Since it is Valentine’s Day weekend, I’m inspired to write about the impact that love and connection have on health outcomes! Being the nerd that I am, I’ve been reading some of my favorite newsletters and articles that have used this heart-loving holiday to provide more evidence on the power of how our mind influences our body (and vice-versa). Now, it’s my turn.
The Body-Mind Connection
I’ve written in the past about the gut-brain connection. Due to the fact that our gut is truly a “second brain” that is responsible for production of 95% of the neurotransmitter serotonin and also 60-80% of our immune system, when it is imbalanced, we can shift from biochemical harmony to systemic havoc. This means that the food we eat and how we process and absorb its various nutrients impacts not only our digestive health but also has far-reaching implications on our other body systems, including our brain.
Furthermore, food is not just energy or calories. It is information that enters from our external environment to be digested and processed by our gut and its critter inhabitants. The result of this assimilation provides metabolites that can modulate our genetic expression and health outcomes from the cellular signals they affect. This is the science of nutrigenomics and epigenetics, and various research articles have shown how different supplements, dietary protocols, and lifestyle choices modulate health risks. Although we can’t change our DNA, we can affect what chapter this “book of life” will be read.
This means eating a processed, chemical-ridden food diet can result in systemic inflammation, oxidative stress, and a leaky gut. This leads to an inflamed body and moody brain. In a positive spin, eating a nutrient-dense, whole food organic diet can provide our body with powerful nutritional information that makes our gut bugs happy and creates system-wide optimization from our brain to our bellies.
The Essential Oil- Gut-Brain Connection
One way to support our gut-brain is providing our body with nutritious foods. For example, phytonutrients can impact cellular signaling pathways. Besides our diet, essential oils can also provide phenolics and other substances that also positively support our brain, microbiota, and body health.
In fact, I just recently discussed how essential oils can prevent critter invasion in our bellies as they calm our mind.
The Mind-Body Connection
So, our bodies affect our brains. Furthermore, various studies have shown that our emotions also impact our health. Here are a few examples:
1. Emotional Style & Health Outcomes
One study demonstrated that positive emotional style predicted resistance to illness from exposure to rhinovirus and influenza. (1) Other studies have linked positive emotional styles to cardiovascular (2) and mortality outcomes.(3)
2. The Impact of Stress
One review demonstrated how psychological stress, as well as metabolic stress, created a “recipe for accelerated aging.” Specifically, the review linked chronic stress to overeating, and the author reported:
Both stress response and the accumulation of visceral fat can promote a milieu of systemic inflammation and oxidative stress. This biochemical environment appears to be conducive to several cell aging mechanisms, mainly dampening telomerase and leading to telomere length (TL) shortening and cell senescence. Immune cell telomere shortness is linked with many chronic disease states and earlier mortality. In this way, chronic stress may influence a variety of diseases through a biochemical cascade leading to immune cell senescence. (4)
3. Perceived Social Connection and Health
Various studies have demonstrated that our relationships, or lack of them, can affect our health outcomes as much as stress and emotional style.
For example, one study demonstrated that “warm partner contact” modulated the stress response and decreased the negative cardiovascular effect as measured by blood pressure:
The authors investigated the relationship between brief warm social and physical contact among cohabitating couples and blood pressure (BP) reactivity to stress in a sample of healthy adults (66 African American, 117 Caucasian; 74 women, 109 men). Prior to stress, the warm contact group underwent a 10-minute period of handholding while viewing a romantic video. Followed by a 20-second hug with their partner, while the no contact group rested quietly for 10 minutes and 20 seconds. In response to a public speaking task, individuals receiving prestress partner contact demonstrated lower systolic BP diastolic BP, and heart rate increases compared with the no contact group. The effects of warm contact were comparable for men and women and were greater for African Americans compared with Caucasians. These findings suggest that affectionate relationships with a supportive partner may contribute to lower reactivity to stressful life events and may partially mediate the benefit of marital support on better cardiovascular health. (5)
Furthermore, two other studies made my inner nerd absolutely giddy with delight when they demonstrated how social regulation and isolation impacted gene expression! (6-7)
The first study utilized an in vivo genomics-based strategy to identify genes that are differentially expressed in the immune system of people who experience chronically high levels of subjective isolation (loneliness). They demonstrated impaired transcription (gene expression) of glucocorticoid response genes (stress hormones) and increased activity of pro-inflammatory pathways. This provided an association of elevated risk of inflammatory disease in those individuals who experience chronically high levels of subjective social isolation. (6)
The second study identified changes in cellular immune responses (dendritic and monocyte cells) in subjectively lonely individuals, which can lead to diminished health outcomes. (7)
The Essential Oils Mind-Body Connection
Due to the fact that essential oils are volatile compounds, inhaling them can provide almost instantaneous responses in our moods and perceptions. I’ve listed several in my previous articles and, perhaps lavender is the most studied for emotional regulation. Here’s a link to more. (I can relate to the use of lavender for test jitters!)
