Are you or your patients feeling unproductive, unfocused, and exhausted?
This shouldn't be a regular event.
Low energy, inattention, and poor motivation can have many causes. A thorough functional medicine is imperative to find the underlying antecedents, causes, and triggers.
Essential oils can be used in conjunction with any wellness plan for more vitality, focus, and brain power. Below is a list of my favorite mind-body benefiting essential oils that you may want to incorporate for better cognitive health and body rejuvenation.
My Favorite Essential Oils for Energy, Focus, and Cognition
Essential oils are not only supportive of emotional and mental health, but also cognition. This is because they impact the brain at the psychological, physiological, structural, functional, and biochemical levels. Essential oils are a perfect complement to naturopathic and functional medicine philosophy in that they are holistic, integrative, and honor the healing power of nature.
As you review those listed below, you will see that, just as with herbal adaptogens, these oils all share the ability to augment mental performance, but each also have specific characteristics and properties that are unique and additive to optimizing health.
It is important to remember that everyone’s nervous system, genetics, biology, and emotional response will interplay with their biochemical response to the oil. This means there are many different oils that could fit an individual’s needs and current situation. It also means that some are better suited for a person at a particular phase in their wellness journey.
Important Safety Consideration:
Now, before I get started, I must give my disclaimer:
“Although I provide tips for their use based on my experience in clinical practice, it is important to note that I use questionnaires and/or testing to assess hormones and neurotransmitters that impact which herbs (and oils) I select for my clients. I also ensure proper dosage and monitoring whenever I suggest a therapeutic modality.
These aspects are important, as any intervention can cause some side effects if dosages are not adequately accounted for or one’s nervous system responds negatively. Please make sure that you are also taking these factors into consideration, along with your healthcare provider, if you decide to implement any of these medicinal plants.”
That being said, it’s now time to dive into my top five single oils for focus.
My Top Five Single Essential Oils for Attention and Mental Alertness
1. Peppermint oil (Mentha piperita)
Peppermint oil is best known for how it supports the gut and digestion, but it also enhances exercise performance and attention.
For example, researchers of one small study with 30 healthy male university students randomly divided them into an experimental group of oral administration of peppermint oil (50 ul) and a control group. The study aimed to determine if ingestion of peppermint oil modulated physiological parameters and exercise performance after five minutes and one hour of administration. The authors measured maximum isometric grip force, vertical and long jumps, spirometric parameters, visual and audio reaction times, blood pressure, heart rate, and breath rate. The results revealed significant improvement in all the variables following peppermint essential oil consumption. *
Peppermint has also been shown to be helpful for focus. In one recent, small study it was reported that, “Both cinnamon and peppermint administration led to increased ratings of alertness, decreased temporal demand, and decreased frustration over the course of the driving scenario. In addition, peppermint scent reduced anxiety and fatigue.” (Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology. 2001.)
Finally, peppermint oil also has clinical evidence for relieving symptoms of IBS(Irritable Bowel Syndrome), which is often linked to cognitive and mood imbalances.
When I was in naturopathic medicine school, I was known for passing around a bottle of peppermint oil before exams. Every passerby knew when our class had a test, because the whole room smelled like a refreshing minty delight!!
*(50 ul is about 4-5 drops of essential oils, .05ml = .001 oz, 300 drops are in 15 ml of oils or .5 oz)
2. Rosemary Oil (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Rosemary oil has many studies on how it aids memory, cognitive performance, and is stimulating to the nervous system.
In a small study with 20 people assessing rosemary oil, researchers sought to confirm changes in the autonomic nervous system function using various measurements. Results confirmed, “the stimulatory effects of rosemary oil and provide supporting evidence that brain wave activity, autonomic nervous system activity, as well as mood states are all affected by the inhalation of the rosemary oil.”** (Int J Neurosci. 2003 Jan;113(1):15-38)
In another study that assessed rosemary with lemon oil, it was also found it may improve cognitive function in those with dementia. (Psychogeriatrics. 2009.)
Expert tip: If you are looking for its energizing properties, you would want to ensure the rosemary chemotype (a species’dominant constituents) contains higher amounts of 1,8 cineole and monoterpenes.
Safety Tip: There is some cautionary statements about using rosemary for high blood pressure. This may be true if blood pressure is linked to overstimulation of the nervous system. In this instance, ylang ylang may be a more calming choice.
