The Role of Aromatherapy in the Management of ADHD Symptoms

The Role of Aromatherapy in the Management of ADHD Symptoms

Essential oils (EO) have a direct chemical influence on brain function, especially the frontal lobe and limbic areas of the brain. The chemical qualities and therapeutic versatility of essential oils are ideal for the support and management of ADHD and ASD. Scientific evidence suggests that essential oils may positively benefit children, parents and caregivers in terms of exerting a positive pyscho­emotional and physiological influence within the recipient. Research indicates that impulsivity, concentration, depression, anxiety, low self ­esteem and sensitivity can be managed through the use of regular aromatherapy. They can be used exclusively for these effects or in conjunction with other complimentary strategies such as relaxation, mindfulness, CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and counseling. Scientific research using the TOVA Test, IQ Comparative Analysis and EEG Studies (Beta/Theta Brain Waves) suggest that an effective EO treatment plan can increase cognitive focus and decrease impulsivity in children with ADHD. In fact there was a 32% improvement on testing completed pre­ and post­ EO treatment over a thirty day period.



Essential Oils Used in the Study:

Cedrus atlantica (Atlas Cedarwood): Chosen because of its high concentration of sesquiterpenes which make up about 50% of its constituents. Sesquiterpenes are thought to improve oxygenation of the brain.

Vetiveria zizanioides (Vetiver): Chosen because it is coming and balancing to the nervous system, while at the same time, stimulating to the circulatory system

Lavandula angustofolia (Lavender): Chosen because it has both sedative and a stimulating action ­ it sedates the brain while at the same time, it stimulates the limbic part of the brain.


ADHD and Essential Oils

This author found very little existing information or research evidence in relation to the use of essential oils and ADHD, in spite of the link between apparent symptoms (discussed previously) of the condition and the influence of essential oils on cerebral activity, especially with in the limbic region (for example, the pituitary gland, the hypothalamus, amygdale and hippocampus, which influence mood, emotion, behaviour, memory and hormonal activity – see box 2) (Sorensen 2001, 2000; Robin 2000; Damian & Damian 1995; Herz 1999; Degel 1999). Sorensen (2001) investigated the hormonal activity of Vitex agnus castus (Chaste tree), finding that identified (and unidentified) diterpenes with pharmacological dopaminergic activity act as dopaminergic agonists, especially affecting the D2 receptors. Genetic research (mentioned previously) has established a link between ADHD and inheritable dopaminergic deficiencies, particularly dopamine D2 and D4, and dopamine receptors. Sorensen (2001) found that ‘ hormonal, thereby emotional disorders, are treated very successfully with Vitex agnus castus (both extract and oil)’ especially depression and anxiety, although, she acknowledges this depends on the nature of the underlying disorder. Synthesizing these findings, though, suggests that Vitex agnus castus essential oil may potentially benefit the symptoms of ADHD, justifying further investigation and research.


The pituitary gland, the hypothalamus, amygdale and hippocampus influence mood, emotion, behaviour, memory and hormonal activity (Fig. 2)

The parents interviewed by this author said that they used essential oils at home with some success to help calm their son’s behaviour and improve their ability to relax, but they also agreed that the essential oils did not diminish the underlying symptoms (Fig. 3).



The Olfactory System and The Limbic Brain: A Quick Intro



Olfaction, the sense of odour (smell), is the detection of chemicals dissolved in the air. In this case, we are talking about essential oils, volatile aromatic naturally occurring chemicals. Humans have the ability to recognize up to 10,000 separate odours, but each thing we smell needs to be volatile (capable of entering a gaseous state) for our senses to be able to detect and identify it. There are environmental impacts that can impede our sense of smell such as if the air is very dry.

The part of the nose that plays the greatest role in the scent processing is the olfactory epithelium. It is located at the back of the upper portion of the nose and is home to over 6 million olfactory receptor neurons! Our sense of smell is dependent on sensory receptors that are responsive to airborne chemicals. These chemoreceptors are located in the olfactory epithelium!

The olfactory epithelium is made up of three various types of cells, each with a unique role to play!

1. Olfactory Receptor Cells: These are sensory cells that detect odour but they are also nerve cells that are connected directly to the brain!

2. Basal Cells: These cells are the “Refreshers” and divide regularly (every 30 days or so) and produce a fresh batch of sensory neurons to take the place of those that have died. Factors such as air pollution and industry can play a role in the rate of

3. Supporting Cells: These cells are the “Fixers” and are scattered amongst the receptor cells. They provide various functions to keep the olfactory epithelium in tip top shape! Like a mechanic changes and adds oil to your vehicle, these little guys build tissue and lube up the olfactory epithelium with the secretions it requires to operate properly!

The olfactory receptor neuron axons gather to form the olfactory nerve which is otherwise known as “Cranial Nerve I”. It is the first of 12 cranial nerves and is instrumental in the sense of smell. Eventually this science will make sense and tie back into ADHD, you see the Olfactory Nerve is positively the shortest path to the portion of our brain that controls behaviour, emotion and memory! Simply put, an aromatic molecule has the potential to be the fastest known modifier of behaviour, our central nervous system (CNS) and even our thinking processes! This is where Aromatherapy and ADHD tie together in a nice neat package!



Essential Oils that potentially influence structures associated with the limbic system, the area that controls behaviours, memory and emotions.



Can Essential Oils Help Manage the Symptoms of ADHD?


Small studies and anecdotal evidence suggest that yes, essential oils can potentially help manage symptoms of ADHD. There may be substantial benefit and there is no indication that essential oils can be harmful for people with ADHD so the RISK/GAIN factor is clearly measured.

A thorough client intake and assessment will allow a certified aromatherapist to formulate synergistic blends based on health data and any client contraindications.

Synergistic blends take into consideration all health conditions and maximize on the treatment of the client with as few oils as possible. As an example, we know Ylang Ylang can relieve tachycardia but it can also be used as a treatment for depression and of eczema. Using it in a client blend would therefore treat all three issues with a single oil.

Synergy means the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. What this means in terms of aromatherapy is that when the various oils used in a blend meld and fasten to each other, they become something stronger than the individual oils ­ a new “oil” in and of itself is borne. Their therapeutic values increase substantially when blended in a practiced and experienced way offering the client a potent antidote to symptoms.

For more information on treatment, please consult an experienced aromatherapist. There is healing power in essential oils, but unharnessed, it can go awry. Dilutions, contraindications and usage instruction as per times per day and amount per day are factors in treatment, no different than with a prescription.

Natural YES, Healing YES, Powerful MOST DEFINITELY!



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