As aromatherapy fans, we know that some of the most common (and beloved!) herbs in the pantry also produce exceptional essential oils, like rosemary. You’ve probably heard all about rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis (L.) essential oil’s uplifting and stimulating effects on the mind and memory. It’s a fascinating benefit and I’ve quite gotten into the habit of diffusing rosemary while reading, writing, or doing anything that involves extra focus.
As I shared in my previous post on brain health, my 91-year-old mum has been having trouble with her short-term memory over the last few years. My experience helping my mum has fueled a personal investigation into the relationship between the brain, our aging population, and aromatherapy. I’ve taken an in-depth look at the research surrounding aromatherapy and memory—and what I’ve found is quite interesting!
I shared my findings in a presentation at the 2016 Asian Aromatherapy Conference in Delhi, India this past April and will be sharing the presentation in my upcoming ACHS webcast, Aromatherapy Essential Oils for Memory Retention on June 29 at 4 p.m. Pacific time. You're invited!
But, first …
A Crash Course in Brain Chemistry and Memory Loss
In the Aromatherapy Essential Oils for Memory Retention webcast, I’m going to talk in depth about seven essential oils that may support a healthy brain and memory. First, you need to know a little bit about the brain and its chemistry.
The first thing you should know is that the brain uses chemical substances called neurotransmitters, which the brain and nervous system use to process and transmit information from one area to another. When neurotransmitters are flowing smoothly, the brain can do its job, like focus, easily recall, and store long- and short-term memories.
For example, acetylcholine (ACh) is a neurotransmitter that plays an important part in mental plasticity and focus. Researchers believe that a reduction in this neurotransmitter as we age may contribute to memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
How does this happen? One possible answer is acetylcholinesterase (AChE). AChE is an enzyme that increases with stress and age, and it stimulates the breakdown of acetylcholine, and can possibly accelerate the onset of AD.
Drugs and chemicals that inhibit AChE from breaking down important neurotransmitters are called acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (AChEI), but the prescription pharmaceuticals can come with a host of side effects.
Overwhelmed? Just remember:
- ACh = GOOD! Helps keep the brain running smoothly.
- AChE = BAD! Attacks ACh and may cause memory loss.
- AChEI = GOOD! Prevents AChE from attacking ACh in the brain.
Since this is such important knowledge, I want to give you some information today about four of the seven essential oils that research shows can be beneficial for the brain and memory.
1. Black Pepper Piper nigrum (L.)
One of the first spices to travel the spice route, black pepper P. nigrum has been treasured for centuries as both a flavoring agent and health support.
What is lesser know is that studies have demonstrated that black pepper P. nigrum essential oil and extract act as AChE inhibitors. In the essential oil, this effect is caused by the constituents delta-3-carene and caryophyllene. In the extract, the alkaloid piperine (not present in the essential oil) is responsible for the AChEI action.
In addition to its known anti-inflammatory properties, these findings indicate that black pepper P. nigrum may be an effective support for symptoms of memory loss and AD.
2. Coriander Coriandrum sativum (L.)
Several studies suggest coriander has strong antioxidant properties. A 2014 in vivo animal study (using rats) also shows it may be an effective essential oil to use in the support of AD-related symptoms.
The study reported that the volatile oil significantly improved performance of the rats in a maze and a forced-swimming test. The researchers believe this suggests anxiolytic and antidepressant-like effects of coriander essential oil—which would make it an ideal choice for AD support.
3. Clove Syzygium aromaticum (L.)
Another powerful antioxidant, studies into clove essential oil have shown restorative potential on the brain.
One fascinating animal study conducted in 2010 demonstrated that clove S. aromaticum oil might reverse both short- and long-term memory deficits. Researchers believe this effect can be, to some degree, caused by clove’s antioxidant abilities.
Scopolamine, a substance known to produce memory impairment, was given to mice to create memory deficits. The treatment group was given clove bud oil as a supplement. Three weeks of clove oil supplementation significantly reversed scopolamine-caused memory impairment. Brain samples of mice from the supplemented group showed a significant decrease in malondialdehyde levels (malondialdehyde is one of the most frequently used indicators of lipid peroxidation, or the process by which free radicals trigger cell damage), suggesting reduced oxidative stress, which helps keep the brain healthy and whole.
