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Inflammation on the Brain: How to Calm Inflammation with Essential Oils

by Jodi Cohen(more info)

listed in aromatherapy, originally published in issue 267 - January 2021

 

Essential oils can be super powerful tools to help calm brain inflammation

As you may know, inflammation is an immune response that is meant to be a short-term healing, protective measure.  It triggers certain chemical reactions in your body that you may experience as redness, swelling, pain, burning, or stiffness. Essential oils can help calm this chemical reaction and reduce or eliminate symptoms.

This has to do with the chemical composition of essential oils.  You see, essential oils are comprised of super small fat soluble molecules that when inhaled or topically applied are assimilated into your bloodstream and can interact with, alter enhance or blocking certain biological processes to help you combat inflammation at a cellular level.

For example, research https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100113122306.htm has identified a compound contained in thyme essential oil called carvacrol that actually blocks an inflammatory enzyme called COX-2 in your body.

Cover Essential Oils to Boost the Brain and Heal the Body

What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is your body’s natural response to a threat, such as an injury, infection, or even a psychological or emotional stressor. Inflammation signals a series of immune reactions, where white blood cells and pro-inflammatory chemicals, called cytokines, are sent to repair damaged tissue, as well as to protect you from infections or any foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria. Without inflammation, wounds would not heal and infections could become deadly. But as your body heals, inflammation gradually subsides.

Acute, or Short-term, Inflammation

When a tissue is injured, acute inflammation triggers pain and immobility (loss of function) to help protect the area and facilitate healing, bringing in your body’s immune cells, hormones, and nutrients to fix the problem. Blood vessels dilate and expand, increasing tissue permeability and blood flow (contributing to symptoms like redness, swelling, and heat) so that white blood cells can more easily flow into the injured area.

Chronic, or Long-term, Inflammation

Chronic inflammation refers to a prolonged or persistent low-grade inflammatory response that goes on for too long or occurs in places where it is not needed, producing a steady low level of inflammation throughout your body. Chronic inflammation can exist undetected for years without noticeable symptoms, silently damaging the tissues of joints, arteries, and organs and contributing to inflammatory conditions like:

  • Leaky gut or food allergies = inflammation of the small intestine
  • Dementia, depression, or cognitive decline = inflammation of the brain (neuro-inflammation)
  • Asthma attacks = inflammation of the small tubes transporting air to the lungs
  • High blood pressure or kidney failure = inflammation of the kidneys
  • Cramps or diarrhea = inflammation of the large intestine (colitis)
  • Shortness of breath or fluid retention = inflammation of the heart (myocarditis)

Chronic inflammation lies at the root of many cognitive and mood problems, like brain fog, memory issues, low brain voltage, ADD and ADHD, depression, anxiety, and autoimmune disorders.

What Are the Symptoms of Brain Inflammation?

Brain inflammation is a protective measure that keeps your brain safe from toxicity and infections. Your brain inflames itself as a way to rebalance, reset, and heal.

Unlike an inflamed body part, your brain may not feel physical pain when it’s inflamed. There are literally no sensory receptors for painful stimuli, known as nociceptors, in the brain. This is one reason that brain inflammation can go unnoticed for decades—because it does not trigger physical pain. Pain from headaches or migraines is triggered by your vascular system, not by inflammation.

Your brain communicates inflammation in the way it makes you feel. For example, brain inflammation contributes to a loss of motivation, like the inability to get out of bed or maintain energy levels. It can also trigger a loss of function. When your brain is inflamed, it slows down its processing speed, which, in turn, slows down your ability to focus. There are other symptoms of brain inflammation that range from fatigue to mood disorders.

