Why Monoterpene Essential Oils Are Used For Anxiety, Stress & Bipolar Disorders

Monoterpenes-rich essential oils are an excellent alternative for anxiety, stress and bipolar disorder. Not only do they cover all the molecular causes of these conditions, but they have shown to be as effective or better than anxiolytic drugs and do not cause undesirable side effects. We’ve looked at a few studies and here’s what we found. The […]

Monoterpenes-rich essential oils are an excellent alternative for anxiety, stress and bipolar disorder. Not only do they cover all the molecular causes of these conditions, but they have shown to be as effective or better than anxiolytic drugs and do not cause undesirable side effects. We’ve looked at a few studies and here’s what we found.

The underlying molecular causes of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and maniac episodes in bipolar disorder are nearly the same. In both cases,  two phenomenona take place:

  • little GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) activity
  • increased sympathetic nervous sytem activity [1].

GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain whose receptors are targeted by commonly used anxiolytic drugs like benzodiazepines or barbiturates. By stimulating those receptors, GABA has its inhibitory effect on neural hyperactivity, preventing the excessive stress response; if there are GABA deficits, like in GAD and bipolar disorder, excitatory neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonine, norepipherine or glutamate prevail bringing about episodes of anxiety, stress and mania. Such a state is even potentiated by the sympathetic branch of the nervous system which causes the release of stress-hormones: cortisol and catecholamines, that tend to raise blood pressure and heart rate.

It has been pointed out by numerous studies that essential oils like lavender, lemon, bergamot and ylang ylang effectively alleviate the mentioned symptoms. What they all have in common is high monoterpenes and their derivatives content [2, 4, 5, 7]. Among this compound family substances like linalool, linalyl acetate, limonene, alpha and beta-pinenes or terpinen-4-ol can be found.

  • It has been proven that monoterpenes act on the GABA-A receptors, similarly to benzodiazepines [2, 4, 7]; this way they boost unsufficient GABA activity. Nonetheless, they do so by binding to a different site of the GABA-A receptor than the anxiolytic drugs [5] so at the same time they beneficially spare from prominent and cumbersome side effects of the medications.
  • When it comes to their efficacy, monoterpenes cause similar or higher drop of HAMA (Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale) than benzodiazepines or trycyclic antidepressant drugs [2], proving their same or better potency. 
  • Monoterpenes inhibit the binding of exictatory glutamate to its receptors [2, 3].
  • Monoterpenes decrease the levels of cortisole and catecholamines what provides soothing effects [3 ,6, 7].

Until recently, scientists believed that a marble-sized brain area, called the amygdala, served as the hub of fear and anxiety. According to this theory, one would only feel anxiety when signals from the emotional brain overpower the cognitive brain, and into our consciousness. Recent studies however has changed that theory. It’s believed now, that no one brain region drives anxiety on its own, but that it results from constant chatter between several  brain regions termed: a fear network. For further interest on what part of the brain deals with anxiety, click here.  

Imagine if you could inhale an essential oil to help quell anxiousness or stress. This may be more a reality than not. From these above findings it is easy to say essential oils  high in monoterpenes compounds can be an excellent choice to safely manage stress, anxiety and bipolar disorder.

Essential oils (when diffused) are molecularly small enough to cross the blood brain barrier, or rather… they have an unique ability to penetrate the cell membranes and spread throughout the blood and tissues quickly. This is because essential oils are lipid soluble and very light in molecular weight. This penetration happens through the olfactory system in which the molecules of an essential oil when inhaled are transported to the limbic system of the brain quite readily!

Other studies not referred to here, have looked at other essential oils high in monoterpene content for various therapeutic value. They include: Sweet Orange, Grapefruit, Red Mandarin, Frankincense, HyssopGrapefruit, Angelica, and Cypress to name a few.

How Do Monoterpenes Act in Essential Oils?

Monoterpenes – are present in almost all essential oils.  They enhance the therapeutic values of other components and are the balancing portion of the oil. They all contain the functional group C10H16. Monoterpenes have a lot of healing properties, yet are generally uplifting essential oils which tend to evaporate quickly. You’ll want to use them rather than store in a cabinet for the rare occasion. 

General Therapeutic Properties :
anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, decongestant, increase blood circulation, general tonic and stimulating

We always encourage anyone to do more research and let us know the findings. We’re happy to share the information. 




These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. 

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