A RECAP – Supplementing the Brain for Better Mental Health
In this Blog:
- A Recap on Supplements for Psychiatric Support
- Essential Oils’ Effects on Brain Signaling
- A Special Note on Mental Health
Please note: if you read nothing else in this blog, please skip to the ending on mental illness.
If you’ve been following my series, you can move to “Essential Oils’ Effects on Brain Signaling,” but there’s a special “Easter Egg” on NAC you may miss in the intro.
The journey in my series on natural support for mental health started with highlighting the famous antioxidant NAC (N-acetylcysteine). First, I touted its most well-known uses to savage cellular stressors, restore the “master” antioxidant glutathione, and revive the liver. I also recently found an “Easter Egg” that it would be premiering in MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) Phase 4 for its ability to reverse the 5-year long oxidative damage that the humans suffered as a result of the snap of Thanos! Any Avenger fans?
Yet with all NAC’s “superpowers”, what fascinated me most was the evidence for its clinical use for several psychiatric disorders. I believe the multiple mechanisms of its actions could provide a low cost, low risk, and more holistic option to those struggling with mental illness. NAC is a good example of how natural support could address several of the many factors related to brain health and could be used to provide a synergy to more conventional treatments.
These amazing benefits of NAC led me to exploring in more detail how essential oils can also modify our brain’s chemical messengers. I wanted to dig a little deeper into this topic than I had previously and use my findings to help bridge the gap between integrative, conventional, and alternative practitioners. By using a language that is common among all of them, biochemistry, I also wanted to “translate” this in a way that could help patients.
In my primer on this topic of how essential oils can “hack” our brains, I highlighted the unique attribute of these volatile plant compounds that is more than a “marvel!” They can affect the brain and body simultaneously!
I listed the various way that their delicate, yet powerful constituents combine with their aromatic qualities to impact all areas of wellness. Essential oils have been shown to help balance emotional, mental, psychological, physiological, biochemical, spiritual, and relational health. They also assist with building more positive lifestyle practices by breaking through negative thought patterns, behaviors, and habits.
In my accompanying video, I went into a bit more detail and summarized my years of research and writing about these truly holistic tools. I have a soon-to-be published article that provides all the details of how the mind impacts the body and vice versa. I discuss how the modern day MCU-like “Iceman” is an example of what can be accomplished with the mind and how essential oils are the perfect tool to enhance this connection between physiology and psychology.
If you are overly eager to learn more now, feel free to explore the topics of single essential oils and blends on emotional and physical health, relationships/libido, stress, hormones, and brain health on my essential oils database. All the articles have peer reviewed references and citations either listed or linked within the post.
After my final lesson to understanding the “NeuroTransit-Pedia©” of some of the most popular neurotransmitters, we have arrived at our (non-scary) destination of understanding brain biochemistry. Since some of the upcoming science with essential oils brain “hacking” is “a little intense,” I thought I should at least give you some biochemistry warrior tools first. Hopefully, you now have gained greater depth of knowledge in how various supplements, medications, or other interventions can affect your brain and nervous system.
Don’t fret if you aren’t a neurotransmitter whiz yet. I will decode “Geek-Speak” to English. If you want, you can skip over all the jargon to my translations.
Let’s get to it!
Essential Oils’ Effects on Brain Signaling
As stated above, essential oils have been shown clinically to influence mood through their aroma and chemical properties. They have been demonstrated to have the ability to influence our brain functioning and physiology through changes in brain wave patterns on EEGs. (source, source, source) Through their scent and volatile compounds in combination, they can also influence our brain biochemistry through modulating neurotransmitter release. (source, source, source, source, source)
In my primer on this topic, I mentioned the 2018 review article that went into great detail on the pharmacological properties of essential oils and their compounds various mechanisms of actions.
The focus was mostly on essential oils and their constituents’ effects on the main inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA, but other neurotransmitters were highlighted as well. The authors explain more in the full abstract below, which I included for those who really want to fearlessly dive into biochemistry.
If just peering at all the medical jargon is spiking your adrenaline, skip past this paragraph to my translation:
Essential oils and the constituents in them exhibit different pharmacological activities, such as antinociceptive, anxiolytic-like, and anticonvulsant effects. They are widely applied as a complementary therapy for people with anxiety, insomnia, convulsion, pain, and cognitive deficit symptoms through inhalation, oral administration, and aromatherapy. Recent studies show that essential oils are emerging as a promising source for modulation of the GABAergic system and sodium ion channels. This review summarizes the recent findings regarding the pharmacological properties of essential oils and compounds from the oils and the mechanisms underlying their effects. Specifically, the review focuses on the essential oils and their constituents targeting the GABAergic system and sodium channels, and their antinociceptive, anxiolytic, and anticonvulsant properties. Some constituents target transient receptor potential (TRP) channels to exert analgesic effects. Some components could interact with multiple therapeutic target proteins, for example, inhibit the function of sodium channels and, at the same time, activate GABAA receptors. The review concentrates on perspective compounds that could be better candidates for new drug development in the control of pain and anxiety syndromes.
Essential oils are widely used with people who struggle with anxiety, insomnia, convulsions, pain, and cognitive issues. They have many pharmacological activities that impact these symptoms and the review article goes into detail about how essential oils accomplish this at the cellular level through their interactions with various receptors. *
This review further provides a comprehensive explanation on how the essential oils and their compounds target several receptors. These include specific ion channels for pain (TRP) and other multiple target proteins such as additional ion channels (see Box 1 below) that effect various cellular processes, and aromatic substances that can activate GABA(a) receptors, which are linked to anxiety. The authors use evidence from in vitro and rodent studies and parallel this with their associative effects in human trials.
If you want the nitty-gritty details of different essential oils’ impacts on GABA, serotonin, opioid, and other neurotransmitters, this accompanying table is something you can have fun exploring. Some of my favorite highlights include the mechanisms and effects of lemon, sage, lavender, bergamot and orange.
I’ll dig deeper into this amazing review in my next post. I will also continue with explaining overall themes and give specific examples of essential oils. Then, I’ll highlight some specially selected essential oils that also benefit our brain signals using different studies and previous articles I wrote.
If You Read Nothing Else, Read This…
A Word on Mental Illness
Mental health is very misunderstood. For example, someone cannot “positive think” your way out of depression nor should one be asked to. There is a biological difference between a “negative nelly” seeking attention and those with a true sense of helplessness, hopelessness, and shame.
I have a strong intention to assist with ending the stigma with mental health and the fact that many individuals struggle in silence because of it. (source, source, source) Just recently an article reported on a study of elite athletes that cited shame as a major reason why they won’t get treatment for their psychological distress.
Can you imagine having such extreme motivation and the ability to perform superhuman, physical feats but the inability to stop your mind from “running amok?” This subpopulation demonstrates that mood states in those with mental illness is NOT a motivational or willpower issue.
For additional support on learning how to help those you love struggling with a mental illness, please listen to this podcast. I also recommend and highly respect the work of Daniel Amen, MD.
Although I am aware that you cannot medicate away any brain disorder or emotion with any one intervention, my hope is that the more people feel empowered and truly honor the connection between physiology and psychology, the more tolerant and compassionate our society will be toward all.
More on Receptors
Receptors are proteins that act as cell receivers of internal or external chemical messages and react and respond using several mechanisms. (source, source, source, source, source) There are various processes that occur in between an activation at the receptor and cellular responses. If you want to learn about the types of receptors, their response mechanisms, i.e., ion channels, intracellular signals, and regulation of gene expression, and more feel free to dive into the sources listed. (source, source, source, source, source)
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.