Mood Enhancers have become popular because mood issues are a serious matter. With 1 in 10 Americans suffering from such problems, 10% of adults report they’ve felt sad, and 13% report that most have been an effort all, most, or at least some of the time within the past 30 days. It’s clear that low mood is a widespread problem.
Often, a first-line treatment option for low mood is a prescription for an anti-depressant medication. While antidepressants may be life-saving in some circumstances, for someone that is looking for a gentle boost, anti-depressants may feel like too aggressive of a first-line intervention.
Given this fact, many people are looking to “natural” mood enhancers as adjunct therapies to use when dealing with low mood. But first, let’s outline what is meant by a “natural mood enhancer”. Typically, this term encompasses a variety of what are deemed “natural” treatment options, including vitamins, herbs, supplements, aromatherapy, and lifestyle changes (exercise, meditation, nutrition, etc). While it is worthwhile to discuss each of these options with your healthcare provider or holistic health team, the breadth is too wide for this post. Instead let’s narrow the focus to aromatherapy and ask the basic question, “How does aromatherapy work as a natural mood enhancer?”
As mentioned before, theories suggest that one of aromatherapy’s mechanisms of action in influencing mood occurs via the limbic system. This is the region of the brain that governs emotional as well as intentional processes and it has been found that these expressions of emotion may be influenced in part by smell. The limbic system is responsible for the nostalgia you may experience from scents that are reminiscent of happy times. Several small studies support that aromatherapy can influence mood, by showing that aromatherapy has positive effects on depressive symptoms in patients.
Since aromatherapy may positively affect one’s emotional state, what's keeping everyone from trying it? Often the answer to this question is fear that there may be side effects or that aromatherapy may be unsafe.
Ultimately the question arises: “How safe is aromatherapy as a natural mood enhancer?”
The answer to this has several parts: the safety of aromatherapy depends on first its method of delivery, second on its dosage, and third on the quality of the oils themselves.
Method of Delivery for Mood Enhancers
The typical methods of delivery in aromatherapy are inhalation, topical application, and oral/internal administration. Due to the complexity of oral and internal administration, we will not discuss these here. In general, inhalation and topical application are considered relatively safe. The few safety concerns are as follows:
- Avoid prolonged exposure to high levels of essential oil vapor over an extended period of time (30+ min)
- Use caution if you suffer from a chronic respiratory disease (eg. asthma, COPD)
- Dilute essential oils prior to applying to the body (see below)
- Some essential oils, due to their chemical compositions, (eg. phototoxic, neurotoxic constituents) may cause a reaction
- Integrity of the skin (healthy vs. damaged skin)
See above for inhalation safety dosing. In regard to topical application, it is important that you follow the dosage or dilution recommendations for essential oils:
- A general rule of thumb for adults is a dilution of 2-3% (18-27 drops of e.o. per 1 oz of carrier oil or lotion)
- Essential oils with chemical compositions that may increase sensitivity should have a significantly lower dilution (though this varies from oil to oil, so make sure to read the labels or ask the seller)
- Children and elderly people need a lower dilution (eg. 0.1-1.5%)
The quality of the essential oil itself is the final factor in safely using aromatherapy as a mood booster. It is important that the essential oils you use are unadulterated and pure. The following are ways the typical consumer can assess the quality of the essential oils they are using:
- Look for and know the genus and species of the oil you're using (Eg. for true lavender- Lavendula Angustifolia)
- Make sure the producer used the correct part of the plant for the oil (ie. rind in orange)
- Make sure the producer used the correct distillation method
- Know the country of origin & how it was grown
- Most reputable suppliers will also make a scientific analysis of each batch of essential oils available for transparency
- Get to know your supplier
Another factor in maintaining the quality and safety of your essential oils is how you store them. To prevent the essential oil from degrading, we recommend that you keep them in dark amber or cobalt blue bottles and store them in a cool, dark place. Also make sure to keep them out of reach of children, because they are very potent and can be harmful in the wrong hands!