Post-traumatic stress disorder affects about 8 million adults in the United States, but treatment of this disease is still limited. Orange essential oil can offer a non-pharmaceutical option to help reduce stress and fear associated with the disorder, suggests a study conducted by scientists at George Washington University.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder, often caused by exposure to stressful, anxious or frightening events or sudden and unexpected death of a loved one.
A person with a disorder tends to experience a traumatic experience through memories and nightmares. Severe anxiety caused by PTSD can last for months or even years, and this can have a significant impact on a person’s life.
It is believed that chronic stress plays a role in the activation and enhancement of inflammation in the peripheral immune system. Studies have shown that peripherally circulating immune cells can penetrate the blood-brain barrier and cause inflammation of the central nervous system, which can contribute to mental health problems, including PTSD. However, the connection between the memory of fear and the immune system is not entirely understandable.
In addition, treatment for PTSD is currently limited to two FDA approved medications and methods of psychotherapy, including cognitive and drug therapy.
Cassandra Moshfeg, a researcher at the Paul Marwara Laboratory at George Washington University, and his colleagues tried to investigate the effect of orange essential oil on PTSD symptoms. Previous studies have shown that orange essential oil can have a depressant effect on the central nervous system.
The team presented the study at the annual meeting of the American Physiological Society during the Experimental Biology 2017 conference held in Chicago, Illinois.
Essential oils, naturally, are produced by plants and can be used for therapeutic purposes. Aromatic compounds of orange essential oil are usually extracted from the skin of an orange. Essential oils can be inhaled, applied to the skin or ingested in food or drinks.
Orange essential oil significantly reduced fear-related behavior
Orange essential oil was tested in mice to determine the effect of the compound on memory of fear and activation of immune cells. The researchers used Pavlovian Fear Conditioning – a behavioral mouse model – to study the formation, storage, and expression of memories of fear as a model for PTSD.
Pavlovian Fear Conditioning combines a tone with a negative stimulus, such as a punch in the foot, which provokes fear as an answer in mice. Mice form an associative memory between tone and stimulus. When they are presented only in tone, the mice display a reaction of fear and are usually frozen. With time, this answer gradually decreases.
Moshfegh and the team divided the mice into three groups. The first group of 12 mice was exposed to only an audible tone, 12 mice received water and conditioning from fear, and the remaining 12 mice were exposed to orange essential oil by inhalation 40 minutes before and after conditioning fear.
The researchers found that mice exposed to orange essential oil were significantly less likely to show their behavior when frozen and to stop the whole freeze earlier than in mice that received water and fear. Moreover, mice exposed to orange essential oil experienced a significant decrease in immune cells associated with “biochemical pathways” associated with PTSD.
The mechanism underlying the differences in behavior between the two groups can be explained by variations in the expression of genes in their brains.
“Compared to pharmaceuticals, essential oils are much more economical and have no side effects. The main orange essential oil has had a significant impact on the behavioral response in our study mice. This is promising, because it shows that the passive inhalation of this essential oil can potentially alleviate the symptoms of PTSD in humans. ”
Further research is needed to unravel the specific effects of orange essential oil on the brain and nervous system, says Moshfeg, and find out how these effects reduce “stress and fear in people with PTSD.”
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