To complement “9 Essential Rules for Safe Oil Application” in the February 2016 issue of MASSAGE Magazine. Summary: Several recent research studies suggest that essential oils may have positive effects on memory and cognition.
Over the past decade, the human brain remains one of our most undiscovered territories. Science knows more about landing on another planet than about how our intricate brains work. Much recent effort has been placed on brain mapping and brain chemical receptor activity. Knowledge gleaned from such studies has led to a better understanding of human memory and possible ways to improve it.
Specialized nerve cells in the brain use a chemical called acetylcholine to perpetrate electrical impulses throughout the brain. It appears from some studies that augmenting this chemical aids in memory formation and recall. The deterioration of brain function has been studied in Alzheimer’s disease.
Studying Essential Oils
Various drug regimens have been postulated as attempts to stabilize or slow down the brain’s functional decline. Certain essential oils have also been studied to see if they can be effective for improving memory and cognition. Here is what we have learned so far:
- Peppermint essential oil as a standalone inhalant has been shown to improve recall and concentration (International Journal of Neuroscience, 2008).
- According to Kamyar Hedayat, M.D., a combination of sage, rosemary and lavender essential oils, combined in equal parts and mixed with a vegetable oil to produce a final concentration of 5 to 8 percent, has been shown to improve memory and cognition when rubbed on the temples twice daily.
- Hedayat further notes that one drop each of sage, rosemary and lavender may also be placed in a capsule and given orally once or twice a day for four to six weeks.
Aromas and Essential Oils for Memory
Another relevant phenomenon has been observed in long-term care settings, notably by aromatherapist Jacqueline Farnell, founder of Scents-ible Solutions, a company that has provided aromatherapy programs more than 460 long-term care facilities. Farnell has noted several instances in which elderly patients without dementia, when provided with pleasant essential oil aromas to smell, recalled long-forgotten memories.
The olfactory capacity of the brain is intricately connected with memory. I would postulate that aromas may actually be keys that unlock brain compartments in which certain memories have been tucked away.
Much more research is needed in this area as our population ages and cognitive defects start to become apparent—but in my opinion, there may be a place for essential oil therapies alongside conventional care for those struggling with memory decline.
Raphael d’Angelo, M.D., has used aromatherapy in clinical practice for 20 years, and offers instruction toward aromatherapy certification for health professionals and interested laypersons. He is a co-founder of the Alliance of International Aromatherapists and has twice served as president. Presently he is semi-retired, conducting research in parasite diagnosis and treatment. He wrote “9 Essential Rules for Safe Oil Application” for MASSAGE Magazine’s February 2016 issue.