Q&A: Does Applying Essential Oils to the Belly Button Lead to Systemic Delivery?

The umbilical cord—consisting of one large vein and two smaller arteries—forms very early in pregnancy and serves to shuttle oxygenated blood from the mother to the baby and deoxygenated blood and waste from the baby to the mother. The umbilical vein carries oxygenated blood from the placenta to the fetus, and the umbilical arteries carry deoxygenated, nutrient-depleted blood from the fetus to the placenta. Shortly after birth, the umbilical cord is clamped and cut leaving us with a constant reminder of the nourishment we received from our mother in the form of a belly button (also called the umbilicus or navel).

Once cut, the exterior remnant of the umbilical cord withers away and turns into a firm stump until it falls off. But what about the blood vessels that once exchanged blood between mother and baby behind the belly button? The part of the blood vessels closest to the belly button degenerates into a ligament called the round ligament. This ligament extends from the belly button to the porta hepatis—a deep fissure on the surface of the liver where neurovascular structures (except the hepatic veins) and hepatic ducts enter and leave the liver—where it joins with the ligament vernosum (the fibrous remnant of fetal circulation) to separate the left and the right lobes of the liver. The round ligament contains some small veins, called paraumbilical veins, which can expand when high pressure occurs in the veins around the abdominal organs.


Two additional ligaments are formed from the remnants of the umbilical cord behind the belly button. The medial umbilical ligament runs from the belly button to the liver and contains the obliterated arteries of the umbilical cord, whereas the median umbilical ligament is formed from the veins. Essentially, the inside of the umbilical cord behind the belly button degenerates into connective tissue and becomes a vestigial remnant.

Recently, essential oil users have adopted a technique used by cannabis users called the Pechoti method and administered essential oils through the belly button. This method is commonly used among cannabis users to absorb CBD and THC into systemic circulation. The claim is there is a gland called the Pechoti gland behind the belly button that houses more than 72,000 veins and millions of nerves. When substances are applied in or on the belly button, this gland distributes the substances into systemic circulation. However, the existence of the Pechoti gland is not accepted in science and there isn’t any actual evidence to suggest this gland is present.

Essential oils rely on entrance into systemic circulation through capillaries (the smallest blood vessels in the body that are only one endothelial cell thick) not veins. Since the belly button does not have a noteworthy capillary supply, it is not likely that essential oils will enter systemic circulation via this route. Instead, you are more likely to experience a localized effect to the abdominal region. There are however some capillaries within the abdominal region, so it is possible small amounts of essential oil may enter systemic circulation.

A more practical approach for systemic circulation is to take the essential oils in a capsule or sublingually. This method will result in more essential oil reaching systemic circulation. So, for now, this method seems to be more myth than reality.

The powerful influence of smell on memory, emotions, and overall health

Although one of the least explored senses in the field of research, the sense of smell (or olfaction) may be one of the most important senses for overall health. Smell has a unique relationship with memory and emotions that is unmatched. No doubt you’ve experienced déjà vu due to exposure to a scent. This familiar and memorable aroma—like grandma’s oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, your dad’s garage, new car smell, or the flowers outside the house you grew up in—activates specific areas of your brain reigniting vivid memories and emotions. These nostalgic experiences intimately linked to aromas are called scent memories and demonstrate just how powerful the sense of smell is.

Your sense of smell is directly connected to your brain. Functional magnetic resonance imaging shows that when you smell something two parts of the brain are activated—the amygdala and hippocampus. The amygdala is the emotional center of the brain and the hippocampus plays a major role in memory, so it is not surprising that scents arouse powerful memories and emotions. Indeed, a captivating and familiar aroma has the power to not only remind you of a past person, place, or event, but it triggers emotions more powerful than those generated by other senses like sight and sound. (1)

Collectively, the amygdala and hippocampus (both parts of your limbic system) coordinate a conditioned response that rapidly links familiar aromas with their associated memories. Other senses (visual, auditory, and tactile) do not pass through these areas of the brain, which explains why aromas produce greater emotional responses than the other senses.

Scientists are just beginning to understand the complexity of the sense of smell and its involvement in human health. The discovery of olfactory receptors outside the nasal cavity in areas such as the kidneys, heart, skin, and immune cells highlighted a wider role for olfaction in human health than previously known. (2) A growing body of evidence suggests that olfactory receptors not only play a role in the function of multiple organs and systems, but they also have potential to be used in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease. (3) This research has revealed that olfactory receptors perform important functions such as:

  • Regulate heart function.
  • Promote death and reduce the spread of certain types of cancer cells.
  • Regenerate skin cells to speed the wound healing process.
  • Promote prostate health.
  • Aid digestion.
  • Regulate blood pressure.
  • Stimulate insulin secretion by the pancreas. (4)
  • Regulate appetite. (5)

Nostalgic memories and positive emotions can also be produced by the potent aromatic molecules found within essential oils. When an essential oil is smelled, aromatic molecules are carried by olfactory sensory neurons to the olfactory bulb. The olfactory bulb filters and processes the incoming signals and then mitral cells carry an outgoing signal to the olfactory cortex and the limbic system, which includes the amygdala and the hippocampus. A wide variety of psychophysiological responses occur in response to this outgoing signal that can promote improved health. Here are a few essential oils associated with improved memory and emotions:

  • Citrus oils like lemon, orange, and tangerine are strongly uplifting. Inhalation of citrus fragrance helped normalize neuroendocrine hormone levels and immune function in people diagnosed with depression and was deemed more effective than antidepressants. (6)
  • Rosemary is called the herb of remembrance and for good reason. Teen boys and girls (aged 13 to 15 years old) experienced significantly improved short-term memory when they inhaled rosemary essential oil. (7)
  • Lavender essential oil is associated with a more relaxed state. Healthy individuals who inhaled lavender essential oil reported feeling fresher and more relaxed than individuals who inhaled a base oil. (8)

These few studies—and many more existing studies—show that essential oils can improve mood and memory function simply through inhalation. For more research to support the use of essential oils for memory and emotions, see Medicinal Essential Oils: The Science and Practice of Evidence-based Essential Oil Therapy.

The power of the sense of smell should not be overlooked nor underestimated. The evidence is clear that olfaction plays a significant role in overall human health, so don’t cut your health short. Stop to smell the roses and be sure to incorporate essential oil inhalation into your regular daily routine.