The Science of Belief- The Merger of the Mind and Body
My approach in my practice has always centered around honoring the link between the mind and the body. Without addressing how the physical impacts emotions, and vice versa, progress for healing is temporary at best. This mind-body connection has intrigued me even before I started naturopathic medicine.
My fascination with the “science of belief” began in undergraduate school. As a psychology major, I was puzzled as to how something as well established and powerful as the placebo effect was nonchalantly dismissed. It was simply viewed as an annoying confounder to account for in an experiment. The fact that someone’s belief in an intervention could affect outcomes1-2 in a randomized trial and had to be controlled for, left me wondering why it wasn’t being used to our advantage. After all, if we are going to heal the mind and body, shouldn’t we pull out all the stops?
Since the placebo effect exists, even the most mechanistic, Newtonian scientists must admit that you cannot impact the body without the brain knowing it, and vice versa. Now modern research is catching on and exploring the benefits of the placebo in more detail. It’s already being implemented in our culture with laypeople who aren’t sitting around waiting for science to catch up. Rather, research seems to be catching up with our culture!1-4
The amazing feats of “mind over matter” have recently come to mainstream attention due to the “superhuman” powers that are being taught and demonstrated by mere mortals, such as by the famous “Iceman.” Wim Hof is not only able to himself withstand extreme cold temperatures and upregulate his immune system with the power of his mind, but also teaches it to others! 3-4
More Than Emotions- How Culture, Relationships, and More Impact Health
It has been established that not only the mind effects the body, but so do cultural beliefs, relationships, physiological stress, and spirituality. Furthermore, negative self-beliefs (such as shame), stigma, social determinants, and status also impact health.
What many don’t realize is that with one bottle, all these health determinants can be positively influenced. For these reasons, essential oils are my favorite healing modality.
“Minding” the Many Roles of Essential Oils
The evidence of aromatherapy for relieving stress and supporting mood is well-accepted, even in conventional circles. What is not appreciated by many is that essential oils also have extensive research in the medical realm. Although many “experts” may infer that the aromatic influence is the key determinant for changes in emotions, many studies document that other mechanisms of actions, such as topical and ingestion, modulate physiology and mental health beyond the nose.5-7
It is true that essential oils’ aroma alone can instantaneously impact our brain physiology, memory, and be used as a form of spiritual upliftment, which has been practiced since ancient times. Still, these secondary metabolites of plants have the power to simultaneously rebalance the physical manifestations as they relieve unwelcome emotions and/or unrelenting chronic stress.
This means there is legitimacy to the fact that emotional blends of essential oils aren’t just a marketing ploy. Using an example of synergy of several essential oils, I have previously demonstrated that one truly can find “gratitude in a bottle.” Furthermore, essential oils can promote bonding by relieving strain, stress, and physical ailments that block intimacy.
Below, I have provided a summary of the multifactorial, synergistic effect of essential oils from a previous article on my website:
How Essential Oils Can Change Our Brain and Health for the Better
On the biochemical level, essential oils can impact brain health, signaling, and function. They have been shown to modulate neurotransmitters as well as protect the brain from oxidative stress. (source,source)6-7
On the physiological level, essential oils and certain fragrances have been shown to alter brain wave patterns, affecting concentration, focus, relaxation, and emotions. In fact, an in-depth review article has provided us with a handy chart with specific examples of this. It is important to note the individual differences in aromatic preferences and gender can affect these patterns.
Through their multi-system effects on our brain and body, essential oils can alter our behavior which can result in more positive social connections. Studies have even supported the use of essential oils for easing the symptoms of addictive substance withdrawal. I have used them in my practice to help my clients in following through with greater self-care and assist with the release of unwanted reactionary patterns that sabotage their relationships.
Human bonds are an often-overlooked epigenetic influencer of undue stress and physical ailments. By assisting with alleviating emotional toxicity and enhancing emotional intelligence, essential oils can help create more fulfilling, healthier, and longer lives. These effects offer more of an impact than any other physical risk factor alone!
Additional Articles on Essential Oils and the Mind-Body
To explore how essential oils simultaneously impact the physical body, emotions, spirituality, and brain physiology, see this post.
This article highlights how to manage the stress of the holidays or triggering events and provides an overview summary of the amazing mood, body, stress relieving capacities of essential oils.
In my upcoming article series, I will be exploring more on how essential oils change our brain. Please be sure to check back on my website for the first article in this series, “A Primer To: How the Ancient Medicine of Essential Oils Can “Hack” the Modern Brain’s Biochemistry,” and continue to follow along.
- Harvard Health Publishing. The Power of the Placebo Effect. Harvard Medical School. May 2017. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/mental-health/the-power-of-the-placebo-effect
- Munnangi S, Angus LD. Placebo Effect. [Updated 2019 Mar 23]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513296/
- Muzik O, Reilly KT, Diwadkar VA. “Brain over body”-A study on the willful regulation of autonomic function during cold exposure [abstract]. Neuroimage. 2018 May 15;172:632-641. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2018.01.067. Epub 2018 Feb 10.
- The Conversation. Brain over body: Hacking the stress system to let your psychology influence your physiology. May 1, 2019. Available at: https://theconversation.com/brain-over-body-hacking-the-stress-system-to-let-your-psychology-influence-your-physiology-111133
- Harvard Health Publishing. In Brief: Aromatherapy’s benefits limited to mood improvement. Harvard Medicine School. May 2008. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/In_Brief_Aromatherapys_benefits_limited_to_mood_improvement
- PDQ Integrative, Alternative, and Complementary Therapies Editorial Board. Aromatherapy With Essential Oils (PDQ®): Health Professional Version. 2019 Jan 8. In: PDQ Cancer Information Summaries [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Cancer Institute (US); 2002-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK65874/
- LoBisco, S. Exploring the Complexities and Caveats of Safe Internal Use of Essential Oils for Pain: Highlighting Intestinal Discomfort, Part 2. Townsend Letter. January 2019. Available at: http://www.townsendletter.com/Jan2019/essential0119_3.html
- Ayaz M, Sadiq A, Junaid M, Ullah F, Subhan F, Ahmed J. Neuroprotective and Anti-Aging Potentials of Essential Oils from Aromatic and Medicinal Plants. Front Aging Neurosci. 2017;9:168. Published 2017 May 30. doi:10.3389/fnagi.2017.00168 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5447774/
- Ayaz M, Sadiq A, Junaid M, Ullah F, Subhan F, Ahmed J. Neuroprotective and Anti-Aging Potentials of Essential Oils from Aromatic and Medicinal Plants. Front Aging Neurosci. 2017;9:168. Published 2017 May 30. doi:10.3389/fnagi.2017.00168
Links found within this article contain links to articles that cite more scientific studies and sources found within them.
Sarah LoBisco, ND, IFCMP, is a graduate of the University of Bridgeport’s College of Naturopathic Medicine (UBCNM). She is licensed in Vermont as a naturopathic doctor and has received her certification in functional medicine through the Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM), which is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME). She holds a Bachelor of Psychology from State University of New York at Geneseo and is also certified in Applied Kinesiology. Dr. LoBisco currently incorporates her training in holistic and conventional medicine through writing, researching, and through her independent consulting work with individuals and for companies regarding supplements, nutraceuticals, essential oils, and medical foods. Dr. LoBisco speaks professionally on integrative medical topics and has several journal publications. “Dr. Sarah” also enjoys continuing to educate and empower her readers and clients through her blogs and social media. Her main blog can be found at dr-lobisco.com.