Essential Oils to Help Improve Focus for ADD/ADHD

by Jodi Cohen

focus

Poor focus and concentration, impulsivity hyperactivity, and problems maintaining attention can lie at the root of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

AAD/ADHD are considered the most common learning and behavior problem for both children and adults.  The number of diagnosis are increasing each year, with a measured 43% increase between 2003 and 2016 according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.  The prevalence of ADD/ADHD may be significantly higher since many adults, particularly women with inattentive symptoms, often remain undiagnosed.

But with or without a diagnosis, essential oils can help improve your focus, concentration and ability to learn new information.

What Happens in the ADD/ADHD Brain

When we concentrate, blood flow increases in your brain, especially in your prefrontal cortex, the region of your brain that controls high-level functions, like attention, executive function and organization.  This increased blood flow allows you to focus, stay on task and think ahead. Research has found that blood flow actually decreases when people diagnosed with ADD/ADHD try to concentrate, making it harder to stay focused.

ADD/ADHD brains also have low levels of the excitatory neurotransmitter norepinephrine which helps your brain and body mobilize for action, along with dopamine, which helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure center.  Medications used to treat ADHD often help improve the level of activation of your prefrontal cortex by enhancing levels of dopamine and norepinephrine.

Dr. Daniel Amen, founder of the Amen Clinics, also identifies a deficiency in neurotransmitters like serotonin, linked to calming aggression and impulse control, and GABA, a calming amino acid vital to healthy central nervous system function. GABA may help suppress nervous system activity and block some nerve impulses. Learn more about Essential oils to support neurotransmitters HERE.

Areas of the Brain Impacted by ADD/ADHD

ADHD affects many areas of the brain, including your prefrontal cortex and cerebellum, along with your anterior cingulate, the temporal lobes, the basal ganglia, and limbic system.  Dr. Amen links poor function in this regions with specific kinds of ADD/ADHD and helps develop specific protocols to help balance the over or under activation of these key brain regions.  Topically applied essential oils can also be used to help activate under-functioning regions of the brain.

In his book “Healing ADD”, Dr. Amen mentions transcranial magnetic stimulation, a promising therapy that uses powerful magnets to increase blood flow in targeted regions of the brain.  Essential oils, like black pepper contained in Circulation blend, have been shown to increase blood flow and can be applied like magnets to increase blood flow to the targeted regions of the brain below:

Prefrontal Cortex

Essential Oils to Help Improve focus for ADDADHD, girl holding head, workingYour prefrontal cortex, part of the frontal lobe located in the front portion of the brain, is responsible for executive functioning, including thinking, organizing, problem solving, memory, concentration, decision-making and problem solving. Researchers at McGill University found that the frontal lobes of individuals with ADHD have decreased activation in their frontal lobes compared to those who do not diagnosed with ADHD.

The circuitry in your frontal lobe contributes to the inhibition of certain behaviors, helping your brain sort through stimulation and decide what information is relevant and what to ignore.  It helps regulate movements, control impulses, language, attention, decision-making, error correction and works to inhibit inappropriate behavioral responses. Brain-imaging studies indicate a problem in the function of this circuitry in people with ADHD.

Brain-imaging studies also found the prefrontal cortex of individuals diagnosed with ADHD to be smaller than that of individuals without the diagnosis which may explain some of the symptoms associated with ADHD.  Essential oils can be used to help stimulate and activate your frontal lobe. Read More about Essential Oils for the Frontal Lobe HERE.

Limbic System

When your Limbic System, or emotional control center, is correlated with ADD/ADHD, your left prefrontal cortex is underactive during concentration while your limbic area is overactive.  Your Limbic System sets your emotional tone, controlling how happy or sad you are, affecting your motivation, drive, attention, and ability to connect emotionally with others. Your limbic system also influences your endocrine system and your autonomic nervous system.

If your limbic system is hyper aroused or over-activated and your left prefrontal cortex is underactive, it can present as brain dysregulation and ADD/ADHD symptoms of moodiness, irritability, low self-esteem, negative thought loops, decreased interest in activities previously considered fun, feelings of hopelessness, and a tendency for social isolation. Read More about Essential Oils for the Limbic System HERE.

