In this episode Vaish and Jodi Cohen talk about how essential oils can be that “bypass” or “magic bullet” that can stimulate the vagus nerve, calm fight-or-flight, and bring children (and adults) into a parasympathetic state.

Essential Oils can work when more traditional foods and supplements don’t, because they can diffuse through the skin, and reach the brain quicker through the olfactory system.

If you have a child that is a resistant eater, or with significant GI inflammation, this podcast may be of use to you.


Listen On


Disclaimer: The information in this Podcast is for educational purposes only. Vaishnavi Sarathy, Ph.D. is an educator, not a doctor, specifically not your child’s doctor. Please consult your physician before implementing any supplement or diet recommendations.

Audio Transcription: 


Welcome back after quite a bit to function in nutrition and learning for kids, if you have been following me on Instagram, you may know that my family in India is struggling along with the rest of India with the COVID pandemic that is reaching like fire through my mother country. And I’ve been in turmoil about what is appropriate to share right now. I think today’s podcast is we are talking about switching off our fight or flight response even in the presence of enormous stress.

In the end, Jodi, My guest says, and I quote, you have the power within you to switch on your own resilience. And that is the message I want to share today. As we listen to essential oils expert Jody Cohan today.

One of the stories that she shares is when in her life she moved from chronic stress, stress response fight or flight response to relaxation, through the use of essential oils, when your kid doesn’t swallow pills when you keep can’t digest because of gut inflammation. When your child is a particularly if self restricted eater, essential oils can be that short-term magic that’s which is on their resilience.

Hi Jody, welcome to functional nutrition for kids. Thank you so much for being here. It’s an honor to have you I just bought your book about has been a month not yet. Right. So since it came out March 16. So close, it’s close to a month, I bought it almost immediately because I’d been looking for a resource and essential oils. And I’m so glad that it’s there. And that you’re here and you’re here to talk to us. So thank you welcome.

Jodi Cohen:

Oh, gosh, thank you. It’s an honor. I love talking about kids. That’s what got me into nutrition in the first place.


I see. Yeah, Yeah, same here. You know, one of my favorite things about essential oils, and I was reading this in your book as well as the volatility and the easy absorption in your body. And perhaps transmission through the blood-brain barrier.

You describe all of this in a lot of detail in your book, which is essential oils to boost the brain and heal the body. And because this podcast is a lot about gut-brain access, and how to, you know, support that health, brain health, you know, I was going to ask you two questions. Could you talk to us about how essential oils can work when sometimes the gut is inflamed, and other things don’t work? Because I often work with kids who can’t even swallow supplements changing their diet is, is forget about it. It’s huge.

Jodi Cohen:

So no, it’s funny, I actually got into nutrition through my second child. My first one was easy. I just earnestly assumed I was a great mom had a second 20 months later, and he was not easy. And you know, it’s a lot of criticism and judgment. Everyone thinks that you’re just a bad parent when your kid can’t focus and can’t sit still. And so I was reading every parenting book and taking every parenting class.

One day we were at a birthday party, he was being exceptionally well behaved and a friend complimented me. And then another mom passed out snack, which was goldfish crackers, you Jekyll Hyde ID and basically took off sprinting away from the party. So after I like rounded up and brought him back, my friend said, Okay, that was interesting. I’d never seen him change his personality after food.

You know, my brother was on Ritalin his whole life. And it turned out he was just allergic to weird foods, you should take him to a nutritionist, and I thought I can do that I’ve done everything else, you know, in our queue with him used to be we pointed our nose and say look at my nose. And he couldn’t focus like the excitotoxins in foods made him so crazy.

Within two days of changing his diet, he could totally focus. And it was so profound. And I just remember because you know, you love your children so much. And you want so desperately to like set them up for success. And I couldn’t believe it was so obvious. And I didn’t even know. And so I went back and got a degree in nutrition, and was trying to help other moms.

When the bottom kind of fell out my husband, I knew we found out he was bipolar after my daughter was born. And I thought he was pretty stabilized. But he just kept getting more and more depressed. And it seemed like the more I did for him less he did for himself. And it got to the point where my friends staged an intervention because they thought that he was going to die on my watch. And so we moved him to a residential treatment facility where, you know, professionals could support him. And the moment that I knew he was safe, and it wasn’t my job to keep him alive.

It was like my adrenals could finally collapse, which they probably needed. But the kids were five and seven at the time and it wasn’t particularly convenient. You know, so I’d get up with them and take them make them breakfast, pack their lunch, take them to school, come home, crawl back into bed, set the alarm for pickup, and I knew about adaptogenic herbs.

