“I don’t believe in magic bullets, but I do think that because of essential oils’ ability to get into our system through inhalation and topical application, they can be a really powerful combination in addition to food supplements, whatever else you’re doing.” – Jodi Cohen
Jodi Cohen is a best-selling author, award-winning journalist, and founder of Vibrant Blue Oils. She is also the author of the brand new, fantastic book, Essential Oils to Boost the Brain and Heal the Body. Essential oils can be a powerful tool in your PCOS toolbox. Jodi offers practical advice that we can all use. Listen in or read the transcript as we discuss:
- Ways to use essential oils to manage PCOS symptoms such as sleep, stress, fatigue, anxiety, brain fog, depression, blood sugar challenges, and more
- Adrenal blend for chronic stress
- Inhaling vs. topical vs. ingesting essential oils
- Fastest way to calm anxiety or a panic attack
- Essential oils to improve vagus nerve function and why you need that
Mentioned in this podcast:
- Vibrant Blue Oils
- Essential Oils to Boost the Brain and Heal the Body
- Learn to Use Essential Oils for PCOS mini course
- Jodi Cohen’s Book Bonus Giveaway
- PCOS Diva article about vagus nerve: Toning Your Vagus Nerve Could Improve PCOS
On today’s PCOS Diva Podcast, Jodi Cohen is going to be joining us. She is a best-selling author, award-winning journalist, and founder of Vibrant Blue Oils. She is also the author of the brand new, fantastic book, Essential Oils to Boost the Brain and Heal the Body. I want to welcome Jodi to the podcast.
Thank you so much for having me.
Well, Jodi, I am just loving your book and you cover really all the ways to use essential oils to manage PCOS symptoms that we deal with, like sleep and stress, fatigue, anxiety, brain fog, depression, blood sugar challenges. Should I go on?
Yeah. You know, it’s funny essential oils … I don’t believe in magic bullets but I do think that because of their ability to get into our system through inhalation and topical application, can be a really powerful combination in addition to food supplements, whatever else you’re doing.
Yeah. I love essential oils and I’ve written about them extensively on PCOS Diva, on my blog. I have an essential oils course, but I love how your book really breaks things down from a brain health perspective. I want to dive into that a little bit more, but first I would love for you to just share with our audience about how you got involved in essential oils and your story of healing with essential oils. I think it’s really interesting.
Oh, thank you. Yeah. I think necessity is the mother of invention and I’m the mother of two. My daughter is 16. My son would have been 14. He was killed in a car accident two years ago, but he was actually what got me into nutrition. My first child was really easy. So, I thought it was this great mom and had another one 22 months later and he was not easy.
I kept taking parenting classes. One day a friend noticed that his personality changed after he ate something. She said, “My brother was on Ritalin his whole life and it turned out he was just allergic to weird foods. You should take them him to a nutritionist.” I thought, “I can do that. I’ve done everything else.”
When we changed his diet, his personality changed overnight. He was suddenly calm and approachable, and I was so blown away because I had been banging my head against the wall for two and a half years, trying to parent him better that I went back and got a degree in nutrition and was trying to work with other squirmy, wiggly kids.
And so, I learned this technique called muscle testing that lets you kind of assess what remedies are going to be good for them. That that turned out to be super helpful when I hit my first rock bottom. My then husband had been bipolar and severely depressed pretty much since my son was born. He finally hit the point where he was on suicide watch.
My friends were like, “Your kids are five and seven. You’re working full-time, you’re volunteering all the time. There’s no way you can do this.” So we moved him into a residential treatment facility and the minute that I knew that he was safe and he was going to be okay and it wasn’t my job to keep him safe, my adrenals completely collapsed. It was like I completely ran out of gas and there was nothing left.
But I was a single mom all of a sudden, so I would wake up, I would make my kid’s breakfast. I would pack their lunch. I would help them with the homework. I would drive him to school. I would come home and I would crawl back in bed and I would set the alarm for when I had to pick them up and nothing, I was ingesting, all these remedies that were supposed to help, nothing was really helping.
