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10 Ways to Heal the Brain with Essential Oils

By Jodi Cohen

A side view of a man's head with a brain and red dots.

Essential oils are ideal for delivering the right remedy to the right region of your brain as their unique chemistry allows them to both easily cross the blood brain barrier and permeate the cells of your brain tissue.

Historically, it has been challenging to get the right remedy into the right region of the brain as your blood brain barrier prevents most remedies from accessing your brain.  For example, many chemotherapy drugs cannot cross the blood-brain barrier to reach tumor cells in the brain.

This is a well-documented problem in conventional medicine.  Research has noted that “the Blood Brain Barrier represents a significant impediment for drug delivery due to its structure and functional complexities.  Safe, site-specific, and efficient delivery of compounds to CNS disease sites remains a singular goal in achieving optimal therapeutic outcomes to combat neurodegenerative diseases.”


How Essential Oils Cross the Blood Brain Barrier

The blood brain barrier (BBB) is a highly selective, semipermeable border comprised of endothelial cells wedged extremely close together that protect your brain from potentially dangerous agents that could disturb brain function. The tight gap between the cells of your BBB, known as tight junctions, allow only small molecules, fat-soluble molecules, and some gases to pass freely through the capillary wall and into brain tissue.

Essential oils are both fat-soluble and comprised of extremely small molecules, making them an ideal remedy to access and heal regions of the brain affected by physical toxins and emotional and mental stress. 

The molecular components that make up essential oils are so small that they’re known as volatile and aromatic. This is because essential oil molecules are so small – approximately 40 million-trillion molecules in one drop – that they literally circulate in the air where our noses detect them as smell.


How Inhalation of Essential Oils Works

It is through your sense of smell (part of your olfactory system) that essential oils can directly access the brain.  After all, olfactory cells are brain cells and the olfactory membrane is the only place in the body where the brain is directly exposed to the environment.

blood brain barrier, x-ray of brainYour olfactory channel is also a more accessible way to access the brain.  While your blood-brain barrier is approximately 8 cells in thickness, the number of cells constituting a layer around your olfactory nerve is only 4 to 5 cells thick.  This is the reason inhalation is sited as the most efficient channel into the brain.

In fact, the cells of your olfactory membrane are brain cells.  Your olfactory membrane is the only place in your body where your central nervous system is exposed and in direct contact with the environment.

When you inhale essential oils through your nose, the odor molecules are dissolved into the mucus lining of your nasal cavity where they stimulate your olfactory receptors.  This stimulation triggers your sensory neurons to carry signals to other parts of your olfactory system.

More specifically, the odor signals are carried to your olfactory cortex and the limbic area of your brain. As you may know, your limbic system serves as the control center in the brain for your emotions, feelings and psychological responses, along with hunger, thirst and sex drive.  This helps explain how scent can influence appetite and sexual attraction.

Your limbic system includes your amygdala (associated with emotions), hypothalamus (regulates autonomic nervous system and hormones), and cingulate gyrus (regulated blood pressure, heart rate, and attention).  It also impacts long-term memory through our hippocampus which stores our memories.  The hippocampus is the area of the brain at play during those powerful experiences of smell triggering emotions or memories.

This powerful emotional reaction in the limbic system is triggered by nerve impulses which in turn trigger other areas of the brain that are responsible for secreting hormones, neurotransmitters and regulating body functions.  For example, the pituitary gland releases endorphins, which can help alleviate pain and promote a sense of well-being.

Essential oils can stimulate or sedate the brain to promote or inhibit the production and release of various neurotransmitters which then impact the nervous system.  This makes essential oils especially powerful tools for dealing with emotional challenges, like anxiety, depression, fear, worry, grief, trauma, anger and self-abuse. As you may know, emotions and thought patterns can trigger an ongoing stress response in the body (since our stress response cannot differentiate between physical or emotional and thought driven stressors) which impedes our ability to heal. Smelling essential oils can be a powerful tool for moving through and releasing these thought patterns.

Interestingly, the olfactory system is the only sensory mechanism that involves the limbic system and amygdala in its primary processing pathway. Our other four senses — taste, sight, touch and hearing — are first routed through the thalamus before reaching designated areas of the brain. This is why essential oils can be so effective in shifting negative thoughts and emotions and improving mood.


How Essential Oils Penetrate Brain Cells

Essential oils are lipophilic (fat-friendly), allowing them to pass through cell membranes and brain cells, which are also comprised primarily of fat.  This is because cell membranes are composed of a phospholipid bilayer which allows fat soluble molecules to diffuse into the cell.

