An Introduction to How Essential Oils Affect Brain Biochemistry and Beyond
This is the third post in my series based on using natural supplements to support mental health that focuses on essential oils. In the previous articles, I discussed how these plant metabolites and their isolates alter the biochemistry of the mind. My emphasis has been on their impact on brain signaling patterns because psychiatry often focuses on altering neurotransmitters to treat mental illnesses. Therefore, an understanding of how essential oils also affect them will allow for doctors and patients to make safe and informed decisions on these holistic tools. Specifically, it will allow practitioners to assess whether they will synergize, interact, or modify the current treatments of their patients. Another important reason to focus on essential oils’ neurological outcomes is that some sufferers fail conventional medicine or experience extreme side effects from them. This makes knowledge of nutritional supplements and integrative tools important for those in the mental health field. (source, source, source, source, source)
In my first blog and video, I began my discussion of a review of studies that explored how essential oils’ pharmacological actions at the cellular level verify some of their most common uses. In my last article, I continued analyzing this publication in more detail. I described how essential oils and their compounds were reported to balance important brain signaling pathways, such as GABA, serotonin, opioid receptors, ion channels, and other neurotransmitters. I also explained the pitfalls and potentials of translating mechanisms of actions from petri dish, to rodents, and then to mammals.
In this blog, I will review five things about essential oils that are important to know when using them for mental health. After understanding these aspects, I will explore more on how this knowledge can be applied to humans clinically with specific essential oils and their uses.
What You Need to Know About Essential Oils and Integrative Tools to Support Mental Health
Before I go into specifics of the mechanisms and applications of various essential oils, I would like to highlight five very important aspects to understand when implementing them for mental health.
(1) No matter how skilled a practitioner is at manipulating brain signaling, a pill (whether natural or synthetic) or essential oil will not medicate away all the underlying factors that contributed to the psychiatric illness or the triggers that can aggravate symptoms.
Integrative and functional approaches to mood disorders and psychiatry acknowledge that the symptoms of the brain should be viewed within a holistic and complex system. These practitioners understand that there are many factors that need to be addressed for someone to truly manage their mental health issues and will consider them all.
(2) Although my current focus is on biochemical effects, essential oils impact our mood in multifactorial ways based on their physical and aromatic properties. (source, source, source, source, source)
Essential oils can favorably alter the biological brain, but also have a profound effect on the emotional and electrical brain. In fact, an in-depth review article has provided us with a handy chart with specific examples of how aromas and volatile compounds alter brain wave activity resultant response (in humans!).
(3) Essential oils have general effects, but everyone has their own biochemical individuality and aromatic preferences that can affect their responses.
I wrote a whole series on what to consider when choosing an essential oil that is right for you. There are three important concepts which include:
- The complexity and multifactorial actions of essential oils (i.e., their biological versatility and mind-body effects)
- Essential oils’ individualized properties and epigenetic impact (i.e., how our lifestyle and biochemical differences alter how essential oils behave in our bodies)
- The concept of synergy (with medications, with the manufacturing of it, and the “unique biochemical factory” within the individual)
You can read more here.
(4) Essential oils’ effects are beyond the brain, supporting emotional well-being in many ways.
Essential oils are truly a holistic tool that should be considered as a low risk, synergistic modality to addressing many of the factors linked to balancing the brain simultaneously. This includes enhancing social and spiritual connections. (This relates to the three concepts above.)
(5) Safety is paramount.
It is important to make sure you are using quality essential oils and that your practitioner is aware of any potential interactions of integrative therapies
Now you understand that essential oils effects on the brain are beyond biochemistry.
Next week, I’ll get into some specific examples of how the neurological impacts of their compounds in humans are more than the sum of their parts.
In the next few articles, I will “wrap” up this topic and provide several more examples of single essential oils and how they not only can help support mental health, but also assist with preventing cognitive decline!
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*Safety reminder: Please be extra sure to check with your doctor if you have a seizure disorder. The Epilepsy Society of the UK lists certain essential oils implicated for their antiseizure effect as well as those that have stimulating properties.
For additional safety and medical information, please be sure to visit my essential oils database. This includes a full category on how to use essential oils safely and potential drug interactions that can occur.
If you and/or your physician are interested in consulting with me to assist with supporting the integration of essential oils safely into a therapeutic protocol, essential oils consultations are available.
This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
Disclaimer: This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.