4. Spanish Sage Salvia lavandulifolia (Vahl)
There have been four studies investigating the memory benefits of Spanish sage S. lavandulifolia. In vitro studies showed that the steam-distilled essential oil and the 96% ethanolic extract of both common sage S. officinalis and Spanish sage S. lavandulifolia inhibited AChE at significantly low concentrations. However, Spanish sage S. lavandulifolia was selected for further study since common sage S. officinalis contains high concentrations of the neurotoxin, thujone.
Another study investigated the individual constituents within S. lavandulifolia, and results revealed a constituent profile of alpha-pinene (13%), which demonstrated the most significant anticholinesterase activity, followed by camphor (15%) and 1,8 cineole (27%). Interestingly, it was noted that there is a high degree of synergy in the combined action of the terpenes, which means using the whole oil is more effective than the isolated constituents.
Join me for my upcoming webcast!
Now that you’ve gotten a sneak peek into how certain essential oils can help support memory, brain health, and symptoms of AD, please join me for my next webcast: Aromatherapy Essential Oils for Memory Retention on June 29 at 4:00 p.m. Pacific time.
We’ll explore even more essential oils that have demonstrated AChEI actions and support for memory loss. I hope to see you there!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I am the President and Founder of American College of Healthcare Sciences, the Institution that publishes this blog. However, all opinions are my own. This blog may contain affiliate links. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent disease. This article has not been reviewed by the FDA. Always consult with your primary care physician or naturopathic doctor before making any significant changes to your health and wellness routine.
 Lomarat, P., Shripha, K., Phanthong, P., Kitphati, W., Thirapanmethee, K., & Bunyapraphatsara, N. (2015). In Vitro Biological Activities of Black Pepper Essential Oil and Its Major Components Relevant to the Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease. The Thai Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, 39(3), 94-101.
 Kumar, S., & Dixit, S. (2015). Screening of Traditional Indian Spices for Inhibitory Activity of Acetylcholinesterase and Butyrlcholinesterase Enzymes. International Journal of Pharma and Bio Sciences, 3(1), 59-65.
 Wangensteen, H., Samuelsen, A., & Malterud, K. (2004). Antioxidant activity in extracts from coriander. Food Chemistry, 88(2), 293-297. Retrieved from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2004.01.047;
Darughe, F., Barzegar, M., & Sahari, M. (2012). Antioxidant and antifungal activity of Coriander (Coriandrum sativum L.) essential oil in cake. International Food Research Journal, 19(3), 1253-1260.
 Cioanca, O., Hritcu, L., Mihasan, M., Trifan, A., & Hancianu, M. (2014). Inhalation of coriander volatile oil increased anxiolytic–antidepressant-like behaviors and decreased oxidative status in beta-amyloid (1–42) rat model of Alzheimer’s disease. Physiology & Behavior, 131, 68-74. Retrieved from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2014.04.021
 Viuda-Martos, M., Ruiz Navajas, Y., Sanchez Zapata, E., Fernandez-Lapez, J., & Parez-Alvarez, J. (2010). Antioxidant activity of essential oils of five spice plants widely used in a Mediterranean diet. Flavour and Fragrance Journal, 25(1),13-19. Retrieved from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ffj.1951
 Halder, S., Mehta, A., Kar, R., Mustafa, M., Mediratta, P., & Sharma, K. (2010). Clove Oil Reverses Learning and Memory Deficits in Scopolamine-Treated Mice. Planta Med., 77(08), 830-834. Retrieved from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1055/s-0030-1250605
 Malondialdehyde (MDA) is one of the most frequently used indicators of lipid peroxidation. See: Nielsen, F., Mikkelsen, B.B., Nielsen, J.B., Andersen, H.R., & Grandjean, P. (1997). Plasma malondialdehyde as biomarker for oxidative stress: reference interval and effects of life-style factors. Clin Chem., 43(7), 1209-14. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9216458
 Perry, N., Court, G., Bidet, N., Court, J., & Perry, E. (1996). European Herbs With Cholinergic Activities: Potential In Dementia Therapy. Int. J. Geriat. Psychiatry, 11(12), 1063-1069.