One interesting 2010 article reviewed three trials with an oral form of lavender essential oil against placebo and in comparison to a medical intervention:
We review the data on the efficacy and tolerability of silexan, a novel preparation from lavender oil for oral use, in the treatment of anxiety disorders and related condition with particular attention to subthreshold generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Three randomized, double-blind clinical trials were identified which investigated the efficacy of silexan in subsynromal anxiety disorder (vs. placebo; 10 weeks’ treatment), in GAD (vs. lorazepam; 6 weeks), and in restlessness and agitation (vs. placebo; 10 weeks) according to DSM-IV and ICD-10 criteria. All trials assessed the participants’ anxiety levels using the Hamilton Anxiety Scale (HAMA). Across all trials 280 patients were exposed to silexan 80 mg/day, 37 were treated with lorazepam 0.5 mg/day and 192 received placebo. Average within group HAMA total scores at baseline ranged between 24.7 and 27.1 points. Patients treated with silexan showed average HAMA total score decreases by between 10.4 ± 7.1 and 12.0 ± 7.2 points at week 6 and by between 11.8 ± 7.7 and 16.0 ± 8.3 points at week 10. In GAD silexan and lorazepam showed comparable HAMA total score reductions (90% CI for mean value difference: -2.3; 2.8 points). (8)
Most people can boost their healthy lifestyle choices by incorporating essential oils into their body-mind and mind-body regimes. If you want to learn more about specific ways, listen to my recent podcast with two nutrition geniuses and/or some of my previous interviews.
- Listen to my Interview with Ben Greenfield on Everything You Need To Know About Essential Oils (For Subscribers)
- Getting Started with Essential Oils- Interview with Lucas Rockwood on YogaBody Naturals Podcast
- Listen to me on Dr. Holly’s Radio MD show – “The Many Benefits of Peppermint Oil”
- Download Live Teleseminar Recordings on Essential Oils (For Subscribers)
Disclaimer: This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic, Grade A essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been AFNOR and ISO standardized. There is no quality control in the United States and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only 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.
This information is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness
References & Sources
- Cohen S1, Alper CM, Doyle WJ, Treanor JJ, Turner RB. Positive emotional style predicts resistance to illness after experimental exposure to rhinovirus or influenza a virus. Psychosom Med. 2006 Nov-Dec;68(6):809-15. Epub 2006 Nov 13.
- Boehm JK1, Kubzansky LD. The heart’s content: the association between positive psychological well-being and cardiovascular health. Psychol Bull. 2012 Jul;138(4):655-91. doi: 10.1037/a0027448. Epub 2012 Apr 16. .http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22506752#
- Maruta T, Colligan RC, Malinchoc M, Offord KP. Optimists vs pessimists: survival rate among medical patients over a 30-year period. Mayo Clin Proc. 2000 Feb;75(2):140-3.
- Epel, E. Psychological and metabolic stress: A recipe for accelerated cellular aging? Hormones. 2009; 8(1):7-22. http://www.hormones.gr/503/article/article.html
- Grewen KM1, Anderson BJ, Girdler SS, Light KC. Warm partner contact is related to lower cardiovascular reactivity. Behav Med. 2003 Fall;29(3):123-30
- Cole W, Hawkly LC, Arevalo JM, Sung C, Rose R, Cacioppo JT. Social regulation of gene expression in human leukocytes. Genome Biology. 2007; 8:R189. doi:10.1186/gb-2007-8-9-r189.
- Cole, S. Transcript origin analysis identifies antigen-presenting cells as primary targets of socially regulated gene expression in leukocytes. PNAS. January 2011; 3080–3085, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1014218108
- Kasper S1, Gastpar M, Müller WE, Volz HP, Möller HJ, Dienel A, Schläfke S. Efficacy and safety of silexan, a new, orally administered lavender oil preparation, in subthreshold anxiety disorder – evidence from clinical trials. Wien Med Wochenschr. 2010 Dec;160(21-22):547-56. doi: 10.1007/s10354-010-0845-7.
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