Depression is also associated with over-activity of your limbic area.  Brain scans of individuals with both ADD/ADHD and Limbic Systems issues show increased deep limbic activity at rest and during concentration along with decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex, cerebellum and basal ganglia during concentration. Unfortunately, antidepressants and stimulant medications rarely work on individuals suffering from Limbic ADD/ADHD, often increasing moodiness and negative symptoms as stimulates can activate more negative thought loops.

Limbic ADD/ADHD can also impact your circadian rhythms and throw off sleep cycles.   Limbic System Impairment can throw the body into the “Fight or Flight” Sympathetic state.  Strengthening the left prefrontal cortex by topically applying an essential oil blend like Focus™ over your left temple may exert a moderating influence on the more impulsive and less flexible structures of the limbic system.

Basal Ganglia

Your Basal ganglia, situated deep within the brain, produce the neurotransmitter dopamine; critical to motivation, attention and setting the body’s idle speed.  Your Basal ganglia help control voluntary motor movements, eye movements, learning, cognition, and emotion. Poor functioning of the Basal ganglia can cause inter-brain communication and information to “short-circuit”, resulting in inattention or impulsivity.

Brain scans of those whose basal ganglia contribute to ADD/ADHD symptoms show normal activity at rest, but during concentration there tends to be decreased activity in the basal ganglia.  Over-activity in the basal ganglia, which sets the body’s “idle speed” at rest and during concentration, combined with low activity in the prefrontal cortex can present as anxiety. This anxiety can amplify and intensify symptoms of ADD/ADHD.

Anxious ADD/ADHD can present with symptoms like nervousness, a tendency to freeze in social situations, physical stress symptoms like a racing heart, a fear of being judged and a tendency to avoid conflicts.  Support for anxious ADD/ADHD includes both calming and stimulating the brain with essential oils like Parasympathetic™ and Adrenal™ that help to bring the body and the brain into balance.

Reticular Activating System

Your Reticular Activating System (RAS) is a “loosely organized” bundle of nerves located at your brainstem that filters out unnecessary information so the important stuff gets through. Your RAS takes what you focus on, sifts through the data and presents the important pieces.  A deficiency here can cause inattention, impulsivity, or hyperactivity.

If you are interested in something, or it is meaningful to you in some way, your RAS “fires up” and you pay attention to whatever it is. If it has no interest or meaning to you, the RAS remains “unfired.” In order to focus, it is necessary to continually be able to shift your attention. Difficulty shifting attention, triggers hyper-focus while tuning everything else out, which means you might get stuck in negative thought patterns and behaviors.  Applying an essential oil like Focus™ over the temples in combination with Parasympathetic™ behind the earlobes on the mastoid bone or at the base of the neck can help support optimal function of your RAS.

Temporal Lobe

Your temporal lobe, located on both sides of the head at the bottom of the brain, mainly revolves around hearing and selective listening.  Your temporal lobe receives sensory information such as sounds and speech from the ears.

Without your temporal lobe, you would not be able to understand when someone is talking.  It is your temporal lobe that makes sense of the all the different sounds and pitches (different types of sound) being transmitted from the sensory receptors of the ears.  It is critical to being able to comprehend, or understand meaningful speech.

Temporal lobe problems can present as issues with learning, reading ability, memory, mood instability, aggression and temper outbursts. It is not unusual to see this type of ADD/ADHD in people who have had head injuries.  Topically applying essential oils over the temporal lobe can help increase stimulation of the area and modulate imbalances.

Why Oils

Medications suppress some of the symptoms and can have side effects like decreased appetite, delayed growth, sleep problems and potentially negative behaviors like personality changes, suicidal thoughts and extreme mood swings.

Natural remedies like essential oils may improve ADHD symptoms, according to research by Physician Terry S. Friedmann.

Friedmann found that “micro droplets (of essential oils) are carried to the limbic system of the brain, the processing center for reason, emotion and smell, and to the hypothalamus, which is the hormone command center.”

Friedmann specifically found that a blend of vetiver, cedarwood, frankincense and lavender, the basis for our Attention™ blend, was beneficial for children with ADD/ADHD. When ADD/ADHD children inhaled the Attention™ essential oil blend three times a day for 30 days they had improved brain wave patterns and behavior and did better in school.

