Actions of Essential Oils on Mind/Body Systems To Prevent Viral Infections

Hygeia Essential Oil Seminars
Elizabeth Jones
PIA Conference Talk April 8-10 2005

This morning the time has come to let the world know about the effectiveness of essential oils in fighting viruses. The human immune system is struggling today to cope with an onslaught of viral infections. New viral strains are appearing all over the globe. Since Western medicine has very few successful anti-viral agents, most viral infections are private battles fought between the virus and the immune system.

I have a College of Essential Oil Therapy in Santa Cruz where we examine both scientifically and energetically how oils, herbs, and nutrition create holistic health. Today we will look at essential oils as anti-viral agents, but from another perspective. I will focus on their ability to create harmony within our body/mind/spirit systems, which diminishes the infectious power of viruses.

Viruses can obtain a stronghold in the body when the physical and emotional terrain is out of balance. Usually we speak of the ‘terrain’ of a plant. In this case, it is the ‘terrain’ of our unique personal situation. The science of psychoneuroimmunology which Candace Pert pioneered in Molecules of Emotion addresses this. First, we must remember that there is no distinction between our mind and body, they are interconnected. She writes about the importance of the flow of peptides or chains of amino acids in our bodies, binding to receptor sites on the cells and creating an intelligent network between the central nervous system, the endocrine system, and the immune system-the Mobile Brain. She found in her research that the emotions, if repressed, can block the free flow of peptides and set the scene for disease from viral infections to cancer. It is important to be in touch with all emotions from anger and fear to peace and joy. The first two we do not want to dump on other people, but need to acknowledge them to our selves.

On the cellular level, viruses use the same receptors as neuropeptides to enter into a cell. Depending on how much of a peptide is present and how well your emotions are flowing, makes it easier or harder for a virus to get into a cell. For example, “when you’re happy, the rheovirus can’t enter the cell because norepinephrine, a neuropeptide, blocks all the potential virus receptors”. (Candace Pert, 1999. Molecules of Emotion)

In Pierre Franchomme’s studies (L’Aromatherapie Exactement) with essential oils, he has found that they travel in the blood stream and find the appropriate sites on cells just as viruses and peptides do. We do know that certain essential oils have a direct action on eliminating viruses, which will be looked at briefly in this talk and stated by others more completely in this conference.

An example was a clinical study performed in 1999 with essential oils and their components in vitro and in vivo against Herpes Simplex virus type two showed two oils high in eugenol, Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) and Clovebud (Syzgium aromaticum). They gave the most protection against the herpes virus. (Bourne KZ et al 1999 Antiviral Research Journal)

In a study by Hold et al. 2000, a ketone, alpha-thujone in Sage (Salvia officinalis) binds to the same receptors in the brain as GABA type A, a neurotransmitter, does. When alpha-thujone binds, it blocks the brains ability to turn down the volume and leads to over stimulation.

In another study by Brum et al. 2002, they showed how linalool as in Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and Ylang ylang (Cananga odorata) has sedative effects on neuronal function by antagonism of the receptors of NMDA (another neurotransmitter). ) Since these two studies show how essential oils can block neurotransmitter receptor sites, perhaps with more study, we will find the oils also make it harder for a virus to get into a cell by blocking viral receptors.

We do know that essential oils have psychoemotional benefits also. For example, a study by S. Wilkinson in 1999 on 103 cancer patients in a palliative care setting found massage with Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) reduced levels of anxiety and improved physical and psychological symptoms of patients. (Wilkinson S., 1999 Palliative Medicine) Professor Rovesti of Milan in 1973 focused his research on essential oils and emotions. He found they curbed many negative instincts and brought relaxed alertness (an ideal state).

