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Essential Oils for Brain Inflammation

by Jodi Cohen

“Natural compounds that can cross the blood-brain barrier are the most effective agents for neuro-inflammation.”  – Datis Kharrazian

I have always known that plant oils, like essential oils and CBD oil, served as the off-switch for brain inflammation and have long suspected that polyphenols, a category of plant compounds present in some essential oils, played a key role in the anti-inflammatory cascade.

At The Forum For Integrative Medicine (TFIM) conference this weekend, Dr. Datis Kharrazian validated my hypothesis, noting not only that “natural compounds that can cross the blood-brain barrier are the most effective agents for neuro-inflammation,” but also that aromatic organic compounds known as polyphenols were that natural constituent that were able to cross the blood brain barrier and calm brain inflammation.

Essential oils are powerful source of polyphenols. The molecular weight of polyphenols allows them to rapidly diffuse across cell membranes to access and heal the brain.


What Are Polyphenols?

Polyphenols are a category of chemicals that naturally occur in plants, herbs and spices. In addition to giving plants their color and taste, polyphenols help protect plants by supporting their structure and ability to heal.

For example, Polyphenols can act as antioxidants, meaning they can neutralize harmful free radicals that can contribute to cellular damage and increase your risk of conditions like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. (Study)

Aromatic plants – and the essential oils derived from these plants – are characterized by the presence of plant phenolic compounds have been shown to possess multiple pharmacological activities.

Research shows that phenolic compounds modulate inflammatory pathways, noting that “Spices are known to possess a variety of antioxidant effects and other biological activities. Phenolic compounds in these plant materials are closely associated with their antioxidant activity, which is mainly due to their redox properties and their capacity to block the production of reactive oxygen species… Many of the spice-derived compounds which are potent antioxidants are of great interest to biologists and clinicians because they may help protect the human body against oxidative stress and inflammatory processes.”

The following categories of polyphenols can be found in essential oils.

Flavonoids account for around 60% of all polyphenols. Essential oils of Thyme and Basil are high in flavonoids (Study). Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, bergamot and grapefruits contain numerous flavonoids (Study)

Phenolic acids account for around 30% of all polyphenols. Phenolic compounds of plants are responsible for their antioxidant activity. Phenolic antioxidants “stop” free oxygen radicals and free radicals formed from the substrate by donating hydrogen atoms or electrons. Many plant species and aromatic plants have been tested because of their antioxidant and antiradical activities.

Phenolic acids are found in spices, such as cinnamon, ginger, clove, thyme and oregano. Many herbs, such as oregano, rosemary, parsley, and basil, are also rich in this type of antioxidant.

Other examples of phenolic acids include stilbenes and lignans, which are mostly found in fruits, vegetables, and seeds essential oils like Cumin, Angelica seed, Celery seed, Cardamom, Nutmeg, Fennel, Anise, Dill, Caraway and Cucumber Seed.  Seeds are some of the best sources of lignans. For example, research on essential oils, phenolics, and antioxidant activities of different parts of cumin found that “the major phenolic compound in the roots was quercetin (26%).”


Bio-Availability of Polyphenols

“Polyphenols only become active when they are converted to metabolites by enzymes in the microbiome. They are not able to cross the blood-brain barrier until they are metabolized by the microbiome metabolites,” according to Dr. Kharrazian.

We know that fermenting vegetables as well as soaking and sprouting grains and nuts makes the nutrients more bio-available.  During the digestive process, friendly gut bacteria ferment plant fiber in your colon, metabolizing short chain fatty acids (SCFA) that serve as the main source of energy for the cells lining your colon and promote the development of a robust immune system and balancing parasympathetic and sympathetic activity.

These SCFA  — including butyrate, propionate and acetate  — are known as post-biotics because anytime the microbes in your gut digest food and create a new active ingredient, that new active ingredient is called a post-biotic, or more bio-available version of the plant.

The process of distilling essential oils similarly makes the plant more bio available. Dr. Terry Wahls encourages clients to consume 200 different plant species every year to help increase plant diversity and the resulting health benefits.  She includes essential oils along with all the different vegetables, spices, and teas as sources of plant diversity.

Research shows that herbal medicines such as essential oils promote probiotics and inhibit pathogens. “The ability of herbal medicines to directly inhibit gut microbiota species can be easily understood as many herbal compounds such as essential oils possess microorganism killing activities. Herbal medicines can also directly promote the growth of some gut microbiota species by acting as prebiotics.”

Herbal medicines contain carbohydrates – such as pectin, resin and fiber that ubiquitously exist in herbs – that can be utilized for production of SCFAs.  In fact, SCFAs are important metabolites of herbal medicines which are one of the reasons they work so well.

Research keeps validating that “herbal medicines and herbal formulas (like essential oil blends) are capable of reversing the abnormal gut microbiota composition in diseased humans.”  The therapeutic effects of herbal remedies modulate your gut microbiome, enhancing beneficial metabolites like SCFAs and inhibiting opportunistic pathogens.


Anti-Inflammatory Essential Oils

Plant compounds like polyphenols and flavonoids, have been shown to improve blood flow to the brain and reduce inflammation in the brain (Study). The process of distilling these concentrated plant essences into essential oils makes them more accessible to the brain to help calm brain inflammation.

