Essential Oils and Mental Health – Robert Tisserand

The more I do research on Natural Alternatives for Sarah the more excited I am getting. There is so much more help out there than there was 20 years ago.



There is a man named Robert Tisserand that has been researching the many healthy ways that Essential Oils and Hydrosols help many people. He has been studying Essential Oils since the 1960’s. I want to share some of his findings with you.

English: Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) Ess...

English: Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) Essential Oil in clear glass vial (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


First of all he of course has his own webpage – which is a wealth of information.



Robert Tisserand is one of the world’s leading experts in aromatherapy. He wrote the first comprehensive book on aromatherapy in English in 1977, and The Art of Aromatherapy is still published in 12 languages. In 1974 he established the first company in the UK to market aromatherapy products, promoting the now industry-leadingTisserand branded products. Robert was the publisher and editor ofThe International Journal of Aromatherapy, for 12 years and in the 1990s, he orchestrated three international AROMA conferences at British Universities.



He is highly articulate and published with worldwide lecturing experience, and his library includes several thousand journal articles. He has a personal collection of some 500 essential oils, absolutes and CO2 extracts, and has created many “functional fragrances” for products that combine perfumery principles with the therapeutic, hygienic, and dermatological properties of essential oils.



Today Robert lives in the United States where he continues to follow his passion for aromatherapy by working as an independent industry expert consulting to practitioners, colleges and corporations around the world.



The blood-brain barrier
Christy C. Tangney is quoted on WebMD as saying: “More study is needed to see how, or even if, rosemary affects how quickly and accurately we perform mental exercises.” Tangney is an associate professor of clinical nutrition at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. She feels that the findings could be due to chance or something else besides the fragrance. “There is something here. I don’t know that I could conclude that it is the aroma of the rosemary that is associated with improvements though” Tangney says.



On the face of it this is an odd comment, since the researchers were at pains to clarify that it is not the “aroma” of the rosemary oil that is producing the effect, it is the fact that constituents of the oil enter the bloodstream, and thereby produce an effect. But, Tangney probably meant simply that the rosemary oil might not be doing anything at all. I suppose someone has to be the designated bearer of the “it’s only placebo” message.



As small, fat-soluble organic molecules, terpenes like 1,8-cineole can enter the blood stream via the nasal or pulmonary mucosa. We know they can cross the blood-brain barrier (i.e. move out of the cerebral blood vessels and into the brain), as interactions with various receptor sites in the brain have been seen after administration (Aoshima and Hamamoto 1999, Elisabetsky et al 1999). In a German study, whether mice were given rosemary oil orally, or it was evaporated in their cage, similar blood levels of 1,8-cineole were detected. This was associated with an increase in ‘locomotor activity’ – spontaneous movement – thus demonstrating a stimulant effect from inhalation of the oil (Kovar et al 1987). This shows that inhalation of rosemary oil produces an effect on the nervous system that is not purely psychological, or due to expectation. We don’t know whether mice like rosemary oil, or whether it might improve their mathematical skills. I’m just saying…



1,8-Cineole is found in many other essential oils including eucalyptus, sage, laurel, myrtle and cardamon. Previous research has shown that it inhibits acetylcholinesterase (AChE) and butyrylcholinesterase (BChE) enzymes, which are important in brain and central nervous system neurochemistry. Acetylcholine is the principal neurotransmitter in the brain, so when the enzyme that breaks it down is inhibited, there’s more acetylcholine to help those synapses fire. The most commonly prescribed pharmaceuticals for treating loss of cognitive function in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) are AChE inhibitors, also known as cholinergic drugs.



A rosemary oil with 44.4% 1,8-cineole and 12.6% a-pinene inhibited AChE and BChE (Orhan et al 2008). All three of the major constituents of rosemary oil individually inhibit (AChE), as do three of its minor constituents. The AChE inhibiting effect is especially strong for 1,8-cineole and a-pinene, and less so for camphor. These three, and other constituents, act synergistically to produce the effect (Savelev et al 2003). There are several chemotypes of rosemary oil. The one used by Moss in all his research (fromTisserand Aromatherapy) is a 1,8-cineole chemotype. A typical analysis for this type of oil is shown in the Table below.





