There is a funny dynamic between essential oil research and selling essential oils. Often the sales patter outweighs the evidence behind the claims, not because they are far fetched but merely because the studies haven’t been done into the successes of the oils. Things like headaches or period pains don’t really have hefty grants attached to them, so pharmaceutical companies don’t pay them that much attention. Heart health though? Way different matter. Cardioprotective drugs will be the goose that lays the golden egg (cholesterol free yolks, of course). So, we know so many small fragments about essential oils for heart health and yet no-one knows to ask for them. So, for World Heart Day, we’ll look at some of the ways you can use essential oils to keep your heart healthy.
Great essential oils for heart health include ylang ylang and clary sage for blood pressure, melissa and rosemary essential oils for cholesterol, geranium for vascular health and rose essential oil for health health generally. But we’ll begin by discussing the importance of moderating stress generally and how essential oils can be useful simply for helping us feel calm.
How Can Essential Oils for Heart Health Be A Thing?
Dreadful English, I know, but three people have said it the same way to me now, so I figured it made sense to think of it like that.
In a terrifying world, how on Earth could sniffing essential oils make any difference at all?
It’s a reasonable question and one I think we should address, because in my experience the people searching for information about essential oils for heart health are often those panicking about a loved one’s heart. And, if those same loved ones are folk who have disregarded warnings thus far, then you are going to need ammunition to get them to engage with the process.
To fully appreciate how useful essential oils for heart health could be (when they take so little effort to use), we need to explain a little of what happens in our bodies so they don’t just dismiss it as mumbo jumbo. (Yep, I’m married to that guy!).
Let’s begin with one of my favorite words.
Massive word, which means a very simple thing.
Our thoughts affect our health, because they alter our hormones which changes the way our body works.
The ancients knew this. For them spirituality and health were inseparable. To be healthy requires one to be at peace. It wasn’t until the 18th century that medicine separated the mind from the body.
Science definitely took a wrong turn there, but luckily we seem to be back on track in understanding that happiness and being calm is a tremendous marker for good health.
Let’s Just Talk About The Amygdala For A Moment
The amygdala is the part of the brain that perceives (sees) the surrounding environment and decides whether we should be worried about it or not.
When I teach my students about it, I like to use an example of my husband and I when we go to the zoo.
I’m quite an anxious person who will see danger everywhere. By contrast he sees danger nowhere.
He’s a very calm person who takes life in his stride. We’re a good balance because I remind him he might not be taking enough care of something, and he replies by asking me to please calm the **** down.
So this makes a great example of me being the amygdala and him being a part of the brain called the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (VmPFC).
Understanding The Amygdala and VmPFC
One of the jobs of the VmPFC is to switch the amygdala off. It’s the beginning of the body’s calming mechanisms.
I like to use the example of driving through the safari park in our car and we see the beautiful white tiger. We’ve had to queue for a while. To get into the section you go through electric gates one car at a time, so that really instills this idea that there could be danger afoot here ,which triggers the amygdala.
So I say “Oh isn’t it beautiful. But don’t you think it looks hungry?”
My husband says “ It might be a bit, I guess, but tigers are clever things. He knows his dinner will arrive when the keeper comes after the cars have gone. I don’t think we are in any immediate danger.”
(So the amygdala was triggered and the VmPFC responded by trying to soothe it…)
“Yeah, but don’t you think our car looks a bit like the truck that the feeder uses?”
(Amygdala’s not convinced)
“Hmm, I guess it does a little bit but it knows it is not feeding time for ages…”
“Why’s it coming our way then? It’s running at us…It is…it’s coming for us…”
So the amygdala refuses to take this reassurance off the VmPFC and distress keeps coming up and up, and eventually I spiral out of control.
Similarly my husband gets bored of trying to placate me, decides to leave me to my bonkers wittering and heads off to read the paper. And this is exactly what the VmPFC does too. So, no-one's left to reassure the amygdala and it continues to fire.