Research shows that essential oils easily penetrate cells and act on both the cell wall and within the cell, “causing alterations in its structure and functionality. This could explain why essential oils are generally most effective.”

Research also shows that the human brain is nearly 60 percent fat.   Fat soluble molecules, like lipid soluble hormones (think sex, steroid and thyroid hormones), can pass through the primarily fatty cell membrane of your brain cells and penetrate deeply you’re your brain tissue.

I believe this is one of the reasons that fat soluble substances like essential fatty acids (EFAs) and liposomal remedies, like liposomal melatonin, are more easily assimilated and effective at accessing and activating the brain.

The brain is primarily fat and fat likes fat.  This is the principal behind oil pulling. When you swish the oil around in your mouth, the fatty membranes of bacteria are drawn to the fat in the oil like a powerful magnet.


10 Ways Essential Oils Work in the Brain

Essential oils work on both a physical and a mental and emotional level, both physically healing the brain and shifting emotional and mental stress that throw the brain out of balance.


1. Detoxify the Brain

Essential Oils can help your brain detoxify toxins, such as viruses and heavy metals, by helping to open the physical channels in the brain to allow the toxins to mobilize and drain from your brain.  For example, your brain is dependent on sleep to detoxify. While you are sleeping,  the metabolic activity of your brain goes up about 10 times.  Research shows that the neurons in the brain actually shrink by about 60% to make room for the movement of cerebrospinal fluid through our brain to remove toxins and deliver oxygen and nutrients.  The lack of restful sleep allows these toxins to build up and accumulate, potentially leading to neural damage and degeneration.

Your brain also drains toxins while you sleep through a mechanism known as the glymphatic system, or glial-dependent lymphatic system, which moves cerebrospinal fluid across your brain tissue in a sweeping motion around your neurons, and then exits along your veins.   Read More about Essential Oils to Detoxify the Brain HERE.  Topically applied essential oils help the brain detoxify during sleep.

Circadian Rhythm®:  Triggers the pineal gland to release Melatonin, a key hormone to help us fall asleep.  Melatonin also serves as a powerful antioxidant and a potent detoxifier for your brain, helping your brain detoxify from viruses, as well as heavy metals such as lead and cadmium and potentially mercury.

Lymph™ The lymphatic system needs to be functioning optimally in order for toxins to be removed from the brain.  If you think of the body like a hydraulics system where congested tissue downstream prevents optimal flow upstream, congested lymphatic vessels in the neck will impede drainage of toxins from the brain.  To enhance lymphatic flow and drainage, generously apply Lymph™ around the sides of your neck.

Parasympathetic® Your glymphatic system moves alongside the arteries and then drains alongside the veins. So if you have congestion or inflammation in this tissue or in the veins in the neck, that can impair the drainage of toxins from the brain.    Topically applying Parasympathetic® blend on the vagal nerve behind the on the neck can help clear infections and help reset the autonomic nervous system for optimal drainage from the brain.

2. Calm Brain Inflammation

Brain inflammation is a protective measure that keeps your brain safe from toxicity and infections.  Your brain inflames itself as a way to re-balance, reset and heal.

Unlike an inflamed body part, your brain may not feel physical pain when it’s inflamed. Instead, the brain communicates inflammation in the way it makes you feel.  When the brain is inflamed, it slows down its processing speed which in turn slows down your processing speed and your ability to focus.

Brain inflammation can originate from gut inflammation that triggers chronic inflammation in the body and brain or an injury, like a TBI, which activates the inflammatory response in the brain.

Unfortunately, there is no off switch for brain inflammation so this can contribute to systemic inflammation and damage the blood brain barrier

Plant based remedies, like CBD oil and essential oils, can serve as the off-switch for brain inflammation, effectively calming inflammation within the brain so that the BBB can heal.  Read More about Calming Brain Inflammation with Essential Oils HERE and HERE.

Essential oils to calm brain inflammation include:

Frankincense™, which contains high levels of sesquiterpenes, known to help heal the brain.

Anti-Inflammatory™:  can be topically applied to regions of the brain to help turn off brain inflammation so the gut and the body can communicate and heal when applied at the base of the skull (very bottom of the hair line), behind ears and the back of the head.

Parasympathetic®:  Stimulating your vagus nerve stimulation with Parasympathetic® blend  helps reduce the over-production of the chemical messenger that causes chronic inflammation. Read More about Improving Parasympathetic Tone to Reduce Inflammation HERE.  Topically applying Parasympathetic® blend on the vagal nerve behind the on the neck can stimulate your vagus nerve and reduce brain inflammation.