  • Brain fog. You may experience slow or fuzzy thinking or delayed response time. Inflammation in the brain slows down the firing between brain cells, slowing the overall operation of the brain and contributing to symptoms like poor concentration, difficulty making decisions, and confusion.
  • Low brain voltage. You may experience limited endurance for focusing or thinking and may tire easily after activities that require focus, such as driving or reading.
  • Neuro-degeneration. Brain inflammation degenerates brain tissue and increases amyloid beta, the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Fatigue. Chronic inflammation requires your immune system to work overtime, increasing the demand on your cellular energy and depleting you of the fuel you need to feel physically or mentally energized.
  • Irritability or anger. Brain inflammation can contribute to mood disorders like anger and irritability.
  • Depression. Inflammatory immune cells called cytokines hamper the release of the “happy” brain chemical serotonin, contributing to symptoms of depression.
  • Memory issues. Inflammation destroys neural connections that help you remember words and names, leading to poor recall.
  • Hyper-reaction to fragrances. Brain inflammation causes an overreaction to stimulus, including scents.
  • Anxiety. Brain inflammation can make you feel anxious, nervous, or fidgety.
  • Diminished athletic performance. Your muscle strength is only as strong as the signal from your brain to your nerves that tells your muscles to fire. Inflammation slows your brain’s firing speed.
  • There are key indicators of chronic inflammation that include a range of symptoms.
  • Pain. While neurons (brain cells) have no pain fibers, pain in your body, like muscle aches and joint pain, can be caused by chronic inflammation. When inflammatory cytokines are elevated in your body, they can attack muscle and joint tissue, resulting in redness, swelling, and pain and contributing to physical symptoms like aches, muscle weakness, or limited movement.
  • Poor digestion. One of the earliest signs that your brain is not firing well is poor vagus nerve activity that presents as poor digestive function. Your vagus nerve links your brain to your gut, meaning that any inflammation that compromises vagus nerve signaling impedes digestive function, contributing to symptoms like frequent abdominal discomfort after eating, difficulty swallowing supplements or large bites of food, bloating, abdominal pain, gas, constipation, and loose stools.
  • Skin conditions. Inflammation often caused by a hyper-sensitivity of your immune system can trigger skin conditions like rashes, acne, eczema, hives, and dry skin.
  • Excessive mucous production. Inflammation triggers mucous membranes to produce thick phlegm in an attempt to protect the lining of your respiratory system, resulting in coughing; sneezing; a stuffy or runny nose; sore throat; needing to clear your throat; canker sores; itchy, watery eyes; chest congestion; shortness of breath; or difficulty breathing.

What Causes Brain Inflammation?

Chronic inflammation can be caused by an over-reactive or malfunctioning immune system. It may be due to an underlying problem that your body is attempting to fight off. There are several factors that can increase your risk of chronic inflammation.

  • Traumatic brain injury/concussion. Physical injuries to the brain cause your brain’s immune cells to begin the healing process and the removal of dead and damaged neurons, which contribute to brain inflammation. Immune cells in the brain do not turn off, especially if there are already other imbalances in the body. This means inflammation in the brain can continue long after the injury heals.
  • Toxicity. Environmental toxins such as metals, mold, chemicals, and pesticides contribute to inflammation.
  • Chronic infections. Bacterial, viral, or fungal infections, such as sinus, lung, and gut infections or gum disease, trigger your brain’s immune system to attack, resulting in chronic inflammation.
  • Leaky gut. If you have an inflamed gut, it will contribute to brain inflammation. Inflammatory messengers produced in the gut travel to your brain. To calm systemic inflammation, it is important to calm inflammation in both your gut and your brain.
  • Chronic stress. Stress releases hormones like cortisol that trigger an increase of pro-inflammatory cytokines in your brain.
  • Inflammatory diet. Consuming inflammatory foods, like sugar, processed food, or alcohol, turns on inflammation. Similarly, food allergies or food intolerances can contribute to gut—and brain—inflammation.
  • Hormonal imbalances. Low levels of sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone or thyroid hormones contribute to brain inflammation.
  • Blood sugar imbalances. These include low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), insulin resistance (high blood sugar), and diabetes that all inflame the brain.
  • Electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs). Research has shown that EMFs from your cell phones, screens, WiFi, and wired homes significantly increase markers for brain inflammation.

Healing with Esssential Oils

How Essential Oils Turn Off Inflammation

Fortunately, your brain has the potential to regenerate itself relatively quickly when given the right nutrients from plants and essential oils derived from plants.

Essential oils, with their unique chemistry, are ideally suited to repair inflammation and restore brain function.  Short-chain fatty acids—the secondary metabolites or by-products of digested plant fiber heralded for their ability to heal inflammation—are composed of lipids, which can actually access the cell membrane. Essential oils have the same chemical composition and work in the same way, supporting the normal electrical functioning of your brain and nervous system. For example, essential oils help cell membranes receive calming signals to turn off inflammation.

It is believed that brain immune cells do not have an off switch, but plant and lipid-soluble remedies, like omega-3 fatty acids, have proven successful at calming brain inflammation. For that reason, plant oils, like CBD and essential oils, which are both derived from plants and are lipid based, have also been successful as an off switch for inflammation. To better understand how this mechanism works, it is important to understand how plants and omega-3 oils are believed to turn off inflammation.