It’s really easy to see how scary this could come for someone with anxiety, now, isn’t it? A very lonely place.
Stress and The HPA Axis
Now the amygdala is the starting gun to a stress response called the HPA axis - that is hypothalamus - pituitary and adrenals.
The amygdala sends messages to the hypothalamus to tell the pituitary gland we are in danger. The pituitary changes how much of different hormones go out and tells the adrenals to send out distress signals. It does that with a variety of hormones but especially cortisol.
Short term, cortisol is a friend. It has an anti-inflammatory action that galvanizes the defenses of the body to fight or flee from the stressor that the amygdala has perceived. After a while, the VmPFC should kick in, activate the parasympathetic system to calm us down and we should live happily ever after.
But the VmPFC is unaware…he’s reading the paper (and Lassie is nowhere to be seen), so the amygdala keeps screaming fear.
The body does what it's supposed to do - it keeps trying to fight the tiger - so cortisol floods the system.
Studies suggest that long term high levels of cortisol can increase blood cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and blood pressure. All common risk factors for heart disease.
Hence, substitute the word “tiger” for “deadlines”, “money worries”, “arguments”, “sexual problems”…the list goes on and on and we can see why stress and heart disease is an explosion waiting to blow.
The cardiovascular system is especially vulnerable to problems if the HPA axis is dysregulated for too long, mainly because too much cortisol is produced. (Burford, 2017)
Something Has To Change….
One way to do that is through scent.
Re-engage the VmPFC and start reducing stress.
The amygdala, hippocampus and cerebral cortex are made up of a certain type of nerve cell called pyramidal neurons. (Their name gives their shape away.) These are the main excitatory cells in the brain. They make the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate and are inhibited (calmed) by the neurotransmitter GABA. (Bekkers)
Of fundamental importance is the fact that olfactory neurons express GABA. So when you smell something calming, your olfactory neurons make more GABA to help re-awaken the VmPFC.
Let’s Summarize That
If you smell something calming, (like lavender) nerve cells dispatch calming chemicals to the brain.
These act like Lassie, rousing the VmPFC to put down his paper and go and put his arms round the amygdala and rescue her from the sea of cortisol.
The amygdala stops screaming, the waters of cortisol subside.
Connection Between Stress and The Heart
A 2017 study published in the Lancet gave a fantastic explanation of how this happens. A Japanese team had been studying a group of healthy people for 11 years, regularly giving them brain scans to gauge the activity of the amygdala. What they demonstrated was that tose who had high levels of activity in the amygdala would, over time, begin to develop heart problems. (Towakol, 2017)
This was down to a previously unseen pathway, involving bone marrow. The amygdala triggers bone marrow, which then releases inflammatory markers that thicken or harden the arteries causing atherosclerosis. (Towakol, 2017) This narrowing of the arteries makes it harder for blood to flow through properly, which can eventually lead to heart disease, heart failure and heart attack.
Heart rate and blood pressure comes down, inflammation is soothed in the arteries and the heart finally gets a break.
Suddenly, science doesn't seem so far fetched does it? A walk amongst the pine trees seems pretty sensible too.
What I hope I have demonstrated too, is that you don’t need to know the science of a hundred different essential oils for heart health…for the most part, using them just to calm down is going to have innumerable effects.
How To Use Calming Essential Oils for Heart Health
So first I want to stress that this should be done as part of making lifestyle changes. Eating more healthily, getting more exercise and sleep are all important to managing stress. Likewise meditation can be really helpful to calm the mind.
But, doing one thing is better than doing no things, and if that one thing is sniffing essential oils, I think that choice is a pretty good one. Likewise, putting them into your bath, using them for massage or generally in creams and lotions, also good. If you have someone who is pretty resistant, sneaking them into a diffuser in an evening can also be helpful, although it wont be as good as if they were actively smelling them at close quarters.
