Essential Oils and the Blood-Brain Barrier

By Nancy Smorch

Some of you may have heard the words “essential oils and the blood-brain barrier” thrown around. What is this discussion all about and why is it relevant?

First of all, let’s use the word “filter” rather than barrier. There is a “filter” surrounding the brain that only let’s things into the brain that weigh less than 500 amu (atomic mass units), are relatively compact in shape and size, and are lipid soluble (fat soluble). This really narrows the playing field of things that can cross this barrier or filter and get into the brain.

Essential oils meet all of these requirements. They are all under 500 amu (most are under 300 amu). They are compact in shape – almost always containing ring structures, whereas other fatty molecules, even though they weigh less than 500 amu, they consist of long chains rather than rings and thus their shape prohibits them from going through the “filter." And, of course, they are fat soluble. Other molecules don’t have all of these characteristics. Take water for example. It’s atomic mass unit (weight) is only 18, but it is not fat soluble (which is a good thing, as too many water molecules in the brain is not good).

Why is all of this relevant? Not many substances can pass through the blood-brain barrier, but essential oils can. So, you can take the therapeutic benefits of essential oils and apply them to the brain, and if they can reach the brain, they will affect the rest of the body as well – as they affect various parts of the brain that regulate various functions in the body – from hormone production, adrenal support, memory storage, emotional balance, and on and on. So you experience physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental benefits.

There are other substances besides essential oils that can cross the blood-brain barrier, many of which are toxic – chemicals we come in contact with every day – gasoline, cleaning solutions, pesticides, herbicides, and pollutants in the air, among others. The cool thing about essential oils is that they can help reverse the effects of the build up of these toxins on the receptor sites of cells, which allows the cells to go back to being able to receive the information they need to do what they are supposed to do for growth, reproduction, and healing. Essential oils also help with detoxification in general, removing toxic substances from the body. In fact, if I’m working on someone who I know has been exposed to a lot of chemicals and toxins, I will go very slowly with the oils, because more than likely, they will start to detoxify, and the toxins leave the body through the kidney (urine), colon (feces), skin, and the breath. If you go too much too fast, I’m sure you can imagine what may happen.

The bottom line is that essential oils can penetrate not only the blood-brain barrier, but they can also penetrate the skin, follow nerve pathways, follow the meridians, and provide healing and balance even at the cellular level – including cellular memory and DNA. Think about that! Pretty amazing – and the cool thing (which is a whole other discussion) is that they have an “intuitive component,” so they actually help bring the body back into homeostasis, or balance (unlike pharmaceutical drugs that are designed to do one thing, i.e. lower blood pressure – even if you don’t need it lowered). And, it is in this state of balance that the body begins to heal itself – just like it is designed to do. It’s all perfect!