I was getting kind of more and more concerned because this was not sustainable. Work would be accommodating for a week or two, but at a certain point things needed to get done, like the laundry, the shopping, all those things. And so, because I was uber volunteer, friends came by with a big box of essential oils and they said, “You know, it could be that your cortisol has been so high for so long that your gut is trashed. So you’re really not assimilating any nutrients, but oils work through the skin. So this might help you.” I thought, “That makes sense to me. I can try this.”
So, I muscle tested the box and kind of formulated a blend to support my adrenals, applied it on my low back, which is the most accessible place to reach the adrenals through the skin, and felt like myself for the first time in weeks. My first thought was, “Oh my God, I could go running,” which normally made me happy, but in my exhausted state felt completely overwhelming.
So, I went running, I took a shower, which certainly felt like a lot then too. Went to the supermarket where I have my panic attacks at the checkout line in the supermarket, but managed to do that and made them dinner, cleaned the house, did the laundry, put the laundry away?
I was more productive in that one day than I had been in the previous three weeks. They’re sleeping there. They worried about their dad. So we were all kind of sleeping and I would finally get them to sleep and then lie awake and stare at the clock. I thought, “Well, gosh, I wonder if some oil could help my pineal gland and release melatonin?” So I made another blend and that got me to sleep really quickly. I just kept making things up.
I had been practicing nutrition, not forever, but for long enough that I kind of knew where the blind spots were. If someone’s deficient in vitamin B, that’s an easy fix, you supplement with vitamin B. If they’re stuck in that fight or flight sympathetic state it’s hard to calm them down. If they’re really anxious, which I tend to be, and have kind of looping concerning thoughts, it’s hard to shift them out of that.
So, I started playing with all the … Like sometimes you’re like, “Oh, I wish I had this perfect belt or I wish I had these perfect shoes.” You kind of have this idea of like, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could find this kind of pillow to go on that couch.” I had that idea for remedies I wanted in my practice. So I just kind of started making them up and they all worked really well.
When I started to feel better, all my friends were like, “What did you do?” Like a Tupperware party or something, I’m giving them my remedies. They’re trying it on themselves, their friends. When my mental capacity returned, I went online to kind of research this because I thought, “Someone must be doing this.”
I was super, super surprised at two things. The first was that no one was really using oils to balance different organ systems and regions of the brain. Second thing that surprised me was how complicated they made it. I really was almost grateful that my mental bandwidth was so low because if I had started with research, I would have felt completely unqualified and I never would’ve tried it. So that’s how I got started with oils.
I think that too, the research can become really overwhelming that it paralyzes you.
I know, it’s so funny listening to your story. I could see parallels in my journey with PCOS, where it ended up being a trial and error with different herbs, different types of eating. Then the research came after that really supported what I was learning. So I could see how that’s a great recipe for success.
That’s what I always seem to do. It’s like after my son died, when I’d have a good day, I’d try to reverse engineer what did I do right? What made me feel better and lean more into that? Also notice certain people or certain activities, I’d always feel horrible afterwards and I’m like, “I can’t keep doing that.” Like, “It just makes me feel terrible.” So I think that’s what I try to do.
Then even with the blends, I kind of use intuition to create them, and then I go back and research what’s in them and why it works. In the beginning, it used to always surprise me, now I’ve just grown to expect it, but it always makes complete sense. It’s always oils that are derived from plants or contain certain terpenes and chemical constituents that support different organs and functions,
You know, in your book you share some of these blends, which I’m hoping that you’ll share a couple of those with us today on the call, on the podcast.
I would love, I think listeners are probably really curious what was in that blend that you put on your adrenals, on that lower back area because the way that you were describing your adrenals crashing, and after a long period of high cortisol, I know that that happens to a lot of women with PCOS.