3. Heal Vagus Nerve Toxicity

Your vagus nerve is your primary channels for sending messages to and from your brain to your body.  It start at the base of your brain, travels down both sides of your neck and connects with every organ of digestion along with your lungs, heart, spleen, intestines, liver and kidneys.  Your vagus nerve impacts your immune system, mood, digestion, memory, cognitive function, ability to detoxify and plays a critical role in the body’s ability to maintain homeostasis and health.

If the vagus nerve isn’t functioning optimally your health will suffer as toxins won’t drain from the brain and downstream organs won’t receive optimal brain signals,  leading to poor nutrient absorption, constipation or leaky gut.

It is not surprising, thererfore, that Dr. Dietrich Klinghardt finds Vagus Nerve Toxicity in over 90% of his chronically ill patients.  Vagus Nerve Toxicity can be caused by microbes in the mouth, like heavy metals, pathogens, infections, viruses or toxins from dental amalgams, infected root canals,  or cavities in the jaw bone, that drain into the neck near the vagus nerve and get stuck due to neck congestion.  They can then move in the nerves toward the brain stem where they can impact other brain nerves, like the vagus nerve.  Read More about Vagus Nerve Toxicity HERE.

Stimulating the vagus nerve with Parasympathetic®  (behind the ear lobe on the mastoid bone) can help manually override impaired function and help reset the autonomic nervous system.  The key ingredients in the Parasympathetic® blend are clove oil which is highly stimulatory and lime oil which has super small molecules, making it easily accessible through the skin.  Clove oil is especially effective for detoxifying the vagus nerve as it has long been used in the mouth to heal dental infections.  Clove is a powerful anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal agent, making it an especially powerful tool for helping to heal vagus nerve toxicity that can result from dental toxins.  Read More about How the Parasympathetic State is Critical for your Health HERE.

4. Improve Circulation in Your Brain

Your brain needs healthy circulation to deliver oxygen and nutrient rich blood.  Healthy circulation also carries toxins and waste down your neck and out of your brain to be eliminated from your body.

An easy way to assess healthy circulation is to look at the circulation of the distal extremities like your brain.  For example, lack of brain endurance can be attributed to poor circulation.

While your brain needs a healthy supply of blood in order to function properly. When blood circulation to the brain becomes sluggish, it can impact your mental abilities, including your ability to focus and concentrate.  This has to do with both the poor delivery of oxygen to the brain and the poor drainage of toxins from the brain.   When blood circulation to the brain becomes sluggish, it can impact your physical and mental abilities, including your ability to focus and concentrate.  Poor circulation in the brain can also contribute to fatigue, vertigo, dizziness, memory loss, and frequent and unexplained headaches.

Any kind of injury to your brain, including concussions and TBIs, require good circulation to enhance healing.  Your brain is your most vertical tissue and the forces of gravity make it even more challenging to enhance circulation especially during an injury.  Finally, your lymphatic system also piggybacks on the circulatory system. If blood flow is stagnant, toxins don’t drain.

Essential oils can help improve circulation by relaxing the blood vessels and improving the health of the blood vessels.  This helps more blood circulate through them, improving circulation in the process.  Essential oils can also be used to help the veins contract, stimulating blood flow.  Essential oils may also help alleviate some of the triglycerides that can form and restrict blood flow.  Read More about Essential Oils for Circulation HERE.

Circulation™ blend in particular is formulated to support healthy circulation to deliver oxygen and nutrient rich blood to the body and the brain, while simultaneously carrying toxins and waste to the kidney and liver to be eliminated.  Apply 2- 3 drops on the sides or back of the neck, over the left clavicle, on the wrists or ankles to promote circulation and greatly accelerate the healing process.

5. Supporting Immune Function

Essential oils are anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-infectious, anti-microbial, anti-parasitic, anti-viral, and antiseptic, making them natural immune boosters,  which can be especially helpful  in battling bacteria and viruses in both your body and your brain.

Essential oils can also be used to turn on your immune processes, allowing your body to fight pathogens, bacteria, fungus, parasites, viruses and infections.

Brain related stress depresses the immune system (Read More HERE).   When the body goes the “fight or flight” survival mode, it prioritizes fighting to survive in the current moment over fighting infections and depresses immune function.  Dropping into the Parasympathetic® state (by applying Parasympathetic® behind the earlobe on the mastoid bone) turns on your immune system.

When out of balance, the immune system can either over-react to normally innocuous stimuli, often resulting in food intolerances or auto immune conditions, or underreact, allowing opportunistic pathogens and chronic infections to flourish.

