Essential oils for boosting the brain

Turbo charge your brain for the return to work, university or school!

As the summer holidays draw to a close we're faced with that time of year when “time off” suddenly morphs into “game on” and we have to speed up again into fully functioning human beings. It’s not always easy though. Hopefully, many of us have had some form of Summer recuperation, or enjoyed a slower pace of life with a little more “time out”. At the very least – we've hopefully had more fresh air, exercise and topped up our Vitamin D levels!

So, whilst we’re getting the kids ready for school or uni, or preparing to return to work ourselves – let's consider what we need “on the inside” to ensure our brains are back in gear and are up to the jobs we require of them!

Essential fatty acids for nourishing the brain

A turbo-charged brain is a well-nourished one – and it may surprise you to know that means an increase in FAT in your diet….yes really. The brain consists of 60% fat – so a low fat diet is about the worst sort of diet you can have for concentration and clarity, despite what we've been told in the past. This is particularly important whilst we're still growing – up to our early 20s.

So, if we increase our intake of healthy fats, then our mental capacities will improve. Unfortunately we tend to do the opposite – and our diets tend to be high in saturated fats from fried foods such as chips and crisps. What we really need to do is to increase the healthy Omega 3s – such as DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) – which are found in high quantities in fresh fish and grass fed, outdoor reared beef.  A recent study(1) has thrown up a huge amount of evidence indicating how important these “Essential Fatty Acids” are. The study indicates that the frontal lobes of the brain – particularly in relation to children – have a very high demand indeed for DHA to support development and functioning. These lobes are the areas of the brain that regulate behavioural centres as well as being responsible for activities such as attention, focus, problem solving and planning. This and other studies indicate that DHA is also extremely important for eye health. The area of the eye which is sensitive to light and transmits signals to the brain so vision is formed – the retina – contains very high levels of DHA. So as children tend to learn visually – the vital nature of a diet rich in this essential fatty acid is also reinforced.

In 2014 another important research paper(2) indicated that higher levels of DHA are associated with improved quality and quantity of sleep. This is particularly important as sleep problems in both children and adults are on the rise. In children though – adequate sleep is essential for healthy brain development as well as school performance and general behaviour.

So, what type of fish has the highest levels of DHA? When sourcing your fish, or supplements, do ensure that the fish comes from seas low in mercury pollution (and other heavy metal pollutants), as some seas are worse than others. Research throws up conflicting advice, but the worst fish to accumulate heavy metal toxins seem to be shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish.

Fish richest in DHA (in order of priority) are:-

  • Mackerel
  • Kippers
  • Tinned Sardines in Tomato Sauce
  • Tinned Sardines in Brine
  • Smoked Salmon
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Tinned Red and Pink Salmon
  • Crab
  • Seabass
  • Plaice
  • Scampi
  • Mussels
  • Cod
  • Tuna in Sunflower
  • Calamari
  • Cold water prawns

Other tips for improving brain power

So other than eating a diet rich in EFAs especially DHA, what other elements can help improve your brain power NOW?

  • Get a good 7 – 8 hours quality sleep
  • Get at least 3 sessions of exercise a week – to release mood-enhancing endorphins and increase oxygen uptake
  • Good posture also helps ensure adequate oxygen uptake
  • Ensure you are not dehydrated – drink a minimum of 1.5 litres of water per day
  • Eat little and often high nutrient snacks with no sugar or slow release sugars from unrefined sources
  • Cook with raw organic Coconut Oil
  • Dietary recommendations with powerful effects on general and brain health: Paleo or Ketogenic Diet
  • Have a regular Aromatherapy massage to reduce muscular tension which can negatively affect blood flow to the brain and concentration. Massage also stimulates the release of endorphins, your circulation and immune response, and gives you a “feel good factor” that will help anyone's brain to function better! Tension releasing essential oils include: Lavender, Chamomile, Marjoram, Plai, Cedarwood, Pine, Benzoin, Neroli and Petitgrain.
  • Stock up on brain stimulant / cephalic essential oils to vaporize or inhale. These include Rosemary, Basil, Black Pepper, Camphor, Eucalyptus, Ginger, Lime, Peppermint, Ravensara, Spearmint and Thyme. 

Aromatherapy blends for boosting your brain

Inhalation for tiredness and congestion:
3 drops Pine essential oil, 2 Plai and 2 Cedarwood

Massage oil for neck and shoulder tension (with regular headaches):
30ml Grapeseed Oil, 8 drops Lavender essential oil, 4 Marjoram and 2 Plai

Massage oil for back tension with lower back pain:
30ml Grapeseed Oil, 4 drops Pine essential oil, 4 Lavender, 3 Benzoin, 2 Neroli and 2 Chamomile

Vaporising blend for cleansing and concentration at work:
Vaporise 4 drops Rosemary essential oil, 4 Lime and 2 Camphor

Vaporising blend for lifting the spirits and stimulating the mind:
3 drops Basil essential oil, 2 Black Pepper, 2 Ginger and 1 Eucalyptus

Temple balm to release mental tension and fatigue:
20ml Aloe Vera & Rose Gel, 4 drops Lime essential oil, 3 Spearmint, 2 Camphor and 2 Rosemary

Joannah Metcalfe
Consultant Aromatherapist

Disclaimer & Safety Advice


  1. Kuratko CN, Barrett EC, Nelson EB, Salem N Jr. The Relationship of Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) with Learning and Behavior in Healthy Children: A Review. Nutrients. 2013 July;5(7):2777-810.
  2. Journal of Sleep Research published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of European Sleep Research Society.

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