In a Japanese study, 17 AD patients were exposed to the vapors of rosemary and lemon oils in the morning, and lavender and orange oils in the afternoon for 28 days. Compared to similar pre-treatment and post-treatment periods, aromatherapy resulted in significant cognitive improvements (Jimbo et al 2009). In other clinical research, 11 AD patients were given small oral doses of Spanish sage (Salvia lavandulaefolia) oil, which is chemically very similar to the type of rosemary oil used by Mark Moss (see Table). Again, there were significant cognitive improvements (Perry et al 2003). When Spanish sage oil was taken orally by 24 healthy young volunteers in a placebo-controlled, double-blind crossover trial, both speed and accuracy significantly improved in tests of cognitive performance (Tildesley et al 2005).



Cholinergic function is surely not the whole story, and a number of other mechanisms are likely at work. For example, cognitive impairment in AD is also associated with low dopamine (Wolfe et al 1990), and 1,8-cineole increases dopamine release in brain cells (Kako et al 2008).



Taken together, the evidence for a positive effect on cognitive function by rosemary oil, and similar oils, is strong. Effects are due to synergistic interactions of constituents. Since both rosemary and Spanish sage oil have similar effects, the precise composition of the oil does not seem to be critical. Whether the perception of the rosemary odor produces contentment or relaxation may not be directly relevant, since taking the oil orally has a similar effect. This gives credence to Mark Moss’s contention that it is blood-borne essential oil constituents that affect mental function.


Rosemary (given name)

Rosemary (given name) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are you looking for specific effects from specific oils, or is it all basically ‘feel-good’, or do you use fragrance to anchor feelings?
I use essential oils for specific effects, such as enhancing mood or alleviating anxiety or insomnia as well as to counteract certain side effects of medications. What you refer to as ‘feel-good’ I see as the enhanced sense of well-being that clients get from regaining a sense of resilience and improved coping skills with regards to their symptoms and life stressors. This also allows clients to shift from being symptom-focused to being ‘strengths based’ or ‘recovery oriented.’ In many cases, I tell clients to think of an intention or positive thought when they apply the essential oils, so in addition to the specific effects, the oils can thereby anchor feelings and intentions, or, more broadly, an enhanced sense of self-efficacy.



The situation for aromatherapy is much better today than it was when I started in the 1960s and 70s, and aromatherapy is developing in its different facets. Today there are more medicines being developed based on essential oils. We have seen a tremendous development in skin care products over the last 20 years. We are now seeing interesting possibilities with environmental fragrancing, not just in terms of mood, but also in terms of hygiene, and both of those together. So I think there are a lot of very exciting developments!



I tend not to go by just one persons research or opinions. I have done my research on Robert Tisserand and I have seen his references. He is a very formidable and credible person as far as I can tell now.



I will keep researching as to what scents Sarah will like and what EO’s and Hydrosols will help her. My goal is to see her completely off of her traditional medicines, and take all natural stuff if she needs to. At the very least have the EO’s and Hydrosols work in conjunction, with her traditional medicines and perhaps lower her doses.


Autism not only affects your child/adult, it affects your entire family. The least stress there is on Sarah the least stress there is on the family. I am very much a nurturer, and if I can help Sarah be comfortable in her own skin then I will. This has been a quest of mine for 22 years and I will not stop!Sarah and Me









5 thoughts on “Essential Oils and Mental Health – Robert Tisserand

  1. Pingback: Essential Oils and Mental Health – Robert Tisserand | Sarah's Voice

  2. Pingback: Weight Loss Wisdom 2: Seven “Stress-Less” Steps to Slimming Serenity | LBTK

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