This is the concluding article in my series on integrative medicine for psychiatric disorders. Previous posts for various topics, including highlights to clinically validated essential oils to support mental health can be accessed here.
The psychological benefits of essential oils have been verified in many human and experimental trials. Beyond their aromatic influence of soothing the mind and uplifting mood, their physical constituents help to balance hormones, mitigate the stress response, and enhance overall body resilience.
Various studies have also validated the actions of essential oils on memory enhancement, attention, focus, and cognition. Their mechanisms of action have been explored in experimental trials and have been found to be related to their hundreds of compounds exerting simultaneous and multiple effects on various biochemical pathways. Essential oils’ constituents’ various influences at the cellular level have been linked to their outcomes in humans and their potential for preserving and improving brain function. For these reasons, I stated in my most recent post on the neuroprotective and anti-aging properties of essential oils, there is convincing evidence that they may be among one the most ancient “nootrophics” we have.
In this post, I conclude with a discussion of a few more oils that have brain-boosting benefits and then wrap up the series with a summary of the oils highlighted and how to use them.
Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) belongs to the Rutaceae (Rue) family and is defined as a hybrid of bitter orange and lemon. This essential oil has many therapeutic properties that have been concluded via in vitro and in vivo studies. These include: antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antiproliferative, neuropharmacological, analgesic, wound and skin health, and cardiovascular toning. (source, source, source, source)
Beyond the biochemical attributes found in rodents and petri dish studies, bergamot essential oil (BEO) also has impressive ability to benefit the psychology and neurology of humans. (source, source, source, source) In one small pilot study with mental health patients, BEO was reported to have an overall positive effect for improving mood while in the waiting area.
In a more extensive review on BEO, several studies were outlined that provided evidence for a few of its brain promoting properties. The authors determined that, as a whole, the studies were overall positive for BEO’s role in reducing stress, calming cardiovascular excitement, improving nervous system tone (as measured by heart rate variability), and alleviating anxiety. A table which outlines the seven studies examined can be found here. For those interested, below is a summary in the authors’ own words:
Clinical research focused essentially on the therapeutic application of BEO in aromatherapy, by inhalation or hand massage, on anxiety and stress responses. We reviewed the results of ten clinical studies in which only two reported negative results. Their principal data are reported in Table ?Table11. Four studies evaluated the effects of different essential oil combinations, with BEO being a constituent of the mixture associated with lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica), ylang ylang (Cananga odorata) or frankincense (Boswellia carteri; Graham et al., 2003; Hwang, 2006; Chang, 2008; Hongratanaworakit, 2011). Among the studies with combinations, only Graham et al.’s (2003) study reported negative results. The other three studies showed positive effects based on the subjective responses to stress. The remaining six studies were all conducted using only BEO. Five of these studies reported beneficial effects from BEO, such as reduced heart rate, blood pressure and stress responses (Peng et al., 2009; Seo, 2009; Chang and Shen, 2011; Liu et al., 2013; Ni et al., 2013). One study investigating the effects of aromatherapy with BEO on pain and nausea of children and adolescents undergoing stem cell transplantation, showed no benefit. Unfortunately, most of clinical trials did not report the quality parameters of the essential oils used. Even though these studies are not always satisfactory from a methodological point of view, they show that employment of BEO in aromatherapy can be useful for reducing anxiety and stress responses, and it deserves further clinical investigation.
Enhancing Mood with Citrus Oils
BEO isn’t the only citrus oil on the block that enhances well-being and brain functioning. Orange oil is a popular oil to ease emotional distress, especially in little ones. In fact, one study showed that it even calmed moms-to-be in labor! Another study that examined the mechanism of orange oils calming effect and reported that it decreased activity in the right prefrontal cortex, the area that is found to be “active with sadness.”
Note citrus oils can be phototoxic, so don’t slather it on before sunbathing! (Orange ya’ glad I warned ya’ about that?)
One oil not to be overlooked in my trip down brain lane, is also probably the most famous, beyond sage, for memory. It is rosemary oil. I have gone into mega-detail on rosemary oil and its various benefits on the brain here.
Recently, I found another study to add to my collection. It was a small study with 35 subjects who were tested to determine the effect of rosemary on human autonomic parameters (i.e. blood pressure, breathing rate, pulse rate, skin temperature) and emotional response after topical application. The authors concluded:
At the emotional level, subjects feel more attentive, more alert, more vigorous, and more cheerful than before the administration of the oil. This finding suggests an increase of arousal in terms of self-evaluation. In conclusion, our investigation demonstrates the stimulating effect of rosemary oil and provides evidence for its use in medicines for the relief of depression and stress in humans.
So… remember, rosemary isn’t good just for memory, but it may also help with depression and stress due to its stimulating properties.
The Epilepsy Society of the UK lists certain essential oils implicated for their antiseizure effect as well as those that have stimulating properties. One of the oils listed as most effective for preventing seizures was jasmine. This was according to research that was carried out at the University of Birmingham’s seizure clinic.
I am also aware of a small trial published in Journal of Health Research with 20 subjects that found that inhalation of jasmine caused an increase in beta wave power (indicating increased alertness) in the anterior and left posterior region of the brain. This was measured with an EEG. Subjects also reported a greater feeling of well-being and were less drowsy when inhaling jasmine as compared to the resting and control condition (almond oil).
These two trials add up to some very convincing evidence that jasmine oil has not only psychological properties, but also functional modulation of brain activity! (Note, jasmine is an absolute, so no internal imbibing!)
This series has demonstrated the brain balancing properties of essential oils in various ways.
- Sage oil was the most highlighted oil for memory and cognition, though rosemary is not far behind.
- For calming the mood, lavender, orange, and bergamot are top contenders. They also provide some impressive neurological toning abilities.
- For balancing mood and calming the electrical activity of the brain, jasmine may be a top pick.
What is the best way to use these essential oils?
I believe inhalation is the best way for the brain.
That means taking a sniff right out of the bottle, placing a few drops on a cotton ball and carrying it with you, or diffusing 5-8 drops in your atomizer diffuser.
I hope you enjoyed this series.
Feel free to comment below….
*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.
Coming Up: Finally, the Reason Behind the “Baby Wipe” Craze
This will be an EXCLUSIVE article to my email subscribers on one of my favorite essential oils products. It is practical and safe for infants and adults alike and very handy for the summer months.
Learn why a combination of essential oils and skin soothing ingredients in the form of a baby wipe has me excited!
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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.