Improvements in brain activity were revealed via electro-encephalograph (EEG), which measures electrical impulses moving through the brain. Researchers saw improvements in brain wave ratios following the use of vetiver essential oil.  Parents also noted improvements in symptoms, as evidenced by letters from parents of the ADHD children stating that their behavior at home had improved for the better. In several cases, they also stated that school educators informed them that their performance was observed to improve in the classroom. The report cards in some of the subjects had reflected this improvement as well.

The Benefits of Essential Oils for Focus

Research shows that increasing blood flow to the prefrontal cortex can prevent the reduction of brain function in elderly people, especially in attention and working memory. Applying essential oils on the forehead helps to draw energy to the prefrontal cortex.  This is because your prefrontal cortex contains several reflex points that can be stimulated with essential oils to help with emotional release.

Applying essential oils or touching to these reflex points to the forehead can increase cerebral spinal, organ and muscle flow of blood to the area.  It’s hypothesized that when we are under stress, blood goes to the back of our brain, where the past is stored. Placing a hand, or appropriate essential oils, over the forehead, helps shift the energy and blood flow from the more emotional mid‐brain areas to the area just below the forehead known as the prefrontal cortex which is associated with a calmer mind and rational, logical thinking.

Your hands can also be used to stimulate the forehead points, but research indicates that the longer you hold the points the more the stress will fade.   Applying essential oils to the points allows you to hold the energy for significantly longer, resulting in greater health improvements. Read More about Applying Essential Oils to the Forehead HERE.

When you strengthen the prefrontal cortex, you enhance your brain’s ability to plan, organize, and see the big picture. When the PFC loses its “tone,” or processing speed, those possibilities are all but impossible resulting in poor internal supervision, short attention span, distractibility, disorganization, and hyperactivity, impulse control problems, difficulty learning from past errors, lack of forethought, and procrastination.

Essential Oils for ADHD/ADD

Attention™

Formulated by homeschooling parents specifically to assist with ADD and ADHD.  The medical benefit of this oil was proven during research conducted by Dr. Terry S. Friedmann.

Subjects with a confirmed ADD/ADHD diagnoses inhaled essential oils daily when they began to feel “scattered”.  The inhalation of the oils improved brain wave patterns along with scholastic performance and behavioral patterns.  Improvements in brain activity were revealed via electro-encephalograph (EEG), which measures electrical impulses moving through the brain. This allowed researchers to determine whether the children’s brains were functioning primarily in a beta (i.e., alert) state or a theta state (i.e., lack of focus).  Improvements in beta-theta ratios were noted following the use of vetiver essential oil, while parents also noted improvements in symptoms.

The four oils in the Attention™ blend – Vetiver, Frankincense, Lavender, and Cedarwood  — all showed substantial benefit, with Vetiver  helping 100% of the test cases.  The blend further synergizes the positive impact of the individual oils. For best results, apply 1- 2 drops on brain stem (back of the neck), temples, across the forehead and the bottom of the feet.

Parasympathetic™

Your vagus nerve elicits the output of the inhibitory neurotransmitters GABA which  regulates anxiety and the excitatory neurotransmitter norepinephrine which helps mobilize the brain and body for action and consolidates memories.  Apply Parasympathetic™ over the vagus nerve (behind the earlobe on the mastoid bone) to stimulate your vagus nerve and calm your sympathetic nervous system and help balance your nervous system.

Focus™

Formulated to enhance concentration and alertness, especially when applied over the forehead to the prefrontal lobe.  Focus includes several individual oils that help keep the mind thinking clearly and focused on the task at hand. For example, research shows that 1.8-cineole, one of the main compounds in Rosemary essential oil, results in improved speed and accuracy on cognitive tests. Similarly, research from the University of Cincinnati found that inhaling peppermint oil increases the mental accuracy by 28%.  Apply Focus™ 1- 2 drops across brow, back of neck, collar bone or on temples and wrists to increase mental focus.

Brain Boost™

Formulated with brain supporting oils, like Frankincense, Helichrysum, Cedarwood, and Melissa oils which  contain a high concentration of sesquiterpenes that are known to cross the blood brain barrier and improve oxygenation of brain cells. Apply 1- 2 drops of Brain Boost™ on the back of the neck, on the temples, the bottoms of the feet and especially on the big toe.

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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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