I have to be very careful that that doesn’t happen to me and I always make sleep now, it’s such a priority in my life. So that, that doesn’t happen, especially in sort of the time that we’re in right now in this world. I want to make sure that you share that adrenal blend with us. Then I was wondering if you could kind of go into the benefits of inhaling essential oils and topically using them like you mentioned earlier in our podcast?
Of course, of course. All the recipes are in the book because in this interesting time that we’re in it’s impossible to ship to like Australia and other countries. So I just wanted to make sure everyone had the recipes so that they can make it themselves, but what’s in adrenal? It’s a combination of stimulating and balancing oils. So it’s cinnamon, galbanum, manuka, which is kind of a version of tea tree, Rosemary and thyme.
What’s interesting is, I kept reading that nutmeg works for the adrenals. I’ve never gotten nutmeg to test on anyone, but all of these oils in isolation are different than how they work in combination. It’s a little bit like if you’ve ever gone to a restaurant and had like the most amazing salad and some of the ingredients you might not choose in isolation but when you combine them they’re really amazing.
That’s a great example. Yeah, I could totally see that.
Yeah. Then your other question was about inhalation and topical applications. So it’s really interesting. One of the reasons that you can’t do, that brain challenges are so challenging is because it’s really hard to get the right remedy into the right area of the brain. For example, you can’t do chemo on the brain because the particles are too large to pass the blood-brain barrier.
The blood-brain barrier is like a super selective doorman, it only lets super small fat-soluble molecules through. That’s one reason that Omega-3, essential fatty acids, everyone knows they’re good for the brain. Well, they actually are able to get through the blood-brain barrier and access the brain. So just like the ambulance can’t really save the person if it’s stuck in traffic and it can’t get to that person, a remedy can’t actually do any good if it can’t get into the brain. So oils are kind of the perfect size and shape to get into the brain and chemical constituency.
What’s really interesting, your nose is the most accessible channel into the brain. In fact, your sense of smell is one of your primary sources of safety, right? You can smell food, you can smell water, you smell fire, you smell predator odor, it keeps you safe. And so, it goes directly to the part of the brain called the amygdala, which plays a big role in anxiety.
The other thing is that your olfactory channel, those olfactory cells are actually brain cells and the blood-brain barrier is the thinnest in the nose. So it is the easiest, most effective, immediate way to get a remedy into your system. It’s also, especially for anxiety, it’s going directly to anxiety central. So it’s the fastest way to calm anxiety. There’s research behind this that I can share if you want to too.
Yeah. It’s also in your book and something that I also wanted you to share is you have a great panic attack hack using essential oils for kind of an acute anxiety episode that I’d love for you to share with us.
Yeah, and that was a game changer. You know, those little things like the first time someone told me that you could use baby powder to get sand out of your kids’ feet. It’s like, “That’s fantastic. No more stand in the minivan.” That’s like one of those things that you’re like, “Why does everyone not know this?” But our colleague Titus Chiu, is a functional neurologist. What that is, is it’s kind of an advanced degree in chiropractic where you’re able to recognize where certain parts of the brain are kind of over-functioning or under-functioning and put them into balance, has the different hemispheres of the brain control different functions and then different lobes of the brain control different functions.
So what Titus taught me is that when you’re having a panic attack, that is your right frontal lobe. So right behind your right forehead, that’s over activating. What he said is the way to calm that is to balance the brain by activating the left frontal lobe, the left forehead, and the easiest way to do that is to smell something through your nostril. Some of your listeners might know that usually the right brain affects the left body, but your nose, your olfactory channel, cranial nerve number one, when you smell something through the left nostril goes directly to the left side.
So functional neurologists use oils very often in their practice, either through smelling or topically applying to stimulate different areas of the brain. So literally take your right thumb, plug your right nostril like you might do in yoga, ujjayi breathing, and smell whatever oil you have in the house. It doesn’t matter. It could be lavender. It could be peppermint.
