Exploring Our Brain Signals

In the previous posts, I explored how the amazing antioxidant N-acetylcysteine (NAC) has more impressive applications than its most celebrated roles. Beyond being a cellular defender against oxidative stress and liver reviver after an acetaminophen (Tylenol) overdose, I became intrigued for its brain applications in those with complex psychiatric disorders.

As I was diving deep into NAC’s mechanisms, it made me curious to research more specifically on how essential oils work to influence brain functioning via neurotransmitters. I wanted to use this opportunity to also converge all my previous work on how essential oils can balance our brain’s signals and support mood, neurological and mental health, and even change addictive patterns.

In an upcoming article, I review the concept of mind-body medicine and provide a summary of all my years of writings on how essential oils are truly a holistic, fully integrative intervention. Beyond the psychological, they impact all areas of health- physical, emotional, spiritual, relational, and physiological.  This is because essential oils have multifactorial effects, meaning the can effect more than one thing simultaneously.

In this soon-to-be released overview, I provide an explanation on their multiple effects including:

  • uplifting mood through their aromatic molecules
  • enhancing memory
  • supporting various organ systems
  • promoting bonding
  • enhancing positive habits
  • changing negative thought patterns and beliefs
  • … much more

I will be providing a link to access this writing for you when it is released.

In this latest blog series, I first review an easy-breezy biochemical decoding of some the brain’s most important signaling molecules, aka neurotransmitters, and their actions.

After you are “primed” with this understanding, I will next summarize from various research reviews and trials how essential oils modulate these brain chemicals and how this translates into supporting mental health.

Are you ready!?

Brain Signaling 101

Before we start exploring how essential oils “hack” our brain’s signals, we need to first understand what the heck these neurotransmitters are and do.

Yup, it’s time for a little biochem 101 review!

If even the thought of a chemistry periodic table of elements makes your breathing get shallower, no worries… take a sniff of lavender, relax, and pull up a cozy chair.

I’m keeping this low key.

It’s not like I am aiming to excite your glutamate receptors through enhanced NMDA signaling and causing the release of nitric oxide. 😉

Ok, I couldn’t resist, but you can ignore that previous sentence if you don’t appreciate a little geek humor.

Neurotransmitters- What Are They?

I found a great explanation, in lay terms, that explained all about neurotransmitters from Queensland Brain Institute in Australia. The website states the following about how these chemical messengers transmit their information across nerve cells (neurons):

Neurotransmitters are often referred to as the body’s chemical messengers. They are the molecules used by the nervous system to transmit messages between neurons, or from neurons to muscles.

Communication between two neurons happens in the synaptic cleft (the small gap between the synapses of neurons). Here, electrical signals that have travelled along the axon are briefly converted into chemical ones through the release of neurotransmitters, causing a specific response in the receiving neuron.

A neurotransmitter influences a neuron in one of three ways: excitatory, inhibitory or modulatory.

Neuromodulators are a bit different, as they are not restricted to the synaptic cleft between two neurons, and so can affect large numbers of neurons at once…

Most neurotransmitters are either small amine molecules, amino acids, or neuropeptides. There are about a dozen known small-molecule neurotransmitters and more than 100 different neuropeptides, and neuroscientists are still discovering more about these chemical messengers. These chemicals and their interactions are involved in countless functions of the nervous system as well as controlling bodily functions.


Bottom Line:

Neurotransmitters are signaling molecules that communicate to either excite, inhibit, or modulate (balance) a response between neurons (nerve cells). The effects are numerous and can be local or systemic.

Decoding Our Bodies Chemicals- Dr. Sarah’s NeuroTransit-Pedia©

I wanted to provide this for you to have greater depth of understanding of how various supplements, medications, or other interventions may affect your brain and nervous system.

As we go through the various essential oils and review how they “hit” different neurotransmitters this reference may come in handy.

Don’t panic!

The ultimate action will be revealed in the outcome of the study, so no need to memorize this.

Below in Box 1 is my little makeshift “NeuroTransit-Pedia”©

Essential Oils on the Brain (Chemistry): An Intro

Essential oils have been shown clinically to influence mood. Through inhalation of the aroma and volatile compounds, they can influence neurotransmitter release. (source, source, source, source, source)

In a 2018 review article that one could spend hours reviewing for kicks and giggles (guilty!), the pharmacological properties of essential oils and their compounds were explored for their mechanisms of action.

I will be reviewing this publication in more detail throughout my upcoming articles and will also highlight single oils and their actions.

As I stated in my previous article, there are many factors linked to how the brain functions and that no one intervention can be a “cure-all.” Still, it is my hope that in speaking the same “language” via “decoding” brain biochemistry, it may help to bridge the gap between communication of holistic and conventional health care providers and their clients. In this way, patients will benefit as their wellness providers unite as a team.

Stay tuned for an “exciting” ride!


Dr. Sarah’s NeuroTransit-Pedia©

Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter found in neuromuscular (between neurons and muscles) junctions and is linked to memory. It has various nervous and muscular effects. It was the first discovered neurotransmitter. (Aww….)

Aspartate is an amino acid that has been studied for its antifatigue effects, neural support, and immune actions.

Dopamine is linked to motivation and reward and purposeful movement. Its effects are beyond the neurological system.

y-aminobutyric acid (AKA GABA) and the amino acid glycine are the main inhibitory neurotransmitters. GABA contributes to motor control, vision, and other brain functions. Low levels are linked to anxiety.

Glutamate is the main excitatory transmitter in the central nervous system. It is associated with learning and memory.

Histamine is an amine that has many different systemic effects. These include immune functions, digestion, modulating  hormones, and brain signaling.

Noradrenaline (or norepinephrine) is the primary “stimulant” signal of the sympathetic nervous system. It also has systemic effects. These are equated to the “fight and flight” responses (i.e., upregulating blood pressure, heart rate, breath, etc.) which counter the “rest and digest” functions.

NMDA- N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) is associated with memory and learning and linked to glutamate as one of its receptors. Hypofunctioning of it can cause oxidative stress and has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

Serotonin (another monoamine) is used by a wide array of neurons. It is involved in mood, memory, digestion, sleep, pain, appetite, and more. Fun fact: the gut makes more serotonin than the brain.

Taurine is an amino acid that has multiple roles in the body and nervous system. It has been studied for heart health, blood sugar, endurance, energy, and more.

For more information, see Neurotransmission for Professionals (Merk)


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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.

Thanks Pixabay.

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