Omega-3 fatty acids are believed to interfere with intracellular messengers that signal an inflammatory response. When cells are activated by external stimuli, like toxins, stress, viruses, or infections, cell membranes release a chemical known as arachidonic acid to trigger an inflammatory immune response. Omega-3 oils and plant oils, like CBD and essential oils, provide gentle, natural pathways to help neutralize and calm the signaling or communication within and between cells, which, in turn, can calm your inflammatory response.

A 2008 study on The science behind dietary omega-3 fatty acids https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2174995/ describes how omega-3 fatty acids can bind to cell receptors and help calm communication between cells (intracellular signaling pathways); this calms the release of inflammatory messengers (cytokines) that amp up inflammation. Several nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pharmaceutical drugs target the same mechanism to reduce inflammation.

 

Cohenb 267

 

Suppress Inflammation with Essential Oils

Essential oils possess natural anti-inflammatory properties. Several research studies

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2789773/ document the anti-inflammatory properties of essential oils.

  • Peppermint essential oil has natural analgesic, anesthetic, and anti-inflammatory properties that help calm inflammation. Menthol, menthone, and methyl esters in peppermint oil relieve inflammation. Peppermint has been shown to help calm gut inflammation, including reducing spasms in the colon and muscles in the body.
  • Clove essential oil has anti-inflammatory and anesthetic properties that make it an especially efficient and effective remedy for various types of pain. Clove is high in flavonoids, plant compounds that have been shown to reduce inflammation in the brain. Research on clove essential oil has shown robust anti-inflammatory effects that significantly inhibited the increased production of several pro-inflammatory biomarkers.
  • 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. Further, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6225363/, the chemical Borneol possesses anesthetic and anti-spasmodic properties.  Boswellic acids, another active component of frankincense essential oil has been highly correlated with anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties.
  • Thyme essential oil can suppress inflammation. Researchers https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2789773/ have found that thyme essential oil can reduce the expression of the inflammatory COX-2 enzyme by nearly 75 percent.
    COX-2, or Cyclooxygenase, is an enzyme that triggers inflammatory reactions.  Pharmaceutical inhibition of COX with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen provide relief from the symptoms of inflammation and pain.
    Thyme essential oil works to reduce inflammation in a manner similar to resveratrol, a flavonoid derived from grapes and red wine and linked with several health benefits. The main constituents of thyme essential oil, thymol and carvacrol, are known for their anti-oxidative, anti-microbial, anti-tussive, expectorant, anti-spasmodic, and anti-bacterial effects.
  • Chamomile oil possesses analgesic properties which can soothe inflammation and calm pain and swelling.  A review of the medicinal properties of chamomile found that the plant contains flavonoids which have anti-inflammatory properties. These inflammation-reducing compounds easily penetrate the skin’s surface to reduce inflammation.
    A study in 2015 found that lavender oil contains anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. In clinical trials, the researchers found that applying lavender oil topically for pain relief was just as effective as some pharmaceutical anti-inflammatories and analgesics.2
    Another study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that applying lavender oil or inhaling it has a pain-relieving effect.
  • Ginger oil contains anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties derived from compound called gingerol.  Research found that ginger has pain-relieving effects similar to pharmaceutical drugs like ibuprofen. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27419081/

You can learn more about Jodi Cohen and her essential oil blends for brain inflammation at https://vibrantblueoils.com/

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About Jodi Cohen

Jodi Cohen NTP is a bestselling author, award-winning journalist, and founder of Vibrant Blue Oils, a top resource for essential oils online, which welcomes 300,000 visitors every year. Her #1 bestselling book, Healing with Essential Oils, synthesizes decades of leading scientific research to help explain how essential oils can work to support the body and the brain. Random House will publish her second book, Essential Oils to Boost the Brain and Heal the Body, on March 16, 2021 available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

After personally experiencing the profound physical and mental benefits of essential oils in addressing her own anxiety, insomnia, and autoimmunity, Jodi wanted to know why. Today, she holds certifications in nutritional therapy, functional neurology, herbalism and aromatherapy, along with multiple continuing educational courses in plant medicine, brain health, Chinese medicine and herbalism. Jodi has worked closely with healthcare practitioners, including MDs, NDs, nurse practitioners, chiropractors, acupuncturists, health coaches, nutritionists and yoga instructors, to implement the most effective essential oil protocols in clinical practice to support underlying imbalances that often lead to disease, including sleep, stress, digestion, inflammation, detoxification, and blood-sugar imbalances. Jodi may be contacted via info@vibrantblueoils.com    https://vibrantblueoils.com/

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