I knew what remedies I was supposed to be ingesting, and nothing was moving the needle. But fortunately, I at that time was like an Uber volunteer and I had just helped a friend with a fundraiser she was into oils and she came by with a big box as a thank you gift. And as she was dropping me off, she said, you know, you’ve been so high stress for so long. And stress releases the neurotransmitter cortisol, which causes systemic inflammation, I bet you’re good as toast, I bet you can’t assimilate any nutrients because you’re just so inflamed.

No oils are nice, because they can get in through the sense of smell, they can get in through the skin like this might actually help you. And I, you know, when desperation is the mother of invention, I was like, why not? You know, I have nothing to lose there. Here, I’ll try it. And I had picked up this kind of easy technique called muscle testing.

There’s a clinician in Seattle that taught classes, so I went for a weekend and if you’re trying to, like, assess a squiggly kid, it’s easy to kind of help figure out what their priorities are, and what might help them. So I muscle tested the box, you know, just will anything in here help my adrenals like a kind of, as such little energy really was trying to be efficient. And I got a really strong response.

Yes. And then I was trying to narrow it down. And I kept getting the same five oils, I normally get, like one or two remedies. And that confused me at first. And then I thought, wait a minute, they’re liquids, I guess I could combine them, you know, like a mixed drink or something.

I went and grabbed a shot glass and tested, you know, seven drops of this one, five of this one, combine them, put them on my low back, because I knew that was where the adrenals are most accessible. And felt like me, you know, like, I was really in a stage where honestly, climbing the stairs felt like a lot of work answering the phone felt like too much, you know, so to kind of feel like, Oh, my God, I can do laundry, I can go to the supermarket and clean the house.

You know, I even on good days, they’re there, those things sometimes feel like a lot. So I got the crazy amount done. You know how to great night check the kids in. And it’s not uncommon for anxiety during the day to kind of partner up with insomnia at night. So I used to joke that I clock watch, you know, o’clock, 930 10 o’clock, somewhere between like 10 o’clock and 1015 it occurred to me, wait a minute, I wonder if I can make oils to help asleep.

You know, I know it’s the high cortisol that’s kind of throwing off the ability for my pineal gland to release melatonin. Maybe I can formulate something. And I have known and heard of a melatonin cream that you could apply kind of right above the ears because I knew that was a good application spot. So I again, just blind trust, let’s try this. came up with something, basically brought it up to the bedroom, I applied it. And my five-year-old was really good at waking me up.

He’s like, You’re hard to wake up today, Mommy, you know, I slept better than I had probably in years. And I just kept kind of moving towards what works like trying different things. If it worked, I kept it if it didn’t, I kept going. And in a couple of weeks when I started to feel more like me. All my friends wanted to know what worked. What did I do? Can they try it? So I didn’t really believe it. I’m like, alright, well just give it to you see if it works. It worked on them. It worked on their clients.

They started, they kept saying you should do something with this. And I thought, Well, gosh, it’s so obvious someone must be doing this. So I finally went online and did some research. And was very surprised by two things. The first was that no one was really using essential oil blends to kind of balance organ systems and regions of the brain. And the second was they made it so complicated. I was almost grateful that I didn’t have the capacity, the mental capacity to go online and research because I would have felt unqualified and never tried it.


I do want to say, Jody, that that’s absolutely right. Because I’ve been trying to educate myself on essential oils. And I’ve opened up books and I’ve opened up courses and I’ve closed them because it’s like, I don’t know where to go next with this because it’s this whole piece and then I do like the that your book is pretty straightforward. And step by step in that.

Jodi Cohen:

Yeah, I seem to like, you know, it’s interesting. Most people don’t realize that pharmaceutical drugs are derived from plants, right? Aspirin is white willow bark. thallium is a valerian root. Over 50% of the pharmaceutical drugs that have been approved by the FDA in the last 30 years are derived from plants. And oils are really just the concentrated essences of plants. You know, like lavender, they pick it, they basically it’s farm to table, they put it in what’s called the distiller but it’s really a big pot of boiling water.

The steam kind of rises, it carries the oils with it. oil and water don’t mix. So the oil goes down when shooting the steam or the water goes down the other and that’s how you get essential oils. So they’re really just the derivative of plants. And then what’s nice about them, you know, the way they’re chemically formulated, they’re easy, they can be kind of assimilated into the body, through the nose, nose cells or brain cells. And through the skin, which is the largest organ, which is great.

I cannot tell you how many years my kids wouldn’t swallow supplements. So like grinding them up and try to add them in applesauce with cinnamon and stevia or bake them into muffins or add them to smoothies that they didn’t drink. It was so exhausting to try to get remedies into my children. And then oils, they never said notice that rub, you know, we play this little piggy and I put oil on their feet. And they didn’t even notice and like this was this was when this is easy. I can do this.


