Recently, I was published in Natural Path with a two-part series entitled, “Medicating Stress & Depression Away: Search for the ‘Dr. Feel Good’ Pill.” On my homepage, I took a step-back from my article series on hormonal health and essential oils and reviewed these articles. I expressed the urgent need to find solutions that address the root cause of mental disorders on an individual basis, versus patching our problems with pills that manipulate our biochemistry.
I highlighted “how lifestyle medicine and essential oils can support the interplay of the infinite factors involved in brain health and emotional balance.” I also listed my past articles and resources on using essential oils for brain health, one of my favorite wellness tools. You can find the article reviews and resources here.
In this post, I will highlight more research on using essential oils for low mood.
A Twelve Study Review of Essential Oils for Mood
A 2017 systematic review examined twelve randomized studies to assess the efficacy of aromatherapy for depressive symptoms. Five of the studies included inhalation and seven used massage. Outcomes were based on scales of measuring mood symptoms, though the specific assessment tools varied.
The authors wanted to determine how essential oils, volatile and aromatic compounds, would influence the already established link between the brain and olfaction. They stated:
Since essential oils are lipophilic, they can easily be carried to all organs in the body . In inhalation aromatherapy, the inhaled air containing essential oils can not only reach the circulation system via the blood capillary network in the nose and the bronchi in the lungs but also stimulate brain areas directly via the olfactory epithelium [44, 48]. Essential oils trigger mechanisms in the brain via the olfactory system. The mechanism of action of essential oils administered by inhalation involves stimulation of the olfactory receptors cells in the nasal epithelium, about 25 million cells, connected to the olfactory bulb. After stimulation, the signal is transmitted to the limbic system and hypothalamus in the brain through the olfactory bulb and olfactory tract. Once the signals reach the olfactory cortex, release of neurotransmitters, for example, serotonin, takes place which results in the expected effect on emotions related to essential oil use [49–51].
The summary of study methods was explained as follows:
Essential oils were mainly used pure, diluted, or in a mixture of 2 or more essential oils at a particular ratio. The selection of the essential oils used was determined by the aromatherapist, the effect on physical and physiological states, subject’s preference, or safety for use during pregnancy while other studies did not mention in the methodology section the rationale behind the essential oils chosen nor specify the type of essential oils used. The most commonly used essential oils were lavender in 8 studies [18–20, 22–24, 28, 29].
For inhalation, methods of administration differed mostly by distance between the nose and aroma. The amount of oils ranged from 3,5, and 8 drops and 20-50 minutes of inhalation. Various techniques for massage were also noted and sessions ranged from 1 to 56.
Although there were limitations of the studies due to the differences in testing, the authors stated that aromatherapy had a potential option to support symptoms of low mood:
Conclusions. Aromatherapy showed potential to be used as an effective therapeutic option for the relief of depressive symptoms in a wide variety of subjects. Particularly, aromatherapy massage showed to have more beneficial effects than inhalation aromatherapy… (source)
More Studies with Essential Oils and Mind-Body Support
Individualized studies have also examined the promising effects of the mind-body synergy of essential oils for mental and emotional distress.
In one trial with eighty-two participants, the effectiveness of aromatherapy was measured for older people with chronic pain. The subjects were divided into the intervention group with aromatherapy and a control group. Their levels of pain, depression, anxiety, and stress were assessed prior to the intervention and after the four-week experiment. The authors reported:
There was a slight reduction in the pain score of the intervention group. No significant differences were found in the same-group and between-group comparisons for the baseline and postintervention assessments. The depression, anxiety, and stress scores for the intervention group before the programme were 11.18 (SD 6.18), 9.64 (SD 7.05), and 12.91 (SD 7.70), respectively. A significant reduction in negative emotions was found in the intervention group (P < 0.05). The aromatherapy programme can be an effective tool to reduce pain, depression, anxiety, and stress levels among community-dwelling older adults. (source)
In another study with 40 Korean arthritis subjects, researchers sought to determine the effect of aromatherapy on pain, depression, and feelings of life satisfaction. The essential oil blend was a diluted 1.5% potency in a carrier oil of almond, apricot, and jojoba oil containing lavender, marjoram, eucalyptus, rosemary, and peppermint in proportions of 2:1:2:1:1.
The authors stated:
Aromatherapy significantly decreased both the pain score and the depression score of the experimental group compared with the control group. However, aromatherapy didn’t increase the feeling of satisfaction in life of the experimental group compared with the control group…
The result of this study clearly shows that aromatherapy has major effects on decreasing pain and depression levels. (source)
In another study, “Effects of olfactory stimulation with rose and orange oil on prefrontal cortex activity,” evidence was provided that the scent of essential oils modulated brain response. Specifically, rose and orange oil were found to decrease oxygenation to the “executive part of the brain,” making it less active and enhancing relaxation. The authors stated:
The study participants were 20 female university students (mean age 22.5±1.6 years). Olfactory stimulation by rose or orange oil induced: (1) a significant decrease in oxyhemoglobin concentration in the right prefrontal cortex and (2) an increase in “comfortable,” “relaxed,” and “natural” feelings.
CONCLUSION: These findings indicate that olfactory stimulation by rose or orange oil induces
physiological and psychological relaxation. (source)
Finally, in a review article of bergamot essential oil (BEO) that included human, rodent, and petri dish trials, the authors concluded:
Clinical studies on the therapeutic applications of BEO exclusively focus on the field of aromatherapy, suggesting that its use can be useful for reducing anxiety and stress. (source)
You should always speak to a health care practitioner if you are struggling with depression and/or mental health issues that are affecting your quality of life. Many people may benefit using essential oils for everyday mood support due to the synergistic actions of essential oils on the body and mind. Not only are they relaxing, but there is science and clinical trials to support their efficacy. More research is continuing to accrue about their gentle and complex power in bringing the body back to a state of equilibrium.
I have written several articles in the past regarding the healing benefits of essential oils and their multifaceted actions on our biochemistry, physiology, and psychology. These three synergistic impacts allow for holistic support for mood imbalances and their physical manifestations.
I heard a speaker on the Chronic Lyme Summit 3 state that where nutraceuticals and medications could be compared to cross-fit, essential oils are more yoga.
I can say that with my clients and personally, I have witnessed wonderful mind-body results!
The Effectiveness of Aromatherapy for Depressive Symptoms: A Systematic Review. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine : eCAM. 2017;2017:5869315. doi:10.1155/2017/5869315.
Aromatherapy: Does It Help to Relieve Pain, Depression, Anxiety, and Stress in Community-Dwelling Older Persons? BioMed Research International. 2014;2014:430195. doi:10.1155/2014/430195.
[The effects of aromatherapy on pain, depression, and life satisfaction of arthritis patients]. [Article in Korean] Taehan Kanho Hakhoe Chi. 2005 Feb;35(1):186-94.
Complement Ther Med. 2014. Dec;22(6):1027-31. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2014.09.003.
Frontiers in Pharmacology. 2015;6:36. doi:10.3389/fphar.2015.00036.
Many blessings from my heart to yours!
This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
Disclaimer: This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
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