However, baby steps, and the fewer arguments you have about it the better.
Inhaling Essential Oils for Heart Health
Research shows that it takes around 19 minutes for the oils to pass through the skin and into the bloodstream but only about five when we inhale them to influence the brain.
As stated, when olfactory neurons perceive relaxing smells, they tell the rest of the body by releasing GABA.
So, what we want to do is to try and do this for slightly more than 5 mins. Do it while you are reading or watching TV and you don’t even notice where the time has gone.
Ideally, you will do it twice a day over the period of around 6 weeks.
The very maximum we want to go to is about thirty minutes. Studies show that after an hour, blood pressure actually goes UP. (Chuang, 2012)
We don’t really understand why, but if you overuse essential oils for heart health, using them for too long, it is counterproductive.
I inhale straight from the bottle if I am at home. If I don’t have time to sit, I put a drop into an aroma pendant. Then I am inhaling and don’t even realize it.
You might want to think about making an essential oil necklace?
Essential Oils for Hypertension
We all have moments when truths hit home, don’t we? Mine was after having had the picture of the back of my eyes taken. The optician sent me to see my GP because the blood vessels were bulging. I did as I was told and the doctor confirmed that I was pre-hypertensive and wanted to start a course of medications to bring my blood pressure down. I asked if she could give me two weeks to try and manage my stress first. She agreed.
I had a BP monitor at the back of the cupboard after having had a blood clot in my lungs when I was pregnant, so I got it out and started work.
The best essential oils for hypertension are ylang ylang and clary sage. I like one more than the other, so the first day I set out with ylang ylang oil. I remember, very vividly, going to watch the little ones assembly at school. Sitting down and feeling fine then suddenly bleucccchhhh overwhelming nausea…
Don’t leave ylang ylang for more than about half an hour…it will become cloying.
Plus, because it switches everything down, you can feel a bit loose and not be able to concentrate as well. So, I’d suggest this for the evenings.
Safety: Not suitable for use in the first 37 weeks of pregnancy.
So calming and soothing, and to be honest, this is a great one for sleep, hormonal balance, the works. I’d recommend putting a drop of this is the bath too.
But yes, just one drop in an aromapendant.
By day four of using ylang ylang and clary sage essential oils for eart health and hypertension, my bp was normal.
When I returned to the doctor, she was stunned. It was an inexpensive and cheap experiment that prevented me from having to have medication.
I’ve always known essential oils for heart health could do amazing things. This was a stark reminder.
- A glass of red wine is reputed to be good for the heart, owing to its antioxidants, however alcohol and clary sage is a really bad mix.On the good side you feel like you get drunk very quickly, but the blend induces very nasty dreams and gives you the mother of all hangover headaches next morning. Mixing clary sage and alcohol is not recommended.
- Not suitable for use in the first 37 weeks of pregnancy.
Essential Oils To Avoid With High Blood Pressure
I’d stay away from rosemary and sage essential oils. (Sage as in Common Sage Salvia officinalis. Clary sage - salvia sclarea is fine)
Other Calming Essential Oils for Heart Health
Try lavender for easy stress. Maybe some chamomile, to help soothe and release. I find geranium fantastic if I am worried about money, or Jasmine if there’s anything to do wth sex. Ylang ylang is lovely for bringing harmony, so perhaps try that if there are squables or rows. Orange engenders positivity, and rose makes us feel like we are in love.
If you feel like you are all up in your head, so you can’t relax. Maybe try some base note essential oils…thise with great big molecules that make it hard for them to get out of the bottle.
Sandalwood, vetiver, patchouli, myrrh…
These are all slowing essential oils that will bring you down to earth.
I often get asked “is frankincense good for the heart” and the answer is both yes and no. No, in that it oesnt really have any direct actions on the heart, but a whole hearted yes because it slows the reath, it makes us feel comforted and safe. It is one of the best stress relieving essential oils there is, so if frankincense makes you feel nice…absolutely…choose that one. Use it to calm your mind…you know what will happen then.
