August 12, 2021 — 3:05 AM
Aside from simply smelling nice, essential oils have long been thought to come with a number of therapeutic brain benefits (hence the name “aromatherapy”). But what are they, exactly—and which scents hold the most of them? That’s what researchers from Monash University in Australia recently looked into, and their illuminating findings were just published in the journal Neurochemistry International. Here’s what the study showed.
Studying essential oils’ effects on the brain.
For this study, researchers looked at a compound called ascorbate in the brain, which helps regulate oxidative stress. By tracking the chemical ratios of ascorbate and neurotransmitters in the brain after smelling various essential oils, they were able to determine which scents had pro-oxidant or antioxidant effects on the brain.
Through their novel method of study, the team was able to identify the oils that had the most impact on boosting mood.
As chemistry professor and lead author of the study Louise Bennett, Ph.D., explains in a news release, “We believe the interaction of essential oils with the naturally high levels of ascorbate (e.g. vitamin C) in the brain can produce either anti-oxidant or pro-oxidant effects. It is the anti-oxidant, but not the pro-oxidant effects, that lead to the mood benefit.”
While the pro-oxidant-supporting essential oils may not improve mood, they still had antimicrobial and antibacterial properties in some cases, the study notes.
Which oils were the best for mood in this study.
When it comes to which essential oils did improve mood in this study, lavender and rosemary essential oil stood out, as they both had a strong antioxidant effect on the brain. These results track with other research that has found lavender to be a mood stabilizer that can help ease stress and anxiousness.
We’ve long suspected that smell-good essential oils like lavender can benefit mood, but until now, we didn’t totally understand why. According to Bennett, “This work paves the way to select and classify essential oils according to their mechanistic properties and to potentially develop inexpensive but effective therapies for the brain.”
Next up, more research will be conducted on how essential oils can be better harnessed for mood support in the future. In the meantime, it would appear lavender and rosemary oils are definitely good options for when you need a mental pick-me-up.