What makes you happy? There is a correct answer to this question and it’s serotonin and dopamine. You may know this dynamic duo as the “happy chemicals.” But what, beyond that, are they and what role do they play when we inhale essential oils? There’s much to uncover here, so our aromatherapists put together a mini-neuroscience lesson for you. Don’t worry, there’s a lot to be happy about in this article.
For starters, let’s look at what serotonin and dopamine do exactly. Serotonin relates to mood regulation. More serotonin in the body is equated with happiness, whereas less serotonin is equated with unhappiness. On the other hand, dopamine relates to how much you feel rewarded for doing something. For example, when you’re hungry, eating food releases dopamine, which makes you feel good, causing you to want to eat the next time you’re hungry.
We’ve talked a lot in the past aboutessential oils that are uplifting, stress-relieving, mood-balancing, etc., but not so much about how they’re able to affect mood. As it turns out, dopamine and serotonin have much to do about essential oils' effect on our emotions. One study showed that essential oils’ positive effects on mood directlycorrelated with the stimulation of serotonin and dopamine. Recent studies were in line with these findings, showing thatLavender stimulated dopamine receptors in the olfactory bulb of the brain. Furthermore, Bitter Orange oil (a relative of Petitgrain and Neroli oil) wasshown to relieve anxiety through its involvement with the serotonin receptor, 5-HT1A. Therefore, promising studies and research agree in large part with essential oils’ ability to stimulate serotonin and dopamine.
What does this mean for those with serotonin syndrome or those taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)? Because essential oils can increase serotonin and dopamine levels, consult with your doctor before using them. In particular, Cinnamon Leaf and Clove Bud have both been found to interact with SSRIs when taken orally — a method of using essential oils thatwe do not recommend. Anecdotal evidence suggests that German Chamomilemay also interact with SSRIs when used topically. Other oils such as Rose, Orange, Clary Sage, Rosemary and Lemon may alsoboost serotonin and dopamine levels and should be avoided if taking SSRIs or if you are trying to avoid an increase of either chemical. If you’re looking toboost serotonin and dopamine, these essential oils (and more) are sure to add a little happiness to your day.