How To Use Essential Oils For Brain Health

ROSS-Bailey-headshot

by Ross Bailey


There is an abundance of studies that show just how ‘essential’ many essential oils are for maintaining a healthy brain, healing injury, and improving cognitive performance. With this in mind, wouldn’t it just make “scents” to incorporate essential oils into your regular health regime, or combine them with other home remedies for brain health?

What’s that savory smell in the air…? Is it coming from the flowers in the corner of your room or kitchen table? Or perhaps a soft breeze slowly drifted to your nose through the window above your herb garden…

Whatever the source, it is well known that many plants have unique scents and other distinguishable properties that create sensation within our nervous systems. Over time, we have been able to capture the natural essences of plants and preserve them in oils to create a number of sweet-smelling products. Essential oils have been used for aromatherapy and topical remedies for thousands of years, but recently, supplements containing essential oils from natural plant sources have also begun to grow in popularity.

two small essential oil bottles with a larger one in the back and natural herbs

The natural essences from plants can be captured within oils to confer many benefits for our health.

Essential Oils Affecting Brain Health

Essential oils have traditionally been used to promote health and wellness, and now, we have started to learn more about their benefits when it comes to the health of our brains. So just how might essential oils be used in conjunction with your supplements to quite literally improve your state of mind?

Well, let’s explore how essential oils can play various roles in our brain health with the following six topics:

  • Essential oils for brain function
  • Essential oils for brain injury
  • Essential oils for concussion
  • Essential oils for brain fog
  • Essential oils for focus and concentration
  • Essential oils for memory retention

Essential Oils for Brain Function

Oral supplementation of peppermint oil has been suggested to energize our bodies and improve exercise performance (1), in part, through increased blood flow throughout our bodies and to the brain. With increased blood flow to the brain comes increased functionality! This works in a similar fashion to how our brain reacts to exercise. It is well known that exercise is great for your brain’s health and function. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, thereby conferring a number of benefits to the brain, helping us to feel more energized in general.

Organic spearmint/peppermint essential oils have also been shown to improve performances in cognitive tests (2), as well as reduce the mental fatigue associated with performing long bouts of mentally enduring tasks. It is thought that the increased mental performance is related to improved neuronal excitability and regulation of the metabolites involved in stimulating brain synapses.

Essential Oils for Brain Injury

Injury to the brain can be life changing, and symptoms of brain injury can act as a barrier to engaging in a healthy lifestyle. One of the common symptoms of brain injury is inflammation.

Essential oils have been traditionally inhaled to help to reduce the effects of the pain-inflammation cycle that appears following brain injury. Studies have come to show that this may be due to the characteristic ability for essential oils to pass through the blood-brain barrier (3) with relative ease. This allows the oils to reach the site of injury and reduce the inflammation more effectively. Dr. Axe (4) writes that Frankincense is an essential oil that is great for reducing inflammation (along with improving a cohort of other health outcomes).

Healing is improved by increasing blood flow and oxygen to the site of injury. This increased blood flow and provision of oxygen to the affected tissue (such as a bruised brain) helps to filter out the byproducts that contribute to inflammation. Essential oils promoting blood flow to the brain may, therefore, help to reduce the symptoms brought on by inflammation in the brain after injury.

A variety of articles (5) indicate that Frankincense, along with other essential oils such as Melissa, Myrrh, Cedarwood, and Clove contain an oxygen-carrying molecule that assists in the healing process.

Essential Oils for Concussion

Concussions are one of the most widely discussed forms of brain injury. Following an injury to the head, a concussion can leave people with several symptoms including headaches, lack of focus or attention, and dizziness. Improved techniques for treating concussions have begun to spread quickly, especially over the last several years. Current standards (6) are to rest and avoid any activity that may worsen symptoms. This can include things such as heavy exercise, looking at screens or other mentally engaging activities.

As with any injury to the body, blood flow is key to improve recovery rates and in the healing process. Again, Frankincense may be a great option to include in your wellness plan to improve blood flow to the brain and flush out the metabolites that can cause the symptoms associated with concussion. Lavender oil is also recommended (7) for use as it promotes rest and relaxation which is key in recovering from a concussion.

WOMAN WALKING IN FIELD OF LAVENDER

Lavender has been widely studied for its effects promoting rest, relaxation and sleep

Essential Oils for Brain Fog

Brain fog is considered to be a symptom of inflammation of the brain or other forms of injury (such as a concussion). A study concluded that people often describe brain fog (8) with terms such as “forgetful”, “difficulty focusing, thinking and communicating”, as well as “cloudy” (promoting that foggy mental imagery). Triggers (9) of these symptoms seem to stem from fatigue, lack of sleep, prolonged standing, dehydration and feeling faint.

With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that essential oils that promote sleep and rest can be beneficial for improving the effects felt from brain fog. Combining lavender oil with sleep hygiene (10) has been shown to promote sleep quality and quantity, and thus may show some benefit for reducing brain fog through reduced fatigue. Interestingly, it was also found that the combination of the essential oil and practicing sleep hygiene was more beneficial to improving sleep quality and duration than by just engaging in sleep hygiene habits alone.

Essential Oils for Focus and Concentration

In a world filled with information and distraction, there are days where we could all use a little more focus and concentration. Essential oils have been historically used to promote focus and concentration by helping to regulate our nervous systems. This can be achieved by either calming and slowing our minds down or by speeding them up.

As with any aspect of a healthy lifestyle, maintaining balance is key. Using essential oils to either stimulate or relax the mind to improve focus and concentration should be practiced in moderation. Think of it as you might with caffeine: having an early morning cup of coffee can help to focus your mind, but having too much caffeine can also cause your mind to figuratively bounce around from topic to topic in your head. Similarly, a brain relaxant such as camomile tea can work in the opposite way, where you can hone your thoughts by relaxing your mind, but at the same time, consuming too much can also put you to sleep!

The aromas of various essential oils can impact our nervous system compared to odorless solvents. For instance, pepper oil, estragon oil, fennel oil, and grapefruit oil have been shown to increase sympathetic activity (11) compared to placebo. With a controlled increase in the activity of the brain, we can process information at a more effective rate, thereby improving cognitive performance.

Calming the mind and reducing the activity of the nervous system can also help to improve concentration and focus. Vetiver oils have been studied (12) to help improve the focus of children in classrooms who display attention deficit behaviors.

Rosemary oil has also been shown to improve cognitive function (13) where the greater the concentration of its molecules in the bloodstream, the quicker and more accurately participants were able to complete cognitive tasks.

MAN LOOKING OUT OVER MOUNTAINS

Essential oils can have many benefits for the brain including improved focus and concentration.

Essential Oils for Memory Retention

As a part of the cognitive function, we often use memory as a basis for measuring brain health.

The good news is that essential oils have been studied for their use to improve memory!
One study demonstrated that sage oil supplements were found to improve word memory (14) in young adults. Another study (15) showed that Acori graminei rhizoma oil improved memory and learning (as participants made fewer mistakes on memory based tests) by modulating certain hormones and chemical messengers in the brain.

It is also believed that Anthriscus essential oils can reduce the effects of memory impairment (16) after inhalation, and therefore the essential oils may be useful in the application with conditions such as Alzheimer’s.

Essential Oils: Just think about it!

In summary, essential oils are the captured essences of various plants that have been combined with an oil to carry the sweet-smelling compounds. They have traditionally been used as part of aromatherapy and topical oils, but supplements containing these essential oils have begun to grow in popularity.