Our Brains Race for Rosemary

Cognitive performance boosted by the scent of rosemary

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(RxWiki News) Those feeling absent-minded may find the boost they need by treating their nostrils to rosemary oil, new research suggests. 

Within a study done at Northumbria University in the U.K., rosemary oil, an essence typically made of two parts eucalyptol for every three parts rosemary, has been discovered to increase performance and concentration of cubicle workers.

Study authors explain, “Compounds absorbed from rosemary aroma affect cognition and subjective state independently through different neuro-chemical pathways.”

"Burn rosemary scented candle to boost cognitive performance. "

To design their investigation, co-authors Mark Moss, Ph.D., and Lorraine Oliver, M.Sc., first investigated past research on aromatherapy and discovered that the eucalyptol in the oil possesses “anti-AChE activity,” which is thought to improve cognition in cases of dementia, underpinning the current drug therapies used for the disease.

Dr. Moss and Oliver express, “The possibility of such a pharmacological mechanism for rosemary aroma would provide supporting evidence to the concept that each individual aroma of an essential oil has its own unique pattern of influence on both cognition and mood as a result of the unique composition of volatile aromatic compounds,” and thus, the duo set to test the effect of rosemary oil aromatherapy dependent on its subjective level of eucalyptol.

The experiment took place in an office setting, and twelve healthy women were randomly assigned to sit in a cubicle filled with the aroma of rosemary for either four, six, eight, or ten minutes. Thereafter, the participants completed a set of cognitive tests drawn from a compilation developed by Northumbria’s Brain Performance and Nutrition Research Center.

The mood of the volunteers was assessed using Bond-Lader visual scales, developed specifically for psychopharmacological research and widely used in the assessment of natural health interventions. In order to control for the placebo effect, all participants were blind to the nature of the study.

Finally, each volunteer donated one five-milliliter sample of blood for analysis using a thermo gas chromatograph in order to uncover how much rosemary oil entered their system.

“The results reported here support the proposal that [eucalyptol] would be detectable in the blood serum of healthy human volunteers following inhalation of the aroma of rosemary essential oil,” Moss and Oliver write, indicating that nasal exposure allows the compounds within the scent into the bloodstream and throughout the body.

This absorption coincided with mental and behavioral benefits. The results indicated that the oil increased cognitive performance and mood in the volunteers, and the more time spent within rosemary’s aroma, the stronger the effect.

This is the first study to indicate blood levels of the scent’s components correlate with increased cognitive performance, leaving much wonder as to the possible benefits of other aromatherapy oils.

This self-funded study was published on February 24, 2012 in the journal Therapeautic Advances in Psychopharmacology and reported no conflicts of interest.

Last Updated:
February 26, 2012