Effects of chiral fragrances on human autonomic nervous system parameters and self-evaluation

Chem Senses. 2001 Mar;26(3):281-92. doi: 10.1093/chemse/26.3.281.


The effects of chiral fragrances (enantiomers of limonene and carvone) on the human autonomic nervous system (ANS) and on self-evaluation were studied in 20 healthy volunteers. Each fragrance was administered to each subject by inhalation using an A-A-B design. Individuals were tested in four separate sessions; in one session one fragrance was administered. ANS parameters recorded were skin temperature, skin conductance, breathing rate, pulse rate, blood oxygen saturation and systolic as well as diastolic blood pressure. Subjective experience was assessed in terms of mood, calmness and alertness on visual analog scales. In addition, fragrances were rated in terms of pleasantness, intensity and stimulating property. Inhalation of (+)-limonene led to increased systolic blood pressure, subjective alertness and restlessness. Inhalation of (-)-limonene caused an increase in systolic blood pressure but had no effects on psychological parameters. Inhalation of (-)-carvone caused increases in pulse rate, diastolic blood pressure and subjective restlessness. After inhalation of (+)-carvone increased levels of systolic as well as diastolic blood pressure were observed. Correlational analyses revealed that changes in both ANS parameters and self-evaluation were in part related to subjective evaluation of the odor and suggest that both pharmacological and psychological mechanisms are involved in the observed effects. In conclusion, the present study indicates that: (i) prolonged inhalation of fragrances influences ANS parameters as well as mental and emotional conditions; (ii) effects of fragrances are in part based on subjective evaluation of odor; (iii) chirality of odor molecules seems to be a central factor with respect to the biological activity of fragrances.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect / drug effects
  • Autonomic Nervous System / drug effects*
  • Blood Pressure / drug effects
  • Cyclohexane Monoterpenes
  • Cyclohexenes
  • Diastole
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Limonene
  • Male
  • Monoterpenes
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Perfume / chemistry*
  • Perfume / pharmacology*
  • Respiration / drug effects
  • Skin / drug effects
  • Smell*
  • Systole / drug effects
  • Temperature
  • Terpenes / chemistry
  • Terpenes / pharmacology
  • Time Factors
  • Wakefulness / drug effects


  • Cyclohexane Monoterpenes
  • Cyclohexenes
  • Monoterpenes
  • Perfume
  • Terpenes
  • carvone
  • Limonene
  • Oxygen