We live in a time of great stress and this plays havoc with some of our body’s systems. I want to mention the interaction of the immune, endocrine, and digestive systems. Needless to say, having a strong immune reaction is the best defense against viruses. Often a poor immune response of the phagocytes which are a first line defense is caused by a sluggish digestive system. Eating a more alkaline diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, and grains gives the body enzymes, vitamins, and minerals, plus fiber for flowing elimination. This gives the immune system a boast. Have you ever noticed how a viral cold will start after an emotional upset and eating heavy acid foods (such as fast foods)? An essential oil blend that facilitates digestion is:

  • Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) It has a large amount of terpene alcohols (Linalool is 61%) with some coumarins. It tonifies and benefits the whole digestive system. It inspires confidence with a mild euphoric effect for a tired, tense mind.
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale) An oil rich in sesquiterpenes. Its properties ease flu infections, stimulate circulation, and calm digestive problems. It is cheering emotionally and acts as a nerve tonic.
  • Cardamon (Elletaria cardamomum) A complex oil with monoterpenes, 1,8 cineole, 26%, esters terpinyl acetate 44%, aldehydes, and sesquiterpenols. It has a warming action as a laxative and digestive aid. It uplifts a tired mind and clears negative confusion.

The virus can not make headway in such a healthy environment.

To examine the immune and endocrine system interaction, let us look at the ACTH loop, an interesting mind-body loop. Here is a prime example where emotions impede the flow of peptides and this elicits hormones in a deadly loop. It all begins with upset emotions and depressed thinking. This triggers the release of CRF from the hypothalamus. It is a peptide of negative expectations. People who commit suicide have 10 times the normal level of CRF in the cerebrospinal fluid. CRF (cortical releasing factor) is secreted by axons, which travel to the anterior pituitary gland to release ACTH (Adrenocorticotropic) hormone. This hormone travels through the blood stream to the adrenal glands where it binds with receptors. The adrenal cortex creates steroids, called cortisol, a substance necessary for healing and damage control when an injury occurs. Stress and lack of sleep increase steroid production.

Cortisol is being discussed today in ads due to its action of causing weight gain. However, Its most serious effects are suppressing the immune system and increasing heart and blood pressure. A study by Alan Watkins in 1994 Mind-body Medicine found that negative thoughts suppress T cell and macrophage action. As cortisol decreases the T helper cells and natural killer cells, viral infections become more frequent. This leads to depressed behavior, moods, and thinking, so the cycle begins again. We have all experienced it to a certain extent. It reveals the delicate balance between thinking, mood, the autonomic nervous system, the neuroendocrine flow, and the immune system. Viruses become very powerful in such a mind/body terrain. Enter the essential oils. They can break the cycle by lifting the emotions, strengthening the immune system, and directly attacking the virus population.

One of my favorite cycle breaking blends is taking a bath or having a massage with:

  • Frankincense (Boswellia carteri) A very complex oil with 20 % alpha pinene, ketones, alcohols, sesquiterpenes and diterpenes. It helps regulate the hypothalamus and emotionally uplifting to let go of past obsessions. GC/MS
  • Angelica (Angelica archangelica) An oil with many monoterpenes and oxides. It invigorates the lymph system, relieves stress, and revitalizes the emotional state.
  • Rose (Rosa damascena) Rich in alcohols like 63% phenylethyl alcohol and esters. A tonic for the heart, both physically and emotionally. It purges negative emotions.
  • Galbanum (Ferula gummosa) Complex chemistry with 22% beta pinene and a diterpene, bisabolene 9% and many sesquiterpenols. It has an unlocking action on the body’s chronic conditions, relieves nervous tension and stress.

Essential oils with large peaks of monoterpene alcohols such as Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) which has 42% terpin-4-ol, Marjoram (Origanum majorana) which has 27% of terpin-4-ol, and Palmarosa (Cymbopogan martini) which has 83% geraniol. All have of the above have a moderate antiviral effect. Essential oils with large peaks of phenols, which are a form of the functional family alcohol but derived from the Benzene ring, have an even more potent anti-viral effect. Oils such as Oregano (Origanum vulgare) with 71% carvacrol and Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) (GCMS) with 47% thymol are strong anti-virals and immune builders. The oils with their complex chemistry prevent any growing resistance of bacteria or viruses unlike anti-biotics.

Try any of the above oils the next time you feel despair and slip into an inability to fight off viral infections. An elevated mood will slow and eventually stop the hormones to allow the immune system its normal functioning again.