If you don’t have an oil, the oils are kind of found in the peel of citrus fruits. You just peel a tangerine and smell the tangerine, but usually within three breaths, you’ll feel better. Your heart rate will slow down. You’ll feel less anxious. I feel very warm when I have an anxiety attack, my temperature kind of returns to normal. It’s the fastest way I’ve found to kind of calm myself down.
I am going to try that. I have not heard of that technique and I’m really anxious to try it. You talk about citrus oils and I do love citrus for helping a low mood. So citrus, bergamot, those. I love a cup of Earl Gray tea in the afternoon. But tell us more about on inhaling essential oils. Do you like to just put your diffuser on at your desk during the day and let those oils diffuse, or do you have another way that you like to just inhale the oils, like straight from the bottle, or what’s the best?
Yeah, I mean, how do I say this? I think that a lot of people … If you have a ritual or a way of doing things and it’s not broken, you do not need to fix it. I tend to think that people over diffuse, like 20 minutes, twice a day is a good amount. It’s not, you don’t need it 24/7. It’s a little bit wasteful. I think it’s totally fine to just open a bottle, smell it. Citrus oils have a component called, d-limonene, which actually research has shown to be more effective than antidepressants.
The ones that get a lot of airplay are the bergamot, the neroli. They’re very expensive. You can just smell orange. Orange is a great place to start and especially for anyone who has a child, that feels a little anxious. Kids usually love orange and kids are so unbelievably smart. You can even just take them to Whole Foods or any place that has oils and let them smell and pick the one that they want. Some kids like orange, some kids like lemon, grapefruit is a good one. If they pick it, they’re more likely to use it.
Yeah, that’s so true. I’d love to get your opinion on ingesting oils. Was it something that I read about in your book is part of your protocol?
Yeah. I mean, so let me caveat this with, there are certain oils like oregano and thyme that do test well for killing biofilms. If you’re working with a practitioner that knows what they’re doing, go ahead and do that. But that is not a do it yourself at home kind of thing because these are very powerful. I think that people sometimes overdose. You want to balance the body, not just kill, kill, kill. So when I looked at the risk/reward, it seemed to me like the only time that I see people really getting hurt is when they ingest the oils.
I don’t see enough of a reward to endorse that channel of application. I think that it’s far more effective to topically apply especially if you use specific acupuncture points or inhale. It’s a little bit like … I mean, if you love it and it’s working, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. But I feel like that of all the ways you can use oils, that’s the only way that feels risky. And so, I am just more risk-averse.
Yeah. I’m in sort of the same camp. I just wonder what it does to your gut. I just don’t think-
There’s not enough research.
Certain oils like the oreganos and the thyme, I think those can damage the gut. For the other ones, I kind of feel a little bit like my situation when I was assimilating nutrients and my gut was so inflamed that nothing was getting through. I think that if you have any kind of that compromised, either the acid in the stomach or the liver, I don’t know that it necessarily gets into your system that way. I mean, it’s possible like people that add it to water and are drinking it, I think you’re smelling it on the way down or it’s getting assimilated like how liposomal remedies kind of get assimilated through the cells in your mouth. I think it is getting into your body but not necessarily the way people think it is.
Hmm. Yeah, that makes sense to me. So I wanted to pivot and talk about one of the chapters in your book, which you really dived deep into vagus nerve function. But before we do that, could you just kind of give everyone an overview of how your book is set up? I know that you had a book bonus too that you wanted to share with us.
Oh yeah. So I used to be taking furious notes when I would listen to podcasts. And so, you do not need to take furious notes for giving away a free bonus chapter that shows everything I’m talking about. It’s at boostthebrainbook.com/gift. If you just give us your name and email, we’ll send you all of this for free. You’re not committing to anything.