Essential Oils for Heart Health - Cholesterol Levels
Your three best allies here will be rosemary, ginger and Melissa essential oil.
You might know that in the very simplest terms there is good cholesterol (HDL) and bad cholesterol (LDL).
High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) is a group of lipoproteins which are complex molecules made from a variety of proteins that transport lipids (fats) around the body. Again, these are what people usually refer to as “good cholesterol.”
Ways to use these essential oils for heart health: I’d be inclined to use them topically, and rub them over the upper abdomen after each meal.
Cholesterol is made up of unsaturated bonds and as such is prone to oxidation. Thus there are many foods which affect cholesterol via their antioxidant skills. Rosemary is one of these. (Venezuela, 2004)
- Remember that I have already said that I’d advise staying away from rosemary if you have high bp though. Likewise, only use rosemary essential oil under the guidance of an experienced practitioner if you suffer from epilepsy or any kind of psychotic condition.
- Not suitable for use in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.
A study published in the African Journal of Complementary Medicine showed that a blend of rosemary and ginger essential oils was able to reduce cholesterol in rats that had been fed a high fat diet. (Eissa, 2017)
Ginger affects both the low density lipoproteins and high density lipoproteins (Samadi, 2022) which make up total cholesterol.
- It should be said that ginger speeds everything up and makes everything hotter. So that’s great if you suffer from constipation or cold hands. It’s not great if you have hot flashes.
- Not suitable for use during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.
The main component of the HDL particles is called Apolipoprotein A1, a human protein encoded by the APOA1 gene. Its specific function is to metabolise fat molecules (lipids).
Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL) are often referred to as the “Bad cholesterol” because these line your artery walls and can lead to those horrible arterial plaques responsible for heart disease. The main constituent of LDL is Apolipoprotein B.
Apolipoprotein A1 helps fat flow out of the body by accepting lipids from other cells, then transporting it to any number of possible locations, but usually to the LDL cells or to the liver for excretion.
You can thank Apolipoprotein A for initiating the process of HDL’s eviction of bad cholesterol from your body.
So, apolipoprotein A helps lower the risk of cardiovascular problems. Indeed, levels of ApoA1 in the blood are often used as biomarkers to predict your likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease.
In a randomized, double blinded, placebo controlled clinical trial by researchers in Tehran, Iran, a group of seventy patients aged 20-65 with Type 2 Diabetes were randomly chosen to receive:
Either a hydroalcoholic extract of Lemon Balm (700 mg/d) or a similar dose of the placebo substance. They had to take this medicine twice a day, for 12 weeks.
I won’t elucidate too much, because this trial is the mother of all abbreviated scientific hotch-potch but…
Levels of APO-B didn’t really change much, but the APOA1 levels rose significantly, and then TG/HDL-c cholesterol levels went down, meaning, a favorable ratio was preserved. in other words, the Melissa affected the cholesterol very nicely, thank you very much!.
Moreover, Melissa essential oil is proven to have enormous cardioprotective properties.
It lowers blood pressure and heart rate as well as stabilizing arrhythmia and soothing palpitations. Animal studies also show that Melissa officinalis can protect heart tissue against injury during myocardial infarction. (Draganic, 2021)
Now actually, Melissa was able to do much much more with blood sugar, obesity and all manner of things that affect vascular health, but I’ll leave that for you to read in my book about Melissa essential oil, if you feel so inclined. Incidentally, you might also want to think about drinking some lemon balm tea.
- Maximum dilution of Melissa essential oil is 0.4%.
- Not suitable for use in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.
The association between rose and the heart is ageless. It is almost an exact representation of “You have my heart” or perhaps “Please take care of my heart.”
In the seventeenth century the seventeenth century Mughal Emperor Jahanghir said of Rose essential oil:
There is no other scent of equal excellence to it. It restores hearts that have gone and brings back withered souls.
