The health of your brain is complex and magnificent. From the milliseconds it takes for your brain to fire neurons that help you smell, taste, sense and feel, to the memory centers that help you retrieve an experience from decades earlier, the brain is a vibrant, wired organ that powers all your body’s functions.
For centuries, essential oils, herbs, and supplements have been used to stimulate, enhance and improve cognitive function, whether it’s promoting better sleep or strengthening memory.
Brain functions; image source: bebrainfit.com
What Counts as Brain Health?
Good brain health relies on several different factors including sleep, new brain cell growth, your medical health, diet and nutrition, stress management, exercise, and genetics. Your brain needs stimulation, especially as you age, to stay strong, just like how you exercise to keep your body’s heart, muscles and lungs strong.
Relying on the brain center for all your critical thinking, judgement, logic, decision-making, information and knowledge puts brain health at the forefront of your very being.
You may have heard that the brain finishes developing around age 25, which is true in part. The rational part of the brain is indeed developing up through your mid-20s, however, your brain is technically always changing and ‘updating,’ if you will. Brain plasticity is the term given for this process of constantly reorganizing, forming new pathways between brain cells, reconditioning, learning and storing new information.
Brain cells, or neurons, are fluidly restructured as you experience and learn new things, and the brain can boost the synapses between them, making it easier and faster to send and receive messages.
So how can you naturally boost brain health, especially as you age?
In addition to eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising (your body and mind) to combat diseases that affect brain health, like Alzheimer’s, heart disease, dementia, and cancer, you can turn to essential oils and supplements.
How Can Natural Supplements Support Brain Health?
Natural remedies that stimulate cognitive function and memory, that aid in helping you sleep, focus, and de-stress, and which boost your own body’s blood circulation and performance all play a role in supporting brain health. Ginger root, which can be made into tea or grated and taken as a ‘shot’ with lemon or apple juice, is a prime example.
Ginger shot side effects include enhanced attentiveness and cognitive processing capabilities. Throw a dash or turmeric (or curcumin) in with your ginger shot to produce an increase in dopamine and serotonin levels, as well as combat memory loss and Alzheimer’s.
Did you know that parts of your brain, like the glympathic system, are actually more active when you sleep than when you are awake? Sleep’s vital part in brain health includes offering a period of regeneration where the brain clears out and recycles toxins, secretes chemicals and hormones that aid in body and brain repair, and creates and stores memories from the day. Supplements including tryptophan, calcium and magnesium can aid in helping you fall asleep and have a healthier regulated sleep cycle.
Focus and concentration are key indicators of brain health and can boost productivity, communication skills and critical thinking. Those things alone help stimulate continued brain functioning, challenging the brain to think creatively, differently, better, and faster. Sharpen focus and ramp up communication between brain cells with natural supplements like gingko biloba, L-theanine, and fish oil with omega-3 fatty acids in it.
What Types of Essential Oils Work?
Natural oils that are diffused or consumed to optimize activities like relaxation yoga, acupuncture, massage, meditation, and deep breathing aid in fighting stress and anxiety – feelings which can negatively impact brain health. Improved mood as a result of endorphin production (the feel good hormone) can benefit neural stimulation, and a reduction in the stress hormone cortisol can help alleviate mental fog, headaches, and memory problems.
Looking for essential oils you can use to boost brain health? Think about the cognitive areas you feel are lacking – is it concentration? Memory? Stress-release? Depending on your own needs, the essential oils you seek for relief and aid might vary.
Lavender is renowned for its ability to help relax, calm and soothe – a little lavender oil on the pillow has been shown to help people fall asleep faster. In additional, lavender is helpful in treating nervous tension, relieving stress, and boosting cognitive function.
While great in holiday cookies, peppermint oil is also known to perk you up with a couple whiffs, helping improve focus, relieve joint and muscle pain, as well as alleviate headaches.
Rosemary is your go-to essential oil for maximizing memory. One study revealed that while testing in a room infused with rosemary, unknowing participants exhibited better memory, attention, processing speed and alertness than those in a room infused with lavender.
Demonstrating antidepressant qualities, sweet orange essential oil has been shown to elevate mood, lift feelings of anxiety, slow a heightened pulse rate, and reduce cortisol levels associated with stress.
This biblical essential oil has survived the millenia by offering brain boosting benefits like reducing hyperactivity, clearing away feelings of impatience and irritability, and improving focus and concentration.
A possibly lesser known essential oil, vetiver is derived from the grass family and has been shown to reduce anxiety-related behaviors, promote better sleep, and relieve stress.
Bergemot essential oil can also serve as a great stress-reliever and research has demonstrated it reduces corticosterone response to stress as well as feelings of anxiety.
Increased attention and cognitive clarity are found effects of using sandalwood in aromatherapy, in addition to helping the brain relax and calm.
It’s important to remember that while some essential oils can be applied directly to skin or placed in a bath, others cannot or need to be super diluted. Burning incense and diffusing essential oils will vary by strength, and to get the full effects and brain benefits essential oils have to offer, investing in the purest ingredients and therapeutic-grade options is a must.
Same goes for natural supplements, which can often be taken by capsule, powder or liquid form, but are also largely found naturally occurring in healthy fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean meats. Do your research and shop for essential oils and supplements online or in local stores.