But then back to your question. The book is organized into kind of the five things that I noticed that seemed to help everyone. I was trained to think that we’re all bio-individual and everyone needs something different. I believed that until I started to notice symptom clusters and patterns, and recognized that I often saw the same five imbalances in people. When I could balance those imbalances, no matter what their diagnosis or what their unique test results were, that seemed to help everyone.
You mentioned sleep, getting a good night’s sleep is critical. It’s really hard to heal if you’re not sleeping because it messes up your blood sugar, it messes up your hormones. Sleep is critical. The vagus nerve is critical. Talk about that. Drainage is critical. What that means is so many people now, “Oh, I’m going to do a detox. I’m going to juice and do all these things.” That’s fantastic because you’re mobilizing toxins. You’re giving your body a break, but it’s kind of like yelling fire in the movie theater if you don’t open the exit doors.
You’re mobilizing these toxins and you need to make sure that the toxins leave the body. So toxins go from the cell to the lymph, to the blood, to liver to the gallbladder, to the gut, hopefully to the toilet. But sometimes they get congested from stagnation at any point in that chain of command and oils can be used to kind of help move the flow, keep the walkway moving, so to speak.
Then the two other things are energy to heal, which correlates with stress, and then immune modulation, making sure your immune system works with you, not against you. But one of the primary things, we know that electricity flows through the fuse box, right? If the fuse box in our houses down, we’re not going to have electricity. The vagus nerve is kind of the fuse box to the body and it plays a really important role with your autonomic nervous system.
Your autonomic nervous system controls your automatic functions, like breathing, heart rate, digestion, detoxification, all of the things that you do unconsciously, you don’t need to think, “Okay, now I’m going to breathe, heart now beat.” It’s very keen on keeping you alive, which means that if there is danger it shifts into kind of that gas pedal, like, “Let’s respond to the danger. Let’s make sure that the blood is flowing to our arms and legs so we can fight or flee and away from our digestion and detoxification. Let’s make sure our pupils dilate so we can take in more light and make better immediate choices and maybe shut down our ability to connect with others or have a deep, thoughtful conversation.” So that is what’s known as the sympathetic fight or flight survival branch.
Then when the danger’s over, and it can be a physical danger, or it can be anticipatory stress, which keeps us alive. So, your own worry about your job, your relationship, your finances, politics, whatever is keeping you up at night, kind of releases the same chemical messengers, same hormones and stress hormones in the body as a physical stress.
So, what’s supposed to happen is the danger passes and we switch back into break state, the rest, digest, repair, parasympathetic state, where it’s kind of like the cleanup crew and maintenance, the blood is routing back towards your organs of digestion and detoxification. Your immune system is turned on, you anti-inflame. All of the cleanup things that are kind of important for our survival get turned on. But what often happens is that because of anticipatory stress, we stay stuck in that sympathetic state.
Now back to the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the gear switch. It is what kind of switches us out of that fight or flight sympathetic state into that rest, digest, and heal, parasympathetic state. It is the longest nerve in your body. It starts at the back of the head, splits, winds around both sides, right behind the ear lobe. I want you to take your fingers and feel right behind your ear lobe and feel that bone, that’s your mastoid bone. That is where the vagus nerve is the most accessible to the surface. It then winds through your throat, your larynx, your heart, your lungs, every organ of digestion.
What’s interesting is anything you can do to stimulate that vagus nerve at any place where it enervates, so helping to control your heart rate variability, practicing deep breathing techniques, it innovates your gallbladder. Coffee enemas kind of stimulate that. Laughing, gargling, splashing your face with freezing water. Anything you can do at any point on the vagus nerve kind of helps you to drop into that parasympathetic state. It’s like you stimulate the vagus nerve and it turns on parasympathetic.
What I found in my practice before I kind of discovered oils, I was trying to get people to gag themselves with a tongue depressor, to gargle, to do coffee enemas, actually, all these things to activate the vagus nerve and compliance was very little. Then around 2012, right around when I was launching the oils, there was some interesting research. This NYU researcher named Kevin Tracey started noticing a correlation between stimulating the vagus nerve and calming depression, calming epilepsy.