Essential oils have long been recognized for their immune modulating properties.  Read More about Immune Modulation HERE. Specifically, blends like Immune Support™ strengthen the immune system against infections, viruses, bacteria, fungus, parasites, and microbes. To prevent illness or nip it in the bud once it starts, apply Immune Support™ 2- 3 times daily on the throat (diluted) or the bottom of the feet.  Similarly, stimulating the thymus by gently tapping on the gland (thymus thumping) or using Thymus™ essential oils is thought to increase the release of white blood cells.   And supporting your Lymph™  system supports your immune response by both bringing nutrients to and helping to clear toxins and waste from every cell in the body.  Liberally apply 2 to 3 drops of Lymph™ to both sides of the neck, the lymph nodes under the arms, and around inguinal ligament (bikini line area—think where your leg creases when you lift it) to ensure optimal drainage and health.  Finally, research shows that the limonene found in Lime essential oil (an ingredient in the Parasympathetic® blend) is known to stimulate the production of glutathione, which helps regulate your immune system.

6. Calm your Endocrine System

Stress triggers your hypothalamus to initiate a hormonal stress response in your endocrine system.    Your hypothalamus is a pearl size region of the brain located just above your brainstem that controls all hormonal messages for your endocrine, stress and digestive systems.

Your hypothalamus synthesizes and secretes certain hormones that control your body based on information received from different internal and external stimuli.  For example, your hypothalamus takes in the information, and then sends out appropriate hormonal signals to bring your body back into balance.

Unfortunately, chronic and prolonged stress or toxicity can compromise the ability of your hypothalamus to receive clear signals – think of a poor cell phone connection – which then compromises its ability to send out the appropriate hormonal signals in response.

All of your endocrine glands, including your adrenals, thyroid, sex organs and pancreas, await the management of your hypothalamus.  You see, your hypothalamus is constantly monitoring your organs and your endocrine system’s levels of hormones in order to release the appropriate hormones in response.  For example, when your hypothalamus gets the signal that the right volume of the stress hormone cortisol has been released, it sends the signal to stop releasing additional cortisol. If your hypothalamus is compromised in its ability to receive the signal that sufficient levels of cortisol have been reached, this can in turn throw off the signals sent to your adrenals, causing them to continue releasing excessive cortisol.

When looking to repair exhausted adrenals, it is important to balance your hypothalamus along with your adrenal glands. To help return the hypothalamus to the balance, apply 1 drop of Vibrant Blue Oils Hypothalamus™ to the forehead right above the third eye (right above the nose between eyebrows and hairline) up to 6 times daily.

7. Balance Your Stress Response

Stress is any reaction to a physical, emotional, psychological or environmental stimulus that triggers the release of adrenal hormones. Since our bodies prioritize a stress response over all other bodily systems, including digestive and immune function, a chronic or prolonged stress response can throw all other systems out of balance and lead to degeneration and disease. Simply put, a body in stress cannot heal.

The first step in your body’s stress response is the  activation of your Sympathetic survival “fight or flight” state, which effectively turns off everything not relevant to immediate survival, including digestion, detoxification and immune function.  In the sympathetic state, blood flow is routed away from your organs of digestion toward muscles in your arms and legs in preparation for flight.  The sympathetic state also increases your heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate.  Ideally, your body switches into this survival state during the period of danger, then switches back into the “Rest, Digest and Heal” Parasympathetic State after the danger has passed.  Unfortunately, you may get stuck in the sympathetic where your body remains in the high alert stress state.  The solution is to help your body switch back into your parasympathetic “rest, digest and heal” state.  This can be accomplished by stimulating the vagus nerve on the side of your neck behind your earlobe with a stimulatory blend of essential oils like Parasympathetic®.  Apply Parasympathetic® oil to the vagus nerve to stimulate the Parasympathetic® nervous system and balance your stress response.

8. Release Melatonin

Melatonin is the key hormone to help you fall asleep.  It is typically released by your pineal gland in response to darkness, but modern toxins and artificial lighting can impede this release.  In addition to helping you sleep so our glymphatic system can operate, melatonin also serves as a powerful antioxidant and a potent detoxifier of the brain.  Melatonin can help the brain detoxify from viruses, as well as heavy metals such as lead and cadmium and potentially mercury.

Circadian Rhythm® blend can be applied around the base of your skull (apex of head, above ears and back of head) to help trigger the natural release of melatonin.

