Depression: A Body System Disorder and Combatting It With Essential Oils
Jackie Doss, a Level 2 student at Aroma Hut describes the science behind depression and how essential oils can be used to combat it. In this paper, she provides critically useful information on how to restore homeostasis and bring harmony back into one’s life.
It seems as though depression affects more people than any other ailment. It is said that nearly 350 million people are affected by depression at some point in their life. Chronic depression is even more debilitating as it affects a person for the sum of their life. Depression is caused by many factors including trauma, stress, insecurity, and fear. Often overlooked or underplayed are the physiological factors that contribute to a person’s mood, mental and emotional state: Hormones, toxic overload, sedentary lifestyle…all affect one’s mental health. Gender also plays a role in depression. Many women struggle with postpartum depression. During Menopause the changes in hormones can be a source of depression. Men can also struggle with depression based on low levels of testosterone and other hormonal imbalances. WebMD lists the major causes of depression as follows: abuse, certain medications, conflict, death or a loss, genetics, major events, other personal problems, serious illnesses, substance abuse “Informative Speech by Alyssa Herrick on Prezi.” WebMD. 29 Aug. 2016 <https://prezi.com/1mr8wqa-1ayb/informative-speech/>.
No matter the source of depression it is an incredibly difficult battle for the person living with it. Wikipedia describes depression as “…a state of low mood and aversion to activity that can affect a person’s thoughts, behavior, feelings and sense of well-being. People with a depressed mood can feel sad, anxious, empty, hopeless, helpless, worthless, guilty, irritable, angry, ashamed or restless…” Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Aug. 2016 <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Despair_(emotion)>.
Of course, this is a summation of symptoms and could never fully describe the pain and agony, the mental struggle that a person with depression is dealing with day in and day out. Here is a summation of some unknown, yet the important information that one psychology blogger lists about depression. Most occurrences of depression do not occur during the winter months but over the summer. Depression can distort your reality and thinking. Your mind can trick you when you are depressed. Depression makes it difficult to think of others because you are wrapped in your pain and sadness and are stuck focusing on dealing with that pain. Depression is experienced as anxiety 65 percent of the time. Irritability is also a symptom of depression. Chronic pain and fatigue are also symptoms of depression. Drugs and alcohol are depressants. Self-medicating can further affect the symptoms and frequency of depression. Depression chooses the person; the person chooses how they deal with it. Depression can be caused by circumstances or by your chemical/genetic make-up. Depression is as difficult with your friends and family as it is on you. They live the pain with you. Exercise and movement is an inexpensive and effective way to treat depression. (Goldsmith Ph.D., Barton, 2009)
Clearly, depression takes on many disguises and thus is incredibly difficult to manage and treat. Understanding that all of our bodily systems are connected and understanding the validity of the Mind, Body, Spirit philosophy allows one to treat and manage depression effectively. Whether you are genetically predisposed, or whether you have a medical illness that affects one of the many body systems like the limbic, endocrine or nervous systems, a hormonal imbalance, a chemically overloaded body, stress or lack of sleep, a lack of stability, traumatic experiences or a chemical imbalance; depression can be treated by being mindful of the mind, body spirit connection and using holistic health practices like essential oils, diet and exercise to make the connection. Research shows that essential oils can dramatically improve the health of all our body systems including the limbic, endocrine and nervous systems which are all directly related to emotional health and stability.
The Limbic system is a busy part of the brain that helps regulate emotions, executive reasoning skills, learning, memory, hormones, adrenaline, sexual functioning, motor functions, and sensory perceptions. The limbic system and endocrine system work very closely together to regulate hormones. The amygdala lies in the core of the limbic system and evaluates situations for potential threats. The sense of smell, via the olfactory system, directly affects the amygdala and thus emotions, psyche, and the other body systems. In fact, smell is the only sense directly linked to the limbic system (the emotional center of our brain). Essential oils have an immense effect on the limbic system which helps to balance moods, hormones, and other related problems. “Essential oils powerfully benefit brain function and processes. When used aromatically, such as diffusing oils into the air or inhaling oils directly from the bottle or palms of the hands, essential oils directly access the brain through the olfactory bulb and can initiate almost immediate physical and emotional responses in the brain. Due to their unique chemical constituents and the fact that they are carbon-based, essential oils can permeate the blood-brain barrier and provide support for such things as headaches, migraines, vertigo, emotions, and mood. Certain essential oils that are comprised of specific chemical constituents like sesquiterpenes, such as frankincense and sandalwood, have a particular affinity for supporting the brain. Essential oils with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties are also particularly important for maintaining a healthy brain” (The Essential Life, 2015).
