Essential oils for a healthy brain

written by Anthony Zappia | WELLBEING COMMUNITY BLOGGER

Essential oils for brain health Credit: istock

So much of our daily lives and quality of life relies on the health of our mental faculties. And yet we are plagued at one end by mental fatigue, poor concentration and burn-out, and at the other with long-term degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Good news is that we can do something about it. Scientific research suggests there are a number of essential oils that can benefit our cognitive abilities and help us to maintain healthy brains. One lecturer in early childhood and special education studies, Professor Barbara Wilmes, has even gone as far as to suggest that educators should be using essential oils to boost learning in our classrooms. [1]

Thyme essential oil (Thymus vulgaris)

One of the primary structural components of the brain is a fat known as DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid). DHA belongs to the omega-3 group of fatty acids and is largely derived from fish oils. So yes, keep using the fish oil. Of the omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA are the most important to our brain and overall health. Did you know that thyme essential oil has been shown in research to dramatically slow down the degeneration of DHA in the brain?

In a study carried out in 2000, laboratory rats were fed a daily dose of thyme oil (42.5 mg/K of body weight over the course of their lifetime (around 28 months). When the data was analysed, it was found that DHA levels in the 28-month-old rat brains was the same as that of 7-month-old rats. Putting this in human terms, it would be the equivalent of an 80-year-old having the brain chemistry of a 20-year-old. [2]

Rosemary essential oil (Rosemarinus officinalis)

In a study carried out at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, it was found that participants felt “fresher” and more active after inhaling rosemary essential oil. [3] It was found that rosemary increased autonomic nervous system activity, reduced relaxing alpha 1 and 2 brainwaves and raised beta brainwaves. Another study in the UK found that smelling cineol (a compound that makes up 45 per cent of rosemary essential oil) improved recall of future events and tasks and mental arithmetic. [4] Cineol is also found in eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus), bay (Laurus nobilis) and sage (Salvia officinalis).

Lavender essential oils (Lavendula angustifolia)

One lecturer in early childhood and special education studies, Professor Barbara Wilmes, has even gone as far as to suggest that educators should be using essential oils to boost learning in our classrooms.

We know lavender oil helps relaxation, but studies show it can also help our cognitive abilities. In a 1999 University of Miami study, three minutes of aromatherapy were administered to 40 healthy adults. They found that subjects exposed to the aroma of lavender were not only less depressed but also scored higher on mathematical tests, performing faster and more accurately. [5] The subjects also exhibited increased beta waves in the brain and lower anxiety (For more information on Lavender, check out my post 20 ways to use lavender oil.)

Hinoki essential oil (Chamaecyparis obtusa)

The aroma of hinoki has been found to not only reduce anxiety and stress levels but also improve mental function, brain receptor activity, nerve cell
growth and slow down brain cell destruction in the hippocampus (the part of the brain involved in forming and organizing memory). [6] And with people suffering Alzheimer’s disease, studies have shown benefits in reducing memory problems. [7] (For more information on Hinoki, see my post Essential oils of East Asia)

Common cognitive ailments and suggested oils

The oils I’ve just referred to aren’t the only oils that can help us with ‘brain’ work. The following are some common conditions people face in their work and day-to-day life, and some suggested oils:

Absentmindedness: Peppermint, frankincense (Boswellia sacra or Boswellia carteri), rosemary, cardamom

Burnout and mental fatigue: A randomised, controlled double-blind study was carried out for three weeks using an essential oil blend made up of peppermint (Mentha piperita), basil (Ocimum basilicum) and helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum).[8] It was found that those who inhaled the blend experienced reduced mental exhaustion and stress. Other oils that are beneficial include frankincense (Boswellia sacra or Boswellia carteri), rosemary, vetiver and cedarwood.

Clarity: Peppermint, Lemon, rosemary, basil, frankincense (Boswellia sacra or Boswellia carteri), cardamom

Computer work: A study carried out in 2012 found that smelling the aroma of vétiver (Vetiveria zizanioides) in low doses, enhanced computer work and produced faster visual reaction times. [9]

Impaired concentration: Peppermint, basil, lemon, bergamot, rosemary, frankincense (Boswellia sacra or Boswellia carteri), dorado azul

Impaired memory: Peppermint, rosemary, cardamom, basil, vetiver, rose, lemon, lemongrass, helichrysum (supports neurotransmitter activity and can assist the body in chelating aluminium), lavender, rosewood, tangerine, spearmint, palo santo.

How to apply these oils

My usual caveat applies. ALWAYS make sure you are using pure, therapeutic-grade quality essential oils. If you’d like more information on these oils or you are interested in obtaining any of them, please contact us.

Till next time!

Disclaimer: Please remember that anything discussed here does not
constitute medical advice and cannot substitute for appropriate medical care. Where essential oils are mentioned, it’s recommended you use only pure, unadulterated therapeutic grade essential oils and follow the safety directions of the manufacturer.
[1] Coming to Our Senses: Incorporating Brain Research Findings into Classroom Instruction. Wilmes, Barbara Harrington, et al. July 2 2008
[2] Effect of thyme oil and thymol dietary supplementation on the antioxidant status and fatty acid composition of the ageing rat brain. Youdim K A, et al. British Journal of Nutrition. 2000 Jan;83(1):87-93.
[3] Effects of inhaled rosemary essential oil on subjective feelings inactivities of nervous system. Sayorwan W, et al. Sci Pharm. 2013 Jun; 81(2):531-42.
[4] Rosemary Oil Health Benefit: Smell Boosts Prospective Memory. Siddique, Ashik. Medical Daily, April 9 2013.
[5] Aromatherapy positively affects mood, EEG patterns of alertness and math computations. Diego M.A., et al. Int J Neurosci. 1998; (9):217-24.
[6] Effect on emotional behavior & stress by inhalation of the essential oil from Chamaecyparis obtusa. Kasuya H., et al. Nat Prod Commun. 2013 8(4):515-8
[7] Inhaled essential oil from Chamaecyparis obtusa ameliorates impairments of cognitive function induced by injection of amyloid. Bae D, et al. Pharm Biol. 2012 50(7):900-10.
[8] Effect of inhaled essential oils on mental exhaustion & moderate burnout: a small pilot study. Varney E, & Buckle J. 2013. J Altern Complement Med 19(1):69-71.
[9] Volatiles emitted from roots of Vetiveria zizanioides suppress decline in attention during visual display terminal task. Matsubara E, et al. 2012. Biomed Res 33(5):299-308.
Further Reading:

Coming to our senses: incorporating brain research findings into classroom instruction, Barbara H Wilmes, July 2 2008


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essential oils brain health blog



Anthony Zappia writes a regular blog about health and social issues, areas that he's passionate about. Twelve years ago he became especially interested in essential oils and their ability to enhance health and wellbeing. Anthony continues to follow the latest research and is himself a distributor of essential oils.