Access to a parasympathetic state allows for relaxation, quieting of brain chatter, and deeper levels of sleep.  During sleep, your sympathetic nervous system—the fight-or-flight system— relaxes, and blood pressure falls, muscles relax and skin vessels dilate, warming the body.  If your Sympathetic nervous system is active, it can negatively impact your circadian rhythms, which interferes with sleep. Using Parasympathetic® blend during the daytime can help your body drop into the parasympathetic state.  That said,  Parasympathetic® blend can be stimulatory and is not advised for usage immediately prior to sleep.  Circadian Rhythm® blend is the best choice for calming the mind before sleep.

9. Enhance Mood

Essential oils are powerful tools for lifting your mood, especially as they can cross your blood brain barrier and impact your limbic system which controls feelings of depression, anxiety and stress.

Research shows that inhaling essential oils, like Lavender™ and Rose™, can stimulate your brain to release neurotransmitters (like serotonin and dopamine) that help regulate mood and manage anxiety.

Similarly, essential oils can be strategically applied or inhaled to alleviate anxiety and panic attacks.  My friend and colleague, Dr. Titus Chiu teaches that anxiety can be triggered by over-activity and dominance of the right hemisphere of the brain which can contribute to heightened emotions and anxiety.  Dr. Chiu recommends inhaling an essential oil, like Lavender™ or Parasympathetic®,  through the left nostril to stimulate the left frontal lobe.  This can create balance between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, which then leads to feelings of calm.  Read More about Essential Oils for Anxiety HERE.

Essential oils were also found to be “as an effective therapeutic option for the relief of depressive symptoms in a wide variety of subjects,” according to the National Institutes of Health Systematic Review on The Effectiveness of Aromatherapy for Depressive Symptoms.  A similar study found that treatment with the fragrance of citrus oils can be “more effective than antidepressants.”

Essential oils for depression were found to help lift depressive symptoms and elevate mood, especially when applied topically.  Essential oils can be used to relieve some of the psychological and physical symptoms linked with depression, such as improving sleep, reducing anxiety and enhancing mood.  Read More about Essential Oils for Depression HERE.

Some of the best essential oils for lifting your mood include  Parasympathetic® (to stimulating the calming “rest and digest” parasympathetic state,  Adrenal® (to calm the release of stress  hormones that can trigger anxiety symptoms), Calm™ (formulated with calming oils like Tangerine, Orange, Ylang Ylang, Blue Tansy and Patchouli), Lavender™ (known for its ability to calm the nervous system and relieve stress),  Rose™ (renown for alleviation of anxiety, stress, and depression),  Orange™ (a powerful anti-depressant that allowed study participants to “markedly reduce the amount of anti-depressants they took”), Frankincense™ (enhances mood and calms the limbic system, which in turn calms anxious thoughts and feelings) and Uplift™ (formulated with uplifting oils of Frankincense, Blue Tansy, Roman Chamomile, Ylang Ylang, Lime, Mandarin, Lavender, and Rose)

10.  Release Negative Emotions

Your thoughts and emotions have a significant impact on your health.  This is because stressful thoughts or emotions trigger a stress response in the body. And a body in stress cannot heal.   In order to heal, you need to release negative thought patterns and emotions that keep you locked in a chronic state of stress.

In Chinese medicine, negative emotions are believed to cause a disruption in the body’s energy system, often in connection to certain meridians and organs in the body. The word emotion includes the word motion, signifying that emotions are meant for us to experience and move through.   When we lack the tools or the support to move through these emotions or thought patterns, they can get trapped in the body as concentrated and condensed fields of energy, often in the corresponding organ area, disrupting the body’s innate intelligence and energy flow.  That said, releasing those emotions and thought patterns can often help heal the associated organ.

Essential oils can be powerful tools to help release and heal unresolved emotions. The sense of smell links directly to the amygdala in the Limbic Lobe of your brain, which stores and releases emotional trauma. Smell has a direct route to the limbic system, as it is physically located near the olfactory bulb, and often can mobilize long forgotten memories and emotions.

The following essential oil blends were designed to support the gentle release of emotions. Just as when you detoxify your liver, it is not enough to simply mobilize the toxins. You need to ensure that they leave your field and it is recommended that you take physical binders (Read More HERE) to eliminate the emotional toxins from your physical and emotional space.

You may also combine the essential oils with affirmations, and tapping with fingers on specific Chinese acupuncture meridians associated with key organs (Available Here) to help release and repair emotional blocks, diminishing the pattern of the negative emotions and thoughts and replacing them with more positive options. This helps to balance the nervous system and enhance and open our energetic field for optimal healing and vibrant health. 



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About The Author

Jodi Cohen

Jodi Sternoff Cohen is the founder of Vibrant Blue Oils. An author, speaker, nutritional therapist, and a leading international authority on essential oils, Jodi has helped over 50,000 individuals support their health with essential oils.