The Nervous system can also be a contributor to anxiety and depression. As toxic overload, trauma and cellular damage occur throughout life the nervous system can begin to misfire and send incorrect information, or negative signals to the endocrine system further affecting the body’s ability to produce adequate hormones. New cells and cellular structure of existing cells can also be damaged leading to more and more decay of the body’s ability to be well thus affecting happiness and emotions. Essential oils can help repair cellular structure, can encourage cellular growth and repair and rewire neural pathways all affecting one’s ability to be happy and reduce depression. The sympathetic nervous system activates ‘flight or fight’ responses in threatening or stressful situations. The parasympathetic nervous system helps the body to return to calm and normal states after experiencing pain or stress. Reducing stress and toxic overload helps to facilitate the smooth operating of these systems. Essential oils can help reduce toxic overload, regenerate and repair neural pathways between the nervous system and the brain and body and increase and improve cellular health and function as well as reduce stress. This increases the body’s ability to combat depression and anxiety and live in a state of homeostasis. Essential oils for Nervous system support include but are not limited to “peppermint (soothes and strengthens damaged nerves), basil (stimulates), lavender, lemon, grapefruit, frankincense, bergamot, cedarwood (nervous tension), lemongrass (for nerve damage), marjoram (soothing), geranium (regenerates)… Roman Chamomile, Juniper Berry, Vetiver, Cinnamon, Orange, Sandalwood” (Modern Essentials, 2015).
The endocrine system severely affects one’s ability to be happy. Hormonal and glandular imbalances caused by damage to the nervous, limbic, lymphatic and other body systems severely increases a likelihood of depression, anxiety and other emotional disorders. “Because of the unique delivery system of the endocrine system (sending hormones to targeted organs and tissues via the circulatory system), essential oils can be especially beneficial since they use the same delivery system! Essential oils can profoundly benefit cells they encounter throughout the body as they circulate. There are also specific oils that have been shown to be incredibly supportive with certain gland/organ functions.” (The Essential Life, 2015). Many essential oils can help to first reduce toxic load, can help repair cellular damage and neural pathways and can also balance hormones and help the body to produce or reduce hormone levels. According to Modern Essentials, “Some essential oils may act as hormones or stimulate the endocrine system to produce hormones that have a regulating effect on the body.” Essential oils of Pelargonium graveolens geranium, Cananga odorata: ylang-ylang, Pogostemon cablin: patchouli and Salvia sclarea: clary sage all have a beneficial impact on hormonal systems. Modern Essentials recommends the oils of “rosemary, cinnamon, peppermint, clary sage, ylang-ylang, Roman chamomile, bergamot, fennel, lavender and rose” to help support the endocrine system. (Modern Essentials, 2015)
One Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Doctor of Clinical Psychology student is researching the effects of aromatic compounds on the brain. She recommends targeting depression via the limbic and nervous systems. Some of the oils she references as anti-depressant are: Citrus bergamia: bergamot, Boswellia carteri: frankincense, Lavandula angustifolia: lavender, Citrus limon: lemon, any oils from the Rutaceae (citrus) family, Chamaemelum nobile or Anthemis nobilis: chamomile, Salvia sclarea: clary Sage, Pelargonium graveolens: geranium, Zingiber officinale: ginger, Jasminum officinale: jasmine, Origanum vulgare: oregano, Pogostemon cablin: patchouli, Rosa damascena: rose or Rosmarinus officinalis CT 1,8 Cineol: rosemary.
Diffusing the oils, and applying them to the reflex points on brain, neck, wrists, or bottom of the feet, as well as applying them to the occipital point on the base of the skull 1-2 times per day is recommended.
Exercise, nutrition, hydration, rest, relaxation, fun and adventure, laughter and play, meditation and the use of essential oils will help improve emotional well-being and decrease depression symptoms and frequency.
Adding essential oils to each of the above activities will help improve cellular and limbic function. A daily essential oil regimen is necessary to increase joy and decrease depression.
This regimen will also need to include a foundation of whole, nutritious foods, an adequate daily amount of water, exercise, meditation or time spent in silence, stress reduction including methods like journaling, seeking counseling and getting at least 8 hours of sleep. Some recommendations for daily use of essential oils to combat depression include; A diffuser or two set throughout the house with essential oils that are pleasing and uplifting to the user. Oils such as Citrus sinensis: orange, Pelargonium graveolens: geranium, Citrus limon: lemon, Lavandula angustifolia: lavender, Mentha piperita: peppermint, Mentha spicata: spearmint, Citrus reticulata: tangerine or Cymbopogon flexuosus: lemongrass help increase joy and reduce agitation. Taking a stress relieving bath with oils like Lavandula angustifolia: lavender once a day will help reduce stress and create a restful night’s sleep. Creating a topical blend to help reduce toxic overload will help to improve the efficiency and proper function of all body systems and thus reducing symptoms and occurrence of depression. The Lymphatic system is easily overloaded with toxins as is the digestive system. Removing these toxins on a daily basis will help improve mental and physical health. (Modern Essentials, 2015) recommend using Helichrysum italicum: helichrysum, Rosmarinus officinalis: rosemary, Juniperus communis: juniper berry and Coriandrum sativum: coriander for detoxification by applying diluted oils topically over the liver and intestines, and reflex points on the feet. Adding oils such as Cananga odorata: ylang ylang and Pelargonium graveolens: geranium will help balance hormones and using oils such as Boswellia frereana: frankincense and Santalum album: sandalwood will help restore cellular function.
