This article was written by my good friend Dr. Eric L. Zielinski who is in expert in essential oils.
How To Use Essential Oils For Brain Health
It has been said that someone will develop Alzheimer’s disease every 66 seconds in the United States. (1) When you combine the other forms of dementia, the global prevalence is every 3 seconds! This is a profound mystery to most scientists and varying theories have been proposed to explain this horrific epidemic. One theme that is central to most research studies is that brain health is rapidly declining across the board, and taking simple preventative measures is paramount.
But what about when dementia settles in? Is there anything that can be done to slow or reverse its progress? And, if so, are there natural solutions?
The quick answer is, “Yes,” and one of the hidden secrets you won’t hear much about at your doctor’s office is the power of essential oil therapy.
Essential Oils and Dementia
Dementia occurs when nerve cells in the brain become damaged. Recognizing that this affects several areas of the brain, most people experience it uniquely. Consequently, there are various types of dementia, which are generally categorized by two factors: the section of the brain damaged, and whether or not the condition worsens. Of all the different subtypes, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common in people over 65, and it’s interesting to note that research suggests essential oils can help Alzheimer’s patients considerably.
In one study, for example, aromatherapy was used with elderly people suffering from dementia, with the majority being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Every morning, the patients were given rosemary and lemon inhalations and then orange and lavender in the evening. Through multiple forms of analysis, it was uncovered that the “patients showed significant improvement in personal orientation” without any side effects. (2)
Professor of Neurochemical Pathology Elaine Perry has undertaken the momentous task of conducting a multicenter trial to give us some insights into how people with Alzheimer’s and related agitation are affected by aromatherapy. (3)
In Professor Perry words, “Controlled clinical trials of aromatherapy in dementia are being initiated because of promising results from open trials of historical medical remedies.” (3)
Yet, we don’t know exactly why. To simply say that essential oils “work” leaves much to be desired and, if aromatherapy is going to be widely accepted treatment to facilitate long-term brain health, we need to know more about the mechanisms of delivery.
How Do Essential Oils Affect the Brain?
This is not to say that we are completely ignorant of the “why” behind the power essentials oils have in helping maintain brain health well into the senior years. Yale Scientific describes what we know so far this way: (4)
- You smell an essential oil because tiny molecules are being dissolved in the mucus lining of the olfactory epithelium that is located on the roof of our nasal cavity.
- These molecules stimulate olfactory receptors, which trigger sensory neurons to carry signals from the receptors to the olfactory bulb that begins processing and filters the input signals of the essential oil scent.
- From there, mitral cells carry the output signals from the bulb to the olfactory cortex, which causes you to recognize and perceive the particular scent of the oil that you are smelling.
- Interestingly, the mitral cells not only lead to the olfactory cortex, but they also carry signals from the essential oil scent to other areas in the limbic system; the primal brain responsible for memory, instinct and mood.
- Most people don’t know this, but the olfactory system is the only sensory mechanism that involves the limbic system and amygdala in its primary processing pathway.
This connection explains why smell is often linked to memory. Take, for instance, how a certain perfume reminds you a long-lost love or how the aroma of apple pie takes you back to Grandma’s house. This also gives us some keen insight into why essential oils are so popular as a non-pharmaceutical intervention for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia!
However, the power of aromatherapy is debated in the context of these patients. The concern is that some patients with dementia have lost their sense of smell, which explains why some scientific studies suggest that lavender aromatherapy has no effect on agitation; while lavender skin lotion worked wonderfully to reduce aggression.
Best Oils for Optimal Brain Health
To help calm the over-stimulated brain, chamomile, frankincense, lavender and vetiver are popular essential oils.
To use them, simply:
- Add 4-6 drops of your favorite calming oil(s) in a water diffuser during the night to help get a better night’s sleep.
- Apply calming oils over specific trigger points on your body such as behind the knees, temples, and the wrists throughout the day. Always remember to dilute with a carrier oil to prevent burning or skin sensitization!
- Use an inhaler or wear an aromatherapy necklace with your favorite calming oils.
Because exercise has been shown to help slow down or reverse the damage done to brain cells, use can oils to boost athletic performance and to help get you in the mood to work out:
- Peppermint oil provides a nice boost in energy and increases oxygen capacity, both of which contributes to optimal brain health. It is also effective at relieving muscle soreness and is anti-inflammatory.
- Simply apply some diluted peppermint oil over your chest and onto the back of your neck before you exercise to stimulate blood flood and to open up your airways. More oxygen means more energy, and more energy means more exercise!
- Instead of the toxic creams on the drug store shelves, try applying some diluted peppermint over tired, achy joints. Wintergreen and fir oils are also very effective for helping with pain that oftentimes keeps people from exercising.
Oils That Can Help with Dementia
According to Professor Perry’s, some of the most relevant research and traditional uses for essential oils include a wide variety of applications and blends to help dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. Here are some key takeaways from her paper: (5)
- One study uncovered that use of lavender increased sleep patterns in dementia patients who were in residential care.
- In another trial, geranium, lavender and mandarin oils mixed with an almond oil base were applied to the skin of 39 patients that resulted in contentment, increased alertness, and sleeping at night; as well as reduced levels of agitation, wandering and withdrawal.
- In a recent trial of dementia patients, the use of several essential oils including ylang ylang, patchouli, peppermint, rosemary and others produced a significant decrease in disturbed behavior in the majority of patients. Fascinating, this led to a reduction in prescribed conventional medicines, thereby delivering cost savings.
- A blend of lavender, marjoram, patchouli and vetiver applied as a cream was shown to significantly increase the mental state of dementia patients.
Results of placebo-controlled clinical trials using Melissa (lemon balm) and lavender for the treatment of advanced dementia have shown that:
- Lavender and lemon balm aromatherapy increased communication and functional abilities, as well as decreased difficult behavior.
- Lavender aromatherapy and massage significantly reduced frequency of excessive motor behavior.
- Lavender aromatherapy can significantly reduced agitated behavior.
- Lemon balm lotion applied to the face and arms is highly associated with significant reductions measured on an agitation inventory and social withdrawal, together with an increase in constructive activities.
To piece this all together, always remember that many of these techniques are not fully tested, however they show much promise. Listen to your body and be aware of changes in your loved ones if you’re a caregiver and do whatever you can to support your own brain health.