limbic-system
©2017 Cynthia Tamlyn-CCA
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