Aromatherapy Research Update: Essential Oils Can Help With Your Smarts
Scientific research regarding health and medical applications of essential oils is going on regularly at universities and other facilities around the world. Many of these studies are immediately applicable to aromatherapy practitioners for improved health and well-being, while others spark interest in the potential of essential oils as a part of future medicine protocols. Modern scientific research is regularly confirming aromatherapy's practical medical applications! Here's a look at two important journal publications just released about direct effects of essential oils in the brain, reviewed by the staff at Ananda Aromatherapy of Boulder, Colorado.
These two are really interesting studies, as inhalation of many essential oils have been considered sharpening to our mental capacities. These have been thought to be more esoteric effects of aromatherapy, like the aroma just makes us feel good so we are a little more mentally clear. Now some of the biochemical mechanisms of these effects are being elucidated, proving it's not just all in our minds! Rosemary and Lemon are two very common, inexpensive oils researched for their ability to directly impact test scores of university students (in Japan at least), and reduce errors made by office workers (also in Japan -- thankfully, Japanese scientists are into aromatherapy). These oils are readily available, inexpensive, safe, and can be used in nebulizing diffusers (which output therapeutic concentrations of essential oil vapor).
In the first study, performed at the Institute for Environmental Sciences at the University of Shizuoka Japan, Tarragon, Inula, Lavender and Holy Basil were tested for their ability to inhibit acetylcholinesterase (AChE) activity. In other words, their ability to prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, the primary information-handling neurotransmitter. Supplements with this action are becoming more and more popular with regular folks trying to increase their smarts, and are used to treat dementia (Alzheimer's) by increasing the amount of acetylcholine in the brain.
Of the essential oils tested, Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) produced in France had the highest inhibition of acetylcholinesterase, though all the oils tested showed significant AChE inhibitory activity. All the oils were analyzed by GC/MS to find the individual natural chemical constituents of the oils which produced this effect. Of real interest is that 1,8-Cineol had the greatest inhibitory activity of all the constituents examined. Why this this interesting? Rosemary essential oil has long been considered a mental stimulant (we find in the office to be particularly brightening) and has been studied for this effect, improving mental focus in humans through a variety of tests. The primary component of Rosemary essential oil is 1,8-Cineol (it is also a major constituent of Eucalyptus oils, used for invigorating massages and steam treatments).
Also of great interest was that the effect of these constituents relative to their amounts in the complete natural essential oil was not very high -- meaning the complete essential oil, with nature's balance of the chemical constituents, was synergistically more effective than the singly-extracted molecules. This is a theme in aromatherapy: that the complete natural essential oil will generally have more benefits than a single 'active ingredient' extracted in a laboratory -- Therapeutic grade oils are those that retain the natural balance of the plant's, with proper harvesting and distillation methods.
While a single chemical from an essential oil may show a specific effect in a biochemical pathway, these molecules don't smell very interesting. A really fine, wildcrafted Rosemary essential oil is a pleasure to breathe in. Other studies have shown stress reduction (along with mental stimulation) occurs when Rosemary is inhaled, and it's well known that our brains perform more accurately when not under stress. The bottom line is that while it's a regular practice for researchers to examine single components of a natural substance to find the 'active ingredient', in general in natural medicine, and in particular with aromatherapy, the whole natural extract will be better for our health.
The second study very much ties in with the first, as it demonstrates the ability of Lemon essential oil to directly prevent dementia (Alzheimer's). The causes of dementia are not well understood, though some pathways are clearly documented. Toxicity from certain chemicals may lead to a breakdown in neurotransmitter systems, resulting in dementia symptoms. In research performed at the Laboratory of Nutritional Biochemistry in Shizouka, Japan, Lemon essential oil was shown to inhibit memory impairment from scopolamine exposure, preventing dementia. AND, as a final note of the study, the combined primary constituents of Lemon essential oil were shown to inhibit acetylcholinesterase activity! Lemon essential oil both prevents dementia and increases acetylcholine stores in the the brain.
How can you benefit from these studies? The best method is to find a cold-air nebulizing diffuser. These employ no water or other carrier, and make a very fine mist of essential oils that easily evaporate into your room. These are the only diffusers that create high concentrations of essential oils in the air -- enough to show measurable biochemical effects. A 'warming' diffuser or other non-nebulizing style will allow you to smell the aroma, though the concentration will be significantly lower. At Ananda Aromatherapy we've been trying Lemon and Rosemary together, along with a little sweeter oil like cold-pressed Orange, Tangerine or Mandarin. Lavender or Ylang Ylang might go well with this too, for a calming effect at the same time. One can set the diffuser up on a timer so it runs ten minutes every hour and run it all during the day. The oils can always be changed to other 'brightening' aromas, as they will likely have similar effects -- getting the mind sharp and staying sharp!
*The FDA has not evaluated the statements on this website. The information presented here is for educational purposes of traditional uses and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases.