Essential Oils for Better Cognition and Memory

The greatest fear of most adults is losing their mind…or independence. 28 million Americans have cognitive disabilities with 6 million of those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. No drug can prevent or cure any of the above. Lifestyle medicine can help slowdown and maybe prevent the above. For thousands of years, humans have practiced aroma therapy, or the use of smells to improve health and mood. Scientists have recently shown us there is hope in using essential oils for better cognition and memory function.

Aroma therapy has been practiced for thousands of years, and especially treasured by leaders and the elite. Many medicinal herbs have a pungent aroma that may be part of their healing values. Now everyone can benefit from this simple, non-toxic, and inexpensive therapy.

The increasing prevalence of cognitive loss in older adults calls for affordable and straightforward in-home treatments. The potential of olfactory enrichment at night (essential oils/aroma therapy) as a means to enhance cognitive ability in healthy older adults is exciting. Exposure to various essential oils for 6 months for 2 hours/night induces neurogenesis in both the olfactory bulb and the hippocampus. Essentially, our olfactory sense of smell is directly connected to our brain. By stimulating the smell nerves, we can stimulate the brain to regrow certain areas.

There is a need for an effective and affordable approach to address cognitive decline in older individuals. Environmental enrichment has shown promise in animal models of neurological disorders and cognitive decline, and it involves stimulating neuroplasticity through various sensory experiences.

Enhancing Memory and Neurogenesis Through Olfactory Enrichment Alone

There is benefit to olfactory enrichment and the use of essential oils, which involves exposure to multiple odorants. A recent study Overnight Olfactory Enrichment demonstrated that olfactory enrichment using essential oils, alone can improve memory and neurogenesis in animal models. The enriched group was exposed for 2 hours every night over the course of 6 months, using a single odorant each night, and rotating through seven pleasant scents.

The olfactory system has direct projections to the limbic system, which is crucial for memory and emotions, giving it unique access to brain learning and memory systems. The association between olfactory loss and cognitive decline in aging and neurological disorders is known. Olfactory loss often precedes or accompanies cognitive decline in conditions like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia.

Olfactory enrichment has been shown to restore olfactory function in humans and even change brain anatomy. Studies have found increased cortical thickness and gray matter volume in brain regions associated with olfactory processing and memory after olfactory enrichment.

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Improvements in Verbal Fluency, Function, Attention, Language Skills

Multiple studies have also demonstrated that olfactory enrichment can improve cognitive function in humans, including verbal fluency, verbal function, attention, and language skills. Even older adults with moderate dementia showed remarkable improvements in memory, depression symptoms, and other cognitive abilities after olfactory enrichment.

To enhance compliance, the study explored the possibility of conducting olfactory enrichment at night. The study hypothesized that the cognitive benefits of olfactory exposure may be due to its direct access to brain regions relevant to memory and olfaction, such as the uncinate fasciculus. The uncinate fasciculus plays a crucial role in learning and memory and can be affected by interventions like olfactory enrichment.

Olfactory enrichment could be a promising and easy-to-implement strategy for improving cognitive function and brain health in older adults.

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Essential Oils for Better Cognition and Memory

Participants who received olfactory enrichment showed improvements in verbal learning and memory compared to the control group. Similar positive effects were observed in other studies involving olfactory enrichment in older adults with dementia or olfactory deficiencies.

The study also investigated changes in the uncinate fasciculus, a brain pathway crucial for memory and emotional processing, in response to olfactory enrichment. The researchers found that mean diffusivity in the uncinate fasciculus increased after olfactory enrichment. This finding suggests that olfactory stimulation may have a positive impact on the integrity of white matter pathways in the brain.

Advantages of Olfactory Enrichment at Night

Using essential oils at night has advantages, as it does not interfere with sleep and can enhance slow-wave sleep, leading to increased feelings of vigor the next day. Moreover, olfactory stimulation using essential oils has been shown to improve abnormal sleep patterns similarly to sleep medication.

The association between olfactory impairment and various neurological and psychiatric disorders is well known. Olfactory stimulation throughout life may have a protective effect on the brain similar to the concept of cognitive reserve, where individuals with higher cognitive stimulation are more protected from Alzheimer’s pathology. Conversely, low olfactory stimulation may increase the risk of developing neurological disorders.

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Essential Oils for Better Cognition and Memory

Considering the positive impact of olfactory enrichment on cognitive function and the potential protective effect of olfactory stimulation on neurological health, the authors suggest that olfactory enrichment could be considered a low-cost public health program to reduce neurological risks in older adults. Mother Nature has a hard and fast rule: “use it or lose it.” Which relates to muscles and exercise, thought and memory, sensory stimulation and brain maintenance. Keep pleasant aromas around your home and work station. You might think about buying a home diffuser to employ aroma therapy/olfactory enrichment while you are sleeping. Adverse effects are zero. Cost is low. According to the above study, you can expect a 236% improvement in numerous mental capacities within 6 months.

  • 1Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA, United States
  • 2Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA, United States
  • 3Department of Statistics, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA, United States
  • 4Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA, United States

Front. Neurosci., 24 July 2023
Sec. Translational Neuroscience
Volume 17 – 2023 |

Dr. Patrick Quillin

Dr. Patrick Quillin, PhD,RD,CNS is an internationally recognized expert in the area of nutrition and health. He has 30 years experience as a clinical nutritionist, of which 10 years were spent as the Vice President for a leading cancer hospital system where he worked with thousands of cancer patients in a hospital setting. He is a Best Selling Author with 18 books which have sold over 2,000,000 copies and also a Keynote Speaker.

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