Another factor is the level of some neurochemicals called catecholamines. When they are at a low level, depression occurs. A natural way to raise their levels is regular exercise. Studies from the Russian space program showed the cosmonauts became depressed in the forced inactivity of space flight, but returned to a positive state of mind on a schedule of regular exercise.

To conclude, I want to mention the spirit part of the body’s terrain. As Aristotle said, “Soul and body, I suggest, react sympathetically upon each other.” And to quote a modern woman, Joan Borysenko, “the work of healing is in peeling away the barriers of fear and past conditioning that keep us out of touch and unaware of the true nature of wholeness and love.” Joan and I believe in meditation. She meditates an hour a day and tells her family- do not interrupt her unless there is blood involved. I meditate for 20 minutes and use essential oils to aid and deepen my concentration. I apply the following oils under my nose in a jojoba oil blend or a spray:

  • Sandalwood (Santalum album)-A base oil that is ecologically endangered with mostly sesquiterpenes and sesquiterpenols. It softens dry skin and strengthens the immune system. It purifies body and spirit while quieting mental chatter and bringing spiritual joy.
  • Neroli (Citrus x aurantium L. amara)- An oil with alcohols, 33% linalool and esters, 16% linalyl acetate. It is an excellent nervine to soothe anxiety and insomnia. When too immersed in worldly affairs, it brings one in touch with the higher self.
  • Orange (Citrus sinensis) It is mostly monoterpenes with Limonene 94% and some aldehydes and alcohols. It dispels stress and brings a positive outlook while keeping you centered, true to your spirit when falling into a sea of emotion.
  • Elemi (Canarium luzonicum) A chemically balanced oil with monoterpenes and sesquiterpenols. It strengthens the immune system, easing congestion. It brings feelings of deep peace with complete lucidity.

A blend of the above four oils is a meditation delight.

Meditation is one of the most potent tools in the Body/Mind/Spirit battle against viruses. It is a spiritual practice. It is a practice that brings you fully into the present moment. As Depok Chopra said, “Reality becomes the peaceful islands when the mind is silent, closer to the creative center and the spirit within”.(Deepak Chopra, 1987 Creative Health). I believe the real purpose of meditation is awareness, not just relaxation.

He reports some of meditation’s results on the body are remarkable. A study showed meditators make fewer visits to doctors: Young adults (ages 19-39) 54.7% fewer, and older adults (40 & over) 73.7% fewer. Meditators have 87% fewer admissions to hospitals for heart disease, and 56% fewer admissions for malignant tumors. I think we can safely say, finding inner peace strengthens the immune system.

The combination of expressing emotions (especially positive ones), eating well, exercise, practicing meditation, and using chemically rich essential oils gives such a boast to the body/mind/spirit terrain that viruses are stopped in their tracks. As I just recently experienced with the beginning of a viral cold, essential oils are capable of rousing a slumbering immune system into action.


Borysenko, Joan PH.D, 1988. Minding The Body, Mending The Mind. Bantam Books, NY, NY p. 30

Bourne, KZ et al. 1999. Antiviral Research Journal. 42:219-226

Bowles, E.J. 2003. The Chemistry of Aromatherapeutic Oils. Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, Australia

L.F.S. Brum, et al. 2001, ‘Effects of linalool on binding NMDA antagonist to mouse cortical membranes, Phytotherapy Research, 15(5),pp.422-5

Chopra, Deepak. 1987. Creating Health. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, Ma. p.186

Franchomme, Pierre, Penoel, Daniel Dr. 1990 L, Aromatherapie Exactement.
Roger Jollois, Limoges, France

K.M. Hold, et al 2000, ‘Alpha-thujone (the active component of absinthe). Proc. Natl. Academy Science USA, April 11, 97(8), pp.3826-31

Jones, Larry, 2004 GC/MS Analysis Reports on Essential Oils, Santa Cruz, Ca.

Pert, Candace.1999. Molecules of Emotion Touchstone NY, NY p.190

Schnaubelt, Kurt. 1998 Advanced Aromatherapy Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vt.

Watkins, Alan 1997 Mind-body Medicine, A Clinician’s Guide to Psychoneuroimmunology, Churchill Livingstone, NY, NY

Wilkinson S, 1999 Palliative Medicine 13(5): 409-417