Interview with Ass.-Prof. Dr. Iris Stappen

We are very honoured, that Ass.-Prof. Dr. Iris Stappen (The University of Vienna) will come to Aromaconference Brno with talk named From Psychofyziology to farmacology. Read more in interview we prepared for you. And make Your registration here:

How it is possible that aroma works so quickly and effectively to influence human psyche?

IS: "The reason for that lies in the way of signal transduction in our brain. Olfactory signals, induced by an odor in the olfactory epithelium in the nose, directly reach the part of the brain that also processes emotions: the limbic system. In other senses (vision, audition) there is another brain structure interposed, the thalamus, where the signals are being rationally processed first and - after that - reach the limbic system. An odor (pleasant or unpleasant), that we have experienced together with a strong emotion (positive or negative) in the past, can induce that same strong emotion any time later."

Which kind of aroma is the best scientifically proved as effective solution of mental problems?

IS: "The essential oil of rosemary cineol. There are several brain studies proving the activating effect of rosemary cineol type. The essential oil of lavender is probably the best generally studied essential oil."

Real problem of today's society day-to-day activities is mental stress: what kind of research did you carry out and what are the results?

IS: "We did not work on mental stress but we actually had a literature search done on "selected essential oils in burnout therapy". There are many essential oils that can be used against typical symptoms of stress and burnout. That would be agarwood and lavender against sleep disorders; peppermint and lavender against headache; ajowan and peppermint against hypertonia; black pepper and angelica root against drug abusing behavior - just to name a view. You have to keep in mind, though, that these oils do not cure burnout!"

Is it possible to combine aromatherapy and psychiatric medication?

IS: "Yes, but you have to be very careful with that since we know that odors can induce strong emotions (see my comment above). "

Is there any possibility to replace medication or solve some diagnosis by means of floral fragrances?

IS: "This could be possible in some, but not in every case. That strongly depends on the kind of diagnosis, the grade of the ailment and the patient him/herself (e.g. his/her attitude to the odor). Aromatherapy is mainly used as complementary therapy. You often can reduce medication when aromatherapy is applied."

What kind of routine is implemented in Austria? Is aromatherapy put into practice in specialised medical clinics or common psychotherapy outpatient treatment? What are the results?

IS: "Aromatherapy (performed by medical doctors) as well as professional aroma care (performed by nursing staff) are very well implemented in Austrian clinics, nursing homes etc. Both are legally approved complementary methods that are applied custodial and prophylactic to increase patients' well-being and recovery etc. with positive results! Especially in resorts for the elderly essential oils have been used successfully. Some psychotherapists also work with essential oils - mainly in the case of dementia. Special courses on aromatherapy for medical doctors and pharmacists are being offered by experts. For aroma care, there also are legally approved trainings for nursing staff available."

Did you study the relationship among sense of smell, anxiety and hypothymergasia? Are there any changes if the patient has olfactory challenged? Is it possible to apply aromatherapy in such case?

IS: "We know that patients with anxiety and depression perceive odors in a different way compared to healthy persons. Additionally, the activity in special olfactory structures of the brain is decreased or increased. Depressive patients show a smaller olfactory bulb which is one of the main structures in the olfactory system. People suffering from anosmia show anxious and depressive behavior. These are just a few facts to highlight the strong connection between olfaction and depression/anxiety. We further know from studies performed by Antje Haehner (Hähner) and her team in Dresden/Germany that these patients can be trained by means of odors. Not only does their olfactory ability increase by this training but also their anxious and depressive behavior decreases."

Please, can you share one of your favourite formulas of soothing aromatherapeutic scents?

IS: "Besides lemon balm I love sandalwood and agarwood."

Interview: Anna Krutová

Foto: Iris Stappen`s archiv