It was an accurate representation of perhaps the most important of the essential oils for heart health.
Rose has inotropic and chronotropic actions.
- Inotropic – The force or energy used in a muscle contraction
- Chronotropic – The speed of heart rate.
How fast your heart beats, and how hard you sense it beating in your chest are controlled by beta adrenergic receptors in the heart cell membrane.
The responsiveness of these receptors is diminished in people who have conditions like cardiomyopathy.
These receptors respond to adrenaline during times of stress. Because they are already weakened, this can be problematic if someone is going through an anxious time.
Rose essential oil strengthens the beta-adrenoreceptors housed in the heart cell membrane to support them during times of stress. (Boskabadi, 2014)
Rose is one of the most important essential oils for heart health, since it restores these receptors, also because of its profoundly soothing effects on stress, and because it will help you sleep. Although it is not clear precisely how sleep benefits the heart, research suggests disturbed sleep is associated with higher levels of a protein called CRP. CRP is associated with inflammation linked to heart and circulatory disease. (British Heart Foundation)
Just before we go into the recipes ways of using the essential oils for heart health, I’ll just answer some specific questions that came in while I was writing this:
What Essential Oil Is Good For Clogged Arteries
I’m going to go for rosemary, ginger or Melissa. Obviously, the FDA is going to have a field day if I say the oils can unclog arteries, and rightly so, because we don’t have evidence that they can do that. However, if it were me, these are the ones I would use.
Essential Oils For Vascular Health
Rose to try and restore those beta adrenergic receptors.
What Essential Oils Should Be Avoided With High Blood Pressure
Excellent question and it is a bit controversial, because not everyone agrees. I say stay away from rosemary, because it is stimulating, raises blood pressure and speeds heart rate. Other authorities disagree and say, no, it brings blood pressure down. Thus, I say don’t experiment, and use clary sage or ylang ylang instead.
I’d avoid common sage (Salvia officinalis) too.
Essential Oils To Avoid With Heart Problems
There aren’t really any that I’d be that worried about.
Eucalyptus Oil & Heart Rate
Eucalyptus has a stimulating nature and so may speed the heart a teeny bit, but it's not really a concern here. Eucalyptus does slow respiration, because of its high levels of 1,8 cineole, but that’s not quite the same thing.
DIY Recipes for Essential Oils for Heart Health
Rose and Ylang Ylang Rollerball
Method of Use:
- Apply three times daily for six weeks to the pulse points on the wrists, where you can see good blood supply.
- It smells so lovely, consider taking this opportunity to do some of your inhalation work from this too. If I feel stressed or tense, I like to rub some of this into the back of my neck too.
Safety: Not suitable for use in the first 37 weeks of pregnancy.
Essential Oils for Heart Health - Cholesterol Levels Massage Oil
Method of use:
- Apply three times daily for six weeks over the upper abdomen.
- If it is difficult to access the abdomen, remember that essential oils purely need to be absorbed through the skin, so applying on the wrists will be good enough to give them a chance to start working.
- However, grapefruit essential oil is phototoxic, so use a spot that will not be exposed to bright sunlight in the next 12 hours.
- Be careful of using old grapefruit essential oil as it can cause skin sensitization.
- Grapefruit also has a blood thinning property which means this recipe would be inappropriate for anyone with a platelet clotting disorder or who is already on anticoagulant medication.
- Likewise, cease use if you have planned surgery in the next 48 hours.
Bringing essential oils for heart health into your life is simple. The most important aspect is about getting calm, so getting stressed about when you are going to have time to do this or that is counter productive. Work out what’s est for you. A twenty minute bath with essential oils for heart health each day? Maybe a simple to use roller ball to simply get them into your body. Dont underestimate the difference getting a massage will make too, so sooth and calm your mind and body. Most important though, try to engage with scent every day, somehow, to find a way to get calmer. Your heart will tank you for it.