The effects of essential oils on the psyche have been known since antiquity. Consider that the aromatic substances, for example incense, in antiquity were used as calming agents to induce a state of fulfillment. Going back to ancient Greece, Galeno recommended the use of aromatic herbs against hysterical convulsions. The oracle of Delphi burned the laurel leaves and breathed the smoke to reach a state similar to the hypnotic trance, which put him in communication with the gods. In later times the aromatic woods were burned to hunt “the evil spirits”.


Can our emotions influence our state of health?

It is our way of thinking and feeling that determines the alterations of the immune system (emotions cause a release of hormones, and these can affect immunity). Brain and immune system communicate to each other. Neuro peptides, substances produced by the immune system and nerve cells, establish a two-way communication between the emotional brain and the various body systems through hormone feedback circuits. The limbic system (hypothalamus and pituitary), the spleen, the adrenal glands and the thymus are all endowed with nerve interconnections. So emotions are able not only to guide the body, but also to capture information and be modified by feedback from the body’s cells. Adrenaline and cortisol are two of the many chemical messengers whose release can be triggered by negative emotions associated with sudden or prolonged stress: these two hormones directly influence the immune system, overloading it. The adrenocorticotropic hormone suppresses the action of the pituitary by urging the adrenals to produce adrenaline, a stimulant of the autonomic nervous system. In the field of research in this field, the idea that emotional states can give rise to altered responses at the level of the immune system: negative thoughts and sadness, due to situations such as mourning or other types, has come a long way. of stress, sometimes they can weaken the immune defenses, at least temporarily. In short, the body translates impalpable thoughts and emotions into physical consequences, with the result of producing a beneficial therapeutic effect or inflicting damage on its own. As Plato said in the fourth century BC: one should not try to cure the body without the soul.

Can essential oils act on mind and emotions and therefore on our health?

Essential oils, in addition to having a physical impact as bactericides, anti-inflammatories, antifungals, appetite stimulants, hyperaemics, expectorants and so on, at the same time boast properties that can affect the mind and emotions by sedating, calming and improving mood. When the essential oils are inhaled, their volatile molecules are carried by the swirling current on the roof of the nose where delicate cilia coming out of the receptor cells are projected into the nasal cavity. When the molecules get caught, an electrochemical message is transmitted through the bulb and the olfactory tract of the limbic system (amygdala and hippocampus). This can arouse memories and emotional responses thanks to which messages cross the hippocampus, which acts as a link and moderator, directed towards other parts of the brain and the rest of the organism. The message received is converted into action, giving rise to a release of neurochemicals that are sometimes exhilarating, relaxing, sedative or stimulating. Michael Shipley, a neurophysiologist at the University of Cincinnati, showed that the olfactory nerve fibers carry impulses to two small but significant areas of the brain, the locus coeruleus and the raphe nucleus. In the first, noradrenaline is concentrated, in the second serotonin. It has been suggested that sedative essences such as Lavandula angustifolia, cause stimulation of the raphe nucleus, which releases the neurotransmitter serotonin; instead stimulating essences such as lemon essential oil (citrus limon) would affect the locus coeruleus, which releases noradrenaline. Lavender oil, useful in the treatment of insomnia, is largely made up of oxygenated terpenes, which interact with cell membranes to suppress the action potential of cells, which could explain the sedative effect.

Are there any scientific studies to support this essential oils action?

Fascination with possible effects on mood, attention, cognition and memory have led to more recent studies. For example, it was discovered that the essential oils of eucalyptus rich in cineol, but also peppermint (but be careful, not to be used under 12 years of age!) Have a stimulating type effect of the Central Nervous System: in inhalation and in ingestion has a positive effect on short term memory and its consolidation in long term memory. Lavandula angustifolia is well known for its calming effect and combines with other sedative remedies for insomnia, irritability, headaches and migraines, agitation, nervousness, depressed mood. Lavender has demonstrated anxiolytic, calming and sleep-enhancing activity, perhaps due to interaction with GABA-A receptors, and a general effect tending to depression of neurotransmissions. Furthermore, its calming properties increase the time required to perform mnemonic tasks, so it cannot be said that the oil helps in cognitive performance, but its effects on memory are more complex. If it is true that the calming action increases reaction times, it also allows you to respond to tests with better precision. It may be that lavender activity is linked to its ability to reduce anxiety and depression by influencing the processes of memory formation and consolidation. Lavender and sink (Lavandula x intermedia or hybrida) can be appreciated in synergy in our relaxing Gadoi mix, prepared by the expert hands of prof. Marco Valussi.

What, in conclusion, are the most promising applications?

Perhaps the most promising application of essential oils, as well as anti-infective oils, is, as part of a more general strategy for improving quality of life (which includes improvement of pain, sleep, anxiety, mood, etc.) through massage, inhalation and olfactory stimulation. In various other studies, lavender oil in the environment induces and improves sleep and increases the percentage of deep sleep in long-term and geriatric patients.

The sense of smell is of great importance in children with serious learning difficulties, especially if they are visually or hearing impaired. Essential oils, in addition to acting as pleasant stimuli, can facilitate the task of moving around the surrounding reality; if sprayed on objects, with their aromas they allow the child to recognize his personal effects, to orient himself between different environments and so on (Sanderson, Harrison, Price, 1991).

List of the most popular essential oils with clinical studies on the effects on the mind and nervous system:

  • affliction, sadness: incense essential oil, mandarin, bitter orange, Roman chamomile;
  • distress: officinal lavender, incense essential oil, ylang-ylang, Roman chamomile, bitter orange, sweet orange, lemon, mandarin, geranium, marjoram, savory;
  • soothing, relaxing: sweet orange, lemon, mandarin, cypress, officinal lavender;
  • depression: incense essential oil, ylang-ylang, Roman chamomile, bitter orange, cypressjuniper, officinal lavender;
  • migraine: lemon, officinal lavender, rosemary, marjoram, Roman and German chamomile;
  • insomnia: geranium, marjoram, ylang-ylang, bitter orange, Roman chamomile, lemon, sweet orange, mandarin, cypress, juniper, officinal lavender;
  • irritability: incense essential oil, cypress, officinal lavender, ylang-ylang, Roman chamomile, bitter orange, lemon, mandarin;
  • nervousness: ylang-ylang, bitter orange, sweet orange, mandarin, cypress, officinal lavender;
  • stress: mandarin, coriander, marjoram.

Dr. Laura Comollo

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