And so, they were actually doing surgery, kind of basically implanting a surgical pacemaker-like device kind of right behind the ear lobe where I showed you on that mastoid bone and using an electrical signal to stimulate the vagus nerve. Then the FDA actually approved that for depression and epilepsy.
What I realized when I was playing with oils is that you can use stimulatory oils, like a blend of clove and lime, and apply in that same exact place, no surgery, no invasion, nothing that feels uncomfortable or painful, and that stimulates the vagus nerve and activates the parasympathetic state. So it’s just an easy way to use oils to shift the body into balance.
Yeah. You actually sell a really great oil for that.
Yes. Yeah. I mean, what’s interesting about this book is I really wanted … One of the funny stories with my son, you know we live in Seattle where it rains a lot so people read a lot of books because they’re not outside having fun. We would always go to bookstores, and I’d always be in the essential oil section like, “Why has no one written this book?” It seemed so obvious to me.
At one point he said, “Mom, I think you need to write that book.” You do things to honor the dead so this was very much a work from the heart to kind of honor him. But yes, I have my own blends, which for a while I was … I don’t know, I didn’t want to share the recipes, but I kind of feel like if you have an oil company that you love, keep that oil company and I’ll just give you the recipe and you can buy the raw ingredients and make it yourself. If that feels overwhelming to you, you have ready-made version. I just kind of want to meet people where they’re at and not add to any additional stress.
Well, the book is a beautiful tribute to your son, Jodi.
I’ve had your oils now for a long time. I think we met back in, I don’t know, 2015, maybe ’14, ’15.
You gave me your parasympathetic oil that I have repurchased several times and I use it where you showed me on my mastoid bone, behind my ears, especially when I feel like I’m stuck in that fight or flight, which I find myself often in that place and it definitely does help calm. So honestly, I think if listeners take away anything from this podcast, that to me is like such a great takeaway. It’s like a lime and clove blend, but you have it in your Vibrant Blue bottle. It’s beautiful and something that I really carry with me a lot.
Oh, thank you. Yeah, if people want, if they go to boostthebrainbook.com/gift, it’s the bonus chapter. It explains more about oils and how to use them to activate the vagus nerve. But then all these other things that you can do for free, like you can use your tongue like a paintbrush and paint the roof of your mouth. You can ground, you can go in nature. Just all the things … Because I don’t know, I guess I care more about helping people shift into that state of balance where they feel safe than I do about selling a product. So everyone gets to pick their own way that makes sense for them. But my hope is that by offering 25 different versions, you can just pick one like, “Oh, I like that one.” You don’t buy everything in the store, you find one pair of shoes that fit, and there you go.
Yeah and I think it’s super helpful to stimulate your vagus nerve. I’m going to post in the show notes an article that I have on PCOS Diva blog that goes into more detail. Why that’s important for women with PCOS as it’s just a nice compliment to what you’ve shared with us today, Jodi.
Well, it really helps, especially with the anxiety. It’s literally like your phone glitches and you reboot it. It’s a reboot so that you feel less anxious and the world looks different when you’re less anxious, you have more choices. I don’t know, things that feel overwhelming, feel more manageable.
Yeah, when you’re grounded, it really does make it easier to go through life, especially where we are right now.
Yeah. I know. I speak from experience, sadly. I have definitely walked in this lane myself.
I know, but you have a beautiful new book. Again, it’s Essential Oils to Boost the Brain and Heal the Body, and it is available anywhere books are sold. So I really was just so grateful that you took some time and joined us today on the podcast to share your wisdom.
Oh, gosh. Thank you for having me. It’s always fun to see you and connect.
Thank you everyone for listening. I hope that you enjoyed the episode and I look forward to being with you again soon. Bye-bye.