Based on the taxonomical breakdown of plant families according to Modern Essentials, the most effective essential oils for combating depression and its physiological contributors are as follows:
For the nervous system: Mentha piperita: peppermint, Ocimum basilicum CT linalol: basil, Lavandula angustifolia: lavender, Citrus limon: lemon, Citrus x paradisi: grapefruit, Boswellia carteri: frankincense
For the endocrine system: Rosmarinus officinalis CT 1,8 Cineol: Rosemary, Mentha piperita: peppermint, Salvia sclarea: clary sage, Cananga odorata: ylang ylang, Melaleuca alternifolia: melaleuca, Origanum vulgare: oregano, Ocimum basilicum CT linalol: basil, Cinnamomum cassia: cassia, Pogostemon cablin: patchouli, Pelargonium graveolens: geranium
For the Limbic system: Melissa officinalis: melissa (lemon balm), Boswellia carteri: frankincense, Santalum album: sandalwood, Citrus bergamia: bergamot, Rosa damascena: rose
For detoxification: Helichrysum italicum: helichrysum, Rosmarinus officinalis CT 1,8 Cineol: rosemary, Juniperus communis: juniper berry, Coriandrum sativum L.: coriander, Cupressus sempervirens: cypress, Citrus x paradisi: grapefruit, Cymbopogon flexuosos: lemongrass, Citrus sinensis: orange, Thymus vulgaris CT Thymol: thyme, Eugenia caryophyllata: clove, Zingiber officinale: ginger
For cellular repair: Mentha piperita: peppermint, Lavandula angustifolia: lavender, Rosmarinus officinalis CT 1,8 Cineol: rosemary, Ocimum basilicum CT linalol: basil, Foeniculum vulgare: fennel
For Emotions/Depression: Cupressus sempervirens: cypress, Pelargonium graveolens: geranium, Lavandula angustifolia: lavender, Rosa damascena: rose, Mentha piperita: peppermint, Citrus limon: lemon, Boswellia carteri: frankincense, Citrus bergamia: bergamot, Melissa officinalis: melissa (lemon balm), Salvia sclarea: clary sage, Rosmarinus officinalis CT 1,8 Cineol: rosemary, Cananga odorata: ylang ylang, Citrus x paradisi: grapefruit, Citrus aurantifolia: lime, Zingiber officinale: ginger, Juniperus communis: juniper berry, Ocimum basilicum CT linalol: basil, Santalum album: sandalwood, Pogostemon cablin: patchouli, Citrus sinensis: orange (Modern Essentials, 2015)
By using a combination of the any of the above oils, we can restore our body systems to the point of homeostasis over time.
If we think of our bodies as a circle of life, with one system affecting the other and so on until we’re back at the first system then we can see and understand how every cell, organ, strand of tissue matters when it comes to our mental health (or any other facet of wellness for that matter).
If the cardiovascular system is backed up and not functioning well, then the blood will not flow properly to the brain or other organs, affecting those systems and so on. It is (in my opinion) full-body wellness that allows us to not only be physically well but mentally happy. With daily use of essential oils, we can reduce stressors and toxic overload, balance hormones, improve organ function and cellular health and increase brain health. The end result from this balancing of all body systems is a decrease in symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mood disorders. By addressing wellness in terms of body systems and the connection they share with each other as well as with the mind and spirit we can see that a holistic approach must be taken to target our ailments. Depression might be seemingly overwhelming and unmanageable but through the consistent use of essential oils and other holistic approaches we can target all areas of the source of the problem and combat it, repairing the source of depression from the inside out over time.
- Daniel, Danielle. Essential Oils and the Brain. Pleasant Grove: AromaTools, 2015. Print.
- “Depression (mood).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Aug. 2016. Web. 27 Aug. 2016.
- The Essential Life: A Simple Guide to Living the Wellness Lifestyle. Place of Publication Not Identified: Total Wellness, 2015. Print.
- Goldberg M.D., Joseph. “WebMD – Causes of Depression.” WebMD. WebMD, 27 Feb. 2016. Web. 27 Aug. 2016.
- Goldsmith Ph.D., Barton. “10 Little Known Facts About Depression.” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 15 July 2009. Web. 27 Aug. 2016.
- Modern Essentials: A Contemporary Guide to the Therapeutic Use of Essential Oils. 7th ed. Vol. 2. Pleasant Grove: AromaTools, 2015. Print.