Brain Overwhelm & Hormonal Havoc!
Stress is pervasive in everyday life. Not only is it becoming the “new normal,” but it is also becoming more constant. I have yet to find one client in my naturopathic and functional medicine practice that doesn’t mention this six-letter “s” word.
As a naturopathic and functional medicine doctor, I know that I can’t make stress disappear out of my clients’ lives, but I do aim to help them manage, respond, and perceive it in a more constructive way.
In my previous article, I reviewed some specific physical, hormonal, and emotional repercussions that can occur when the body is under constant, chronic stress. I explained how the resultant long-term hikes in the stress hormone, cortisol, can result in endocrine imbalance and lead to system breakdown. I also shared some natural ways to mitigate these issues and provided insight on why a women’s infradian, as well as circadian, rhythm needs to be honored. (Read the full article here.)
Along with unplugging and prioritizing rest for a “Brain Wash,” essential oils are another one of my favorite tools to balance cortisol and to rejuvenate and reset the hormonal and healing cascade.
Recently, I provided an overview on the general concepts of how essential oils mitigate the negative effects of emotional and physical overwhelm. Although the functional and physiological processes in the brain of an anxious person differs from someone under everyday or chronic stress, essential oils have the ability calm down the brain and rebalance mental biochemistry in both instances.
Now, in this post, I will continue with the topic by highlighting some of the best essential oils from the literature to decrease cortisol. Make sure you stay to the end, because I will give you feedback on how I use them personally with my clients in my practice!
Aromatherapy Starts at the Level of Perception
In my recent article, I discussed why zebras don’t get ulcers and why humans do. Although they are faced daily with literal life and death situations, the zebra can recover quickly from them. They have a perception that is somewhat Zen. These “striped horses” seem to just accept stress and are able to let it go and go back to grazing.
If it were that easy for humans!
Between nasty tweets, social media bullying, and work deadlines, running from a tiger doesn’t seem so bad for some!
The good news is that because essential oils work directly on our emotional brain, they can immediately shift our brain at the level of perception. This means we can be more “Zebra-like.” Specifically, essential oils’ aroma can hijack the negative cascade of stress at the source while their biological properties work in harmony to rebalance the nervous system and hormonal milieu.
One recent systematic review of 34 studies published in the Journal of Korean Academy of Nursing, demonstrated this. For the article, researchers evaluated the effects of aromatherapy on menopausal symptoms, perceived stress, and depression in middle-aged women. Twelve studies met inclusion criteria for methodology and were included for the final meta-analysis. There were two studies that included randomized trials. The results of the studies were reported as follows:
Aromatherapy massage was favorably effective in reducing the menopausal symptoms compared to the control group (n=118, MD=-6.33; 95% CI -11.51 to -1.15), and compared to the placebo group (n=117, MD=-4.14; 95% CI -7.63 to -0.64). Also aromatherapy was effective in reducing stress (n=72, SMD=-0.64; 95% CI -1.12 to -0.17) and depression (n=158, MD=-5.63; 95% CI -10.04 to -1.22).
The authors concluded, “There is limited evidence suggesting that aromatherapy for middle-aged women may be effective in controlling menopausal symptoms, perceived stress and depression.”
I respectfully disagree with the use of the word “limited.” It was only based on these 34 studies in a specific population. Though we do need more studies with women in clinical trials of aromatherapy, in general, we have plenty of evidence for the benefits of essential oils for stress and emotions.
Although most of the article is in Korean, if you are interested, you can find the list of essential oils and the randomized trials assessed in this pdf on pages 6-7. Of all the oils, jasmine oil was shown in a non-equivalent controlled group comparison trial to “control salivary cortisol levels.” Other essential oils reviewed were mostly used in combination. I listed the ones below that were found to alleviate depression and manage stress (note: chemotype and species weren’t indicated):
- Tea tree
- Ylang ylang
- Rose geranium
From Research to Applications in My Naturopathic and Functional Medicine Practice
In a previous article, I highlighted specific studies on clary sage, neroli, and jasmine and their effects on stress and hormones:
One small study with 22 menopausal women in their 50’s examined changes in neurotransmitter concentrations, cortisol, and thyroid stimulating hormone in relationship to inhalation of clary sage oil. The researchers found that inhalation of this oil decreased cortisol and increased 5-hydroxytrptamine (the monoamine, serotonin) as well as elevated mood.
In another randomized study of sixty-three healthy postmenopausal women, researchers found effects of inhalation of the essential oil of neroli to have positive effects on menopausal symptoms, stress, and estrogen levels.
A physiological and psychological effect was seen with jasmine oil as reported in the Journal of Health Research. Inhalation of jasmine caused an increase in beta wave power (indicating increased alertness) in the anterior and left posterior region of the brain when they tested 20 subjects with inhalation and measured the response 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).
In my practice, I generally stick with clary sage oil for modulating estrogen in postmenopausal women, or for younger woman with low estrogen levels. For those with neurological stress impacting hormonal symptoms, neroli and jasmine have proven helpful. Rose Geranium, along with lavender, are other favorite oils of mine to use in my practice when someone has anxiety-provoked hormonal imbalances.
For example, I’ve had women report that rose geranium, lavender, and ylang ylang, neroli or jasmine have helped tame mood imbalances and cramping in PMS. I’ve also had women in my practice state that their hot flashes diminished or disappeared using clary sage (sometimes it is blended with several oils I select specific to them).
The men in my practice have found lavender and ylang ylang oil soothing for their heart and stress levels.
Coming Up: More Essential Oils for Stress, Hormones, and Modulating Cortisol
In the next article, I will pour through more literature and highlight other oils that have been found to alleviate stress and modulate cortisol. I will also include once again how I incorporate them in my naturopathic practice. Stay tuned!
Please comment below and share your favorite essential oils for stress, hormones, and calming.
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.