Everybody knows that brain health is essential for overall well-being. The brain is the control center of our body and if it starts misfiring, it means that all systems malfunction.
In the worst case, such cognitive meltdown can result in dementia, of which the most common form is Alzheimer’s disease. It is estimated by the Centers for Disease control and prevention (CDC) that one of every nine people aged 65 and older has Alzheimer’s. The disease is ranked sixth on the list of leading causes of death in the U.S. Unfortunately, the numbers are rising and the estimates are that there will be almost 14 million sufferers of Alzheimer’s by the year 2050.
Alzheimer’s disease is a condition characterized by degeneration and diminishing numbers of nerve cells in the brain’s cerebral cortex, or ‘control center’. Memory, reasoning, and language skills are just some of the functions controlled by this region of the brain and this is why sufferers can lose their fondest memories and fail to recognize their closest loved ones, which causes immeasurable heartache for sufferers and their families alike.
At the present time, there are no drugs that have proved effective in alleviating the symptoms of Alzheimer’s (or other kinds of dementia) or the progression of the disease, which means prevention is the only way to go.
And, although there is no guaranteed strategy to prevent dementia, you can at least give it a shot by leading the healthiest lifestyle you can. This means eating a healthy diet which is rich in whole foods, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, healthy fats and proteins (including essential omega-3) in combination with exercising regularly and getting quality sleep every night.
In addition to these important factors, there are also certain essential oils that have been linked to promoting cognitive well-being which are worth trying, not just to prevent dementia but also to help improve mood, memory and wellbeing in general.
1 Sage and Spanish sage
This fragrant herb has been valued for generations for its positive effects on mind and body, especially for memory improvement and nervous system functioning, and was featured in United States Pharmacopoeia between 1840 and 1900.
The effects of sage (Salvia officinalis) and the related Spanish sage (Salvia lavandulaefolia) on memory were tested in a 2010 study then published in Human Psychopharmacology. The study tested 135 healthy volunteers who were grouped and given aromas of sage, Spanish sage, or no aroma to inhale and then tested on mood and cognition.
The authors of the study reported that the first group performed significantly better than the third, control group, on tests of memory quality and secondary memory outcome factors. The measuring of alert mood showed significant differences between the first two aroma groups and the third no aroma group.
An earlier study, conducted in 2005 and publish in Physiology and Behavior, reported that the two herbs of the sage family have a lengthy history of being used to enhance memory as well as having cholinergic properties which could be relevant to amelioration of cognitive deficits linked to Alzheimer’s. The researchers gave the 24 participants Spanish sage in doses of 25 microl, 50 microl, or zero (placebo) and then gave them tests that measured their mood and cognitive abilities.
The authors recorded that those administered S. lavandulaefolia in both dosages showed consistent improvement on the factor ‘speed of memory’ and also on the ‘secondary memory’ factor for those getting the 25 microl dose. Enhanced mood was noted, as well as increased self-evaluated ‘calmness’, ‘contentedness’ and ‘alertness’ after the dose of 50 microl, and ‘calmness’ after the dose of 25 microl.
The authors of the study added that the results provide further evidence of the mood and cognition modulation properties of Salvia, as well as suggesting that earlier reports of memory enhancement could be due to an improvement in efficient retrieval of target material.
Another essential oil with healing properties is peppermint (mentha piperita), which is used not only to freshen breath, relax muscle tension and improve digestion but also may help in improving memory.
One 2008 study published in the International journal of Neuroscience tested the effects on mood and cognition of essential oils of both peppermint and ylang ylang on 144 volunteers. They were administered aroma of peppermint essential oil or ylang ylang or no aroma respectively.
The authors of the study noted that peppermint enhanced memory and ylang ylang impaired it and made the processing speed longer. Regarding subjective mood, they found that peppermint increased alertness whereas ylang ylang decreased alertness but increased calmness significantly.
We can conclude that essential oil of ylang ylang is wonderful to relieve stress and promote relaxation, among other things, whereas peppermint has the ability to increase mental clarity and improve memory, both of which are vital aspects of cognitive health.
Lavandula angustifolia is one of the best essential oil aromas for mild sedative properties, as well as being the gentlest and great for relieving stress. In addition, lavender essential oil has been shown to boost mood and alertness.
The many properties of lavender as well as earlier research on its neurological effects, were surveyed in a 2002 study and published in the journal Phytotherapy. The study’s authors reported that the association between aroma of lavender and positive emotional states have been noted and that people who received inhalations of lavender oil (10%) for three minutes scored greater relaxation, decreased anxiety, better mood and increased alpha power in EEGs, which is an indicator of increase in drowsiness.
The authors added that a study conducted in NSW, Australia gave dementia patients in a day care center 10 to 15 minutes’ massages with a mix of lavender and two other oils and noted significant improvement in all measured areas, including feelings of wellbeing, decreased aggression and anxiety, increased alertness and better sleep patterns. Kilstoff and Chenoweth, 1998
Increased alertness and stress relief are both key factors for cognitive health, since stress (especially chronic stress) can result in inflammation throughout the body, paving the way for various chronic illnesses, including those affecting the brain.
Make essential oils part of your everyday life
The first thing to do if you want to take advantage of the benefits of essential oils is to talk to a natural health professional that you trust, because although they are natural, the oils are still highly concentrated and extremely potent and should be used judiciously.
The health professional can advise you on the uses of each of the essential oils and develop an individual health plan for you which includes what to use and how much and how often to use it, in the safest and most effective way.
Another important thing to pay attention to is choosing the best quality, therapeutic –grade essential oils because there are many low quality and ineffective oils out there. So do some research before ordering and buy from responsible, respected sources with satisfied customers.
There are different ways to use essential oils. Aromatherapy is a great one and you can put a few drops in the diffuser to get the aroma all around the room or your meditation space.
Some of the essential oils can be mixed with a base oil (organic coconut oil) and applied to pressure points, for massage, or even taken internally as long as you have discussed their use with a health professional. Take care that the oil is food-grade in addition to being therapeutic-grade if you are planning on taking it internally.
Essential oils alone cannot guarantee cognitive well-being, but together with a healthy diet and lifestyle, they can definitely provide a welcome boost!