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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Health Note: Aroma Therapy

Air Date: Week of

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Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey reports on a new study that found pleasant odors may mitigate pain perception in women.


CURWOOD: Just ahead, an unexpected archaeological discovery in the jungles of Guatemala. First, this Environmental Health Note from Diane Toomey.


TOOMEY: New research from the University of Quebec shows that pleasant scents may help reduce pain. Researchers asked a small group of people to rate various odors such as almond extract, baby oil and vinegar. Then they had people immerse their hand in very hot water while they inhaled the odors they had rated most unpleasant, most pleasant and neutral.

The researchers found that when women were exposed to a pleasant odor, their perceived pain level dropped 30%. There was also a slight increase in pain perception for women exposed to odors they didn't like. But researchers found no such correlation in men. And they can't say why.

Women are typically more sensitive to odors. But that doesn't explain differences found in this study, since there was no gender difference in the perceived intensity of the odors tested. Brain imaging has shown that pleasant touch activates an area of the frontal cortex related to smell. And another group has shown that women exhibit more activity in this area of the brain. So scientists think there may be an interaction between the sense of smell and the processing of touch and pain, especially in women.

This study, researchers say, raises the question of how odors in hospitals might be affecting patients' perception of pain. And that's this week's Environmental Health Note. I'm Diane Toomey.


CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.




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