In particular, the following essential oils that are included in the Anti-Inflammatory Blend may be used to reduce inflammation and encourage regeneration in the inflamed tissue of the blood-brain barrier.

Ginger essential oil prevents chronic joint inflammation, helps bring heat, and stimulates circulation, which helps calm inflammation and pain. Research found that Ginger may suppress inflammation. The beneficial effects of ginger polyphenols have been extensively reported in research such as “Assessing the Effects of Ginger Extract on Polyphenol Profiles”

The anti-inflammatory effects of ginger are often attributed to secondary metabolites, like essential oils and gingerols. Research has found that ginger essential oils can be joint protective in an experimental arthritis model.

An additional study of 140 participants found topically applied ginger essential oil “significantly reduced low back pain and disability”.

Ginger oil reduced the production of proinflammatory constituents released during respiratory infections in vitro.938

An in vitro study reported that ginger essential oil exerted anti-inflammatory effects by inhibiting lipoxygenase enzymes as well as quercetin. Lipoxygenase enzymes are involved in the development of breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers when overexpressed. The research discovered that ginger oil reduces inflammation by preventing the migration of excess leukocytes from the blood to tissues. Leukocytes travel to the site of damaged tissue to encourage tissue repair; however, when they migrate excessively to the area it causes an abnormal inflammatory response. Animal research demonstrates that ginger essential oil prevents chronic joint inflammation in a model of rheumatoid arthritis, but does not affect acute joint swelling.

Grapefruit The limonene present in grapefruit helps to reduce inflammation and regulate the production of inflammatory cytokines.  Grapefruit also contains high levels of bioactive flavonoids like  naringin, which demonstrate anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic, lipid-lowering, and antioxidant activities according to research published in Oxid Med Cell Longev. titled “Bioactive Flavonoids, Antioxidant Behavior, and Cytoprotective Effects of Dried Grapefruit Peels”.  The Research notes “data suggest that grapefruit peel has considerable potential as a source of natural bioactive flavonoids with outstanding antioxidant activity which can be used as agents in several therapeutic strategies.” Flavonoids were observed in the oil glands of citrus peels ( Essential oil are found mainly in the oil glands)

Frankincense oil has long been heralded for its anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting, and pain-relieving properties. Research shows frankincense, and its anti-inflammatory constituent alpha-pinene, significantly inhibit inflammation and enhance immune supporting properties. The chemical constituent borneol possesses anesthetic and anti-spasmodic properties. Boswellic acid, another active component of frankincense essential oil, has been highly correlated with anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties.

Ylang Ylang: Research has shown that active compounds in ylang ylang oil include several types of flavonoids that can help improve blood flow, lower inflammation and support a healthy circulatory system.

Dill Seed: Dill is known to significantly reduce inflammation, possibly because of its antioxidant flavonoids. Medieval knights would place dill seeds on open wounds to speed up healing. Research has confirmed the anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects of dill’s key constituents, d-carvone and d-limonene, noting that dill essential oil causes a significant decrease in inflammation and pain. Dill is also a well-known herb used as an anti-spasmodic. It is considered a tonic for organs like your stomach, liver, kidney, and bladder. Dill is also effective in strengthening and calming the brain

Tarragon: Traditional Chinese medicine used Tarragon for its antispasmodic, antiviral and antibacterial properties. Tarragon essential oil supports brain health, acting as an antioxidant and an analgesic (for pain relief). It also supports healthy heart function and circulation, and can help reduce physical weakness caused by bad circulation. Supports muscle aches, spasms, and rheumatism and helps restore proper muscular function and ease muscular convulsions.

Research has found that Tarragon oil inhibits acetylcholinesterase (AChE) activity, which may make it beneficial for neurodegenerative diseases. Inhibition of AChE prevents the break-down of acetylcholine, which is essential for memory and thinking. People with neurodegenerative diseases make less acetylcholine, and the diseases often break it down at a faster rate, leading to acetylcholine deficits.

Tarragon oil also has been shown Antinociceptive effect of the essential oil of tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) – PubMed to relieve pain both centrally and peripherally using mechanisms other than interacting with opioid receptors.

Apply Anti-Inflammatory to areas of the body that are where inflammation is experienced or suspected, including the base of the skull or bottom of the feet.  Anti-Inflammatory is designed to reduce inflammation, re-balance the brain, and encourage regeneration of damaged or stressed cells and tissues that have been chronically inflamed or acutely inflamed.

Parasympathetic Essential Oil can also calm inflammation.

When applied to the vagus nerve, behind the ear lobe on mastoid bone, the Parasympathetic™ blend stimulates the vagus nerve and triggers the release of the anti-inflammatory neurotransmitter acetylcholine.  Research has found that essential oils are some of the most effective tools to regenerate and heal these acetylcholine-producing systems.  Read More about acetylcholine HERE.

The primary ingredient in Parasympathetic™, Clove essential oil is high in flavonoids, plant compounds that have been shown to reduce inflammation in the brain. Cloves  are loaded with polyphenols. Research on clove essential oil has shown robust anti-inflammatory effects that significantly inhibited the increased production of several pro-inflammatory biomarkers.

The amount and type of polyphenols in plants depend upon how they were grown, harvested, transported, stored, and prepared.


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About The Author

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.

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* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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