In my previous article, I explained the physical, hormonal, and emotional repercussions that can occur when the body is under constant, chronic stress and natural ways to mitigate them. Due to the fact that stress is so persuasive, literally coming to us virtually 24-7, we are all in need of a way to unplug and find means to handle stress in a more healthful way. This starts at the level of the brain.
In my naturopathic and functional medicine practice, essential oils are my go-to tool for modulating stress, balancing cortisol and hormones levels, and rejuvenating the brain and body. This is due to the fact that they are able to arrest any negative effects at the very beginning of the stress cascade, through the level of perception.
In part I, I highlighted some of the best essential oils from the literature to decrease cortisol and better cope with stress. I also provide feedback on how I use several of them with my clients in my practice, including clary sage, neroli, and jasmine.
Now, for part II, I’ll continue exploring more essential oils that are beneficial for emotional and hormonal harmony and improving stress perception. I will also provide some clinical tips on using them.
Lavender for Decreasing Cortisol, Calming the Body, and Balancing the Emotions
Lavender is known as the “universal oil” for good reason. It has been shown to benefit the brain, support emotional health, improve immune response, and alleviate anxiety. In fact, it has such convincing effects for its use for anxiety, Germany has formulated it as a prescription medication for this indication. Below are some additional studies that further support its efficacy for use in caring for our nervous system.
In a 2016 single-blind clinical trial, 90 candidates for open-heart surgery were evaluated to determine the effect of 20 minutes of inhalation of 2 drops of lavender on anxiety and blood cortisol levels. Distilled water was used as a control to compare results. Along with an adapted questionnaire, blood samples of cortisol were taken and compared between groups. The trial was well-down overall, using an appropriate dose and length of time of aromatherapy. The results indicated a significant reduction in anxiety score and a higher difference in cortisol decline in the lavender group. The results and conclusions are stated as follows:
ANCOVA test showed that the 10.8% variance in anxiety score and 69.6% decrease in blood cortisol resulted from inhalation of lavender.
Results showed the positive effect of lavender essence on anxiety and blood cortisol level among the patients. Aromatherapy with lavender is suggested to be considered as a nursing intervention in clinical settings
In a recent 2019 randomized clinical trial, researchers investigated the effect of inhalation of lavender oil (Lavandula angustifolia) on anxiety, mood, and vital signs (blood pressure, respiratory rate, heart rate, and oxygen saturation) in one hundred twenty-six patients undergoing oral surgery. Primary outcomes were vital signs. Secondary outcomes were changes in anxiety levels as revealed with several measurements. These included the Dental Anxiety Questionnaire (DAQ) and paired anxiety tests that were compared pre-, intra-, and post-operatively. The visual analogue scale (VAS) and patient satisfaction were also assessed.
Significant changes were found in blood pressure in the lavender group post-operatively. Moreover, most of the patients in the lavender oil group enjoyed the scent and were satisfied with the experience. The authors concluded:
Inhalation of lavender oil, which is one of the most powerful anxiolytic essential oils, reduces peri-operative anxiety and can be prospectively considered in future studies for its potential sedative characteristics in patients undergoing surgical procedures under local anaesthesia.
That’s a pretty powerful use for such a sweet-smelling scent!
Lavender Oil Blends
As noted in my last article, many essential oils were shown to be calming and modulating of the mood. Oftentimes, researchers use blends of single essential oils for synergistic effects. This means that several essential oils can be blended to allow for more compounds to be available for the body to use. This can enhance their effects. Blending essential oils is an art and science and a very effective therapeutic approach.
I mentioned in part I that I often use lavender in combination with other oils to achieve synergism for lowering cortisol levels and promoting relaxation in my clients. Below, I discuss several other oils that accomplish this, including bergamot, rose, and patchouli.
How I Use Lavender, Bergamot, Rose, and Patchouli to Alleviate Stress in my Naturopathic Clinic
Bergamot oil is another popular essential oils for calming in my naturopathic clinic. Clinical studies have supported its overall positive role in reducing stress, alleviating cardiovascular excitement, improving nervous system tone (as measured by heart rate variability), and alleviating anxiety. (A table from a review on BEO that outlines seven studies can be found here.)
A small study exploring bergamot oil use with 41 females is one of my favorites. It validates how inhalation of bergamot oil for 10 minutes improved heart rate variability, cortisol levels, mood, and fatigue. (Click here for the full study.)
I will often recommend diffusing bergamot at night, in combination with lavender, for my athletes who are looking for faster recovery of their nervous system. It is also helpful for my clients who are “tired and wired” and can’t sleep.
Rose and patchouli are other options to add in the mix. They also calm the flight and fight response and may decrease adrenaline spikes for those in chronic overwhelm.
In my final post on this topic, I will explore more lavender combinations with some other well-known essential oils that have been found to decrease cortisol and aid anxiety through subjective and objective measures.
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.
For additional safety and medical information, visit my essential oils database. It includes a full category on how to use essential oils safely and potential drug interactions that can occur.
Please be extra cautious and be 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.
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.