3. Sage Oil (Salvia officinalis) and Spanish Sage (Salvia lavandulaefolia)
Sage oil has earned its namesake. It has been shown to assist with cognition and brain health in a variety of human trials.
One study assessed the mental benefits of Spanish sage in healthy subjects using a placebo-controlled, double-blind, balanced, crossover design. In this complicated trial, the subjects received more than one treatment dosage and had multiple measurements of the same factor. The authors concluded that memory retrieval was enhanced with the intervention, and the participants reported an improvement in alertness, mood, and cognition. (Physiol Behav. 2005.)
Several other small trials have also reported on the benefits of sage oil for these brain-boosting properties.
One study with 135 subjects assessed the aroma of Spanish and Common Sage in several conditions. The results indicated that memory, cognition, and mood were positively influenced by the odors, but that inhalation did not produce all the expected effects touted by its oral administration in the literature. It is important to note that this trial did not use an atomizer diffuser, but placed five drops of sage oil on a stone in 5ml of water. This could have accounted for weaker findings in some areas of the experiment. (Hum Psychopharmacol. 2010.)
A chart, found within a comprehensive review, summarizes many of the studies on sage oil. It can be found at doi:10.1007/s40268-016-0157-5.
4. Jasmine Oil
Jasmine oil is one oil that belongs in the acceptance blend I use with my clients, which is an important emotion when aiming to find support for concentration, paying attention, and staying balanced.
In a small trial with 20 subjects published in Journal of Health Research, it was found that inhalation of jasmine caused an increase in beta wave power (indicating increased alertness) in the anterior and left posterior region of the brain. This was measured with an EEG (electroencephalogram). Subjects also reported a greater feeling of well-being and were less drowsy when inhaling jasmine as compared to the resting and control condition (almond oil).
5. Citrus Oils
Citrus smells are well-known for their mood enhancing and nervous system balancing properties. Citrus oils have been found to relieve anxiety, enhance focus, and uplift the mood. They are one of my first choices for children to enhance attention and assist with completing school work.
One study aimed to determine if the scent of orange oil would alleviate fear in children about to undergo a dreaded dental procedure, as compared to an aroma-free environment. Its soothing effect was measured objectively via salivary cortisol and pulse rate and both were found to be positively affected. These researchers were therefore able to demonstrate not just a psychological impact, but the mind-body connection that makes essential oils so beloved! (Adv Biomed Res. 2013;2:10.)
Bonus for Burnout: Peppermint, Basil, and Helichrysum
In one small pilot study, a combination of peppermint, basil (CT linalool), and helichrysum inhaled from an inhaler was compared to a rosewater control to assess mental exhaustion (ME) and moderate burnout (MB). Measurement of effectiveness was based on a qualitative burnout on a scale of 1-10 and a stressor questionnaire. Researchers determined that “while both groups had a reduction in perception of ME/MB, the aromatherapy group had a much greater reduction.” (The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2013.)
Essential Oils that Relieve Stress & Balance Hormones
Essential oils such as lavender, bergamot, and patchouli are my “essential oil nervines” for calming nerves and modulating mood when focus and energy are needed for those who are on “overdrive.” If stress and anxiety are causing hyperexcitability and resulting lack of attention, these oils may be something to try. They have all been found to reduce cortisol and each have additional benefits on emotional and mental states that you can explore here: https://dr-lobisco.com/the-best-essential-oils-to-lower-cortisol-balance-hormones-and-help-reduce-stress/
Other oils that I have reviewed extensively that can modulate thyroid and hormonal status can also be considered. These would be the choice to assist with brain fog and other emotional issues linked to mental and physical fatigue relating to endocrine imbalances. (Find all topics on essential oils on my essential oils database at dr-lobisco.com)
Conclusion & Application
These oils can be incorporated into any wellness protocol that is assisting with cognitive and brain health. If one is burnt out and fatigued, the single oils and combinations may be your go-tos. If one is needing to calm down to focus, then the essential oils for relieving stress and balancing hormones may be the best bet.
Diffuse these oils or inhale them prior to any cognitive demanding task or to decrease mental fatigue. Most of them, except jasmine, can be ingested and applied topically, if one is versed in safe application and dilution.
Inhale and feel the difference instantaneously.
Learn more about the functional medicine approach to many other chronic health conditions, including complete courses by Dr. Sarah Lobisco on volatile oils and more, through the educational platform Functional Medicine & Nutrition Virtual Classroom with Dr. David Brady & Friends at OnlineCE.com/DrBrady.
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