Scents and Sensibility


By Chris Thomas

From PCOSA Today Dec. 2007/Jan. 2008

Sensory input could contribute to an array of metabolic disorders such as obesity, diabetes and PCOS
The smell of coffee can wake many of us from a dead sleep. Chocolate chip cookies in the oven can make our mouths water. And that apple pie candle – well, it smells good enough to eat. These common sensory events may very well be stimulating the hormonal conditions that contribute to existing metabolic disorders such as Insulin Resistance and other insulin-related problems such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), obesity and Diabetes, among others.

Scent is biochemical information. Molecules taken in through the nose are integrated into the databank of the limbic system, the most primitive part of the brain and the area associated with emotion, memory and learning. Scent is a survival mechanism which has, over the course of evolution, helped inform the Central Nervous System of the presence of nutrients (among many other things), to ensure a steady energy supply to the body.

Working in concert, the endocrine system then triggers hormonal changes in appetite, in response to stress, in fat storage and in other metabolic functions. If the insulin signaling process is impaired, then, in theory, each incidence of sensory input could contribute to an array of metabolic disorders such as obesity, Diabetes and PCOS. In fact, a recent study published by the Diabetes Association (1) supports this theory.

Scented candles and essential oils are thought to be a gentle art, and you can check the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy ( for good information. They outline some of the more worrisome oils and list some of the medical conditions that are problematic. Of those mentioned as toxic, Sassafras, Wormwood, Tansey and Wintergreen are probably most recognized, however, Pennyroyal oil, Parsley herb oil, and Almond herb oil have formulations that should also be avoided. And while any scent that stimulates an appetite reaction should probably be avoided, there is a study that tested cinnamon, fenugreek, cumin and oregano and found evidence that they may lower circulating glucose levels as they increase insulin sensitivity. (2) Most importantly, use caution – everyone responds differently to scents and as we have indicated, they can trigger undesirable reactions.

About the author

Chris Thomas is a writer/designer of educational material structurally focused to create cognitively sound, visual tutorials which enable non-technical learners to understand complex issues. Specializing in new media, her projects include web content, computer animation, electronic and traditional illustration and video and film production. An interest in biochemistry and medicine has enabled Chris to design presentations for many biotech patent litigations as well as the physiology tutorials for several of the anti-tobacco trials.
(1) Insulin Signaling in the Central Nervous System, A Critical Role in Metabolic Homeostasis and Disease from C. elegans to Humans; Daniel Porte, Jr.; Denis G. Baskin; Michael W. Schwartz -Diabetes. 2005;54(5):1264-1276. ©2005 American Diabetes Association, Inc.

(2) Diabetes, Obesity & Metabolism. 7(2):193-199, March 2005. Talpur, N. 1; Echard, B. 1; Ingram, C. 2; Bagchi, D. 3; Preuss, H. 1

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