What did you target with these oils? So when you’re working? Or what I mean, I’m sure the answer varies from person to person. But when you’re dealing with a child with infections, for example, one of the most difficult things clients would be somebody that has like, you know, raging infection, this could be causing pans or pandas.

They also the infection itself is causing such picky eating and such self-restriction that they’re, they’re, they’re just in this vicious loop and no amount of awareness. It’s really hard to break that loop. And I was just thinking, Oh, this is where essential oil should be, you know, can they actually help with an infection

Jodi Cohen:

Yeah. So, you know, it’s interesting, like with the book, I, I hear people say, Well, you know, there’s an oil for everything. And that almost makes me cringe. Because I feel like you know, if you break your arm, go to the hospital, get a cast. If you’re having a heart attack, call 911. But if you’re looking for prevention, or kind of unraveling the root cause of chronic illness, I think oils work really well. And that’s what I talk about in the book. And I really think there is kind of three main things but five things that lie at the root of a lot of problems.

The first one is kind of, you know, our autonomic nervous system, which is our operating system, and controls all of our automatic functions, our breathing, our heart rate, our digestion, our detoxification, our immune system, our ability to anti inflame, and it has two speeds, you know, like a car, it’s got a gas pedal, which turns on when there’s an emergency.

It’s called the fight or flight branch of the nervous system, also called the sympathetic branch of the nervous system, and then the safety gauge, okay, the danger has passed, It’s okay to digest my food, it’s okay to detoxify, the immune system can now go back online. And that’s called the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system. And there are a lot of things that can keep you kind of stuck in this stress state, including minor infections, toxicity, anticipatory thoughts, any kind of worry, environmental toxins, all of these things.

It’s like riding a bike, right? If you’re in high gear, and you start going up the hill, it gets really hard really quickly. If you can downshift all of a sudden, it’s manageable. If you’re trying to heal, and you’re stuck in this sympathetic state, which then triggers this chronic cell danger response, where you can never actually heal. It’s really hard to move forward. It’s almost foundational to healing. And especially for children on the spectrum.

There’s this amazing scientist, Dr. Steven pargas, who wrote the polyvagal theory, which is a ridiculously complicated book that has an incredibly powerful message. And what Dr. org talks about is that a lot of times kids on the spectrum, the behaviors that we see, you know them like stemming or banging their head, they’re trying to activate the vagus nerve. Oh, the vagus nerve is the on-off switch between these two systems. They’re basically trying to manually shift themselves into that parasympathetic state.


That’s interesting. I didn’t I haven’t heard that before. But that’s really interesting.

Jodi Cohen:

Well, Dr. Elisa song and Dr. Julie Matthews, and Dr. Christine Schaffner, all work with kids on the spectrum. And their favorite oil there too. They like parasympathetic, because the gearshift because these kids, I mean, think about yourself, when you’re overwhelmed or your back is to the wall, like you don’t show up as your best self. In those moments. Like we all have those moments where we, we snap at someone or you know, think about traffic, right?

These days, when someone cuts you off and you don’t care, they’re in a hurry doesn’t matter. And other days where words are flying out of your mouth, and you could have like kids that aren’t your own in the car, you know, you just don’t show up because you’ve got too much you’re flooded. And so the more we can help ourselves so that we have more resilience, and our children are in kind of that safety gauge.

That state where, you know, you were going to go play soccer and it’s pouring rain and then you’re still like, Alright, whatever. I have my health my dog’s happy, you know, kind of that flow with its shape. So the thing that was really fascinating to me because long before life hit rock bottom, I’ve been a lifelong athlete.

I love yoga, and I would always, you know, it wouldn’t matter what was going on in my life. At the end of yoga, I always felt great. I always was like, what is it that makes me feel great? Why does Shavasana work? You know, and so I did all this research and it turned out, it’s the parasympathetic state. So the on-off switch, think of it literally as the gear shift between the fight or flight, no, your resources are allocated towards survival, Rest Digest, you feel safe you can heal is the longest nerve in our body that most people have never heard of. It’s the vagus nerve, it’s cranial nerve number 10.

I’m going to give a quick anatomy lesson because it will help us and how it works. So it’s the information highway between the brain and the body and the body in the brain. So it starts at the back of the neck, connects to the brain, and then it splits and winds around both sides behind the ears. If you feel with me, behind your ears, you’ll feel that mastoid bone, that is where it’s the most accessible to the surface.

The thickets from there it was through the throat, the mouth, the heart, the lungs, the layer next, every organ of digestion and detoxification. So it’s really critical in constipation, and also small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and irritable bowel syndrome, right kind of triggers the moving walkway that is digestion to keep moving. So here’s what’s interesting.

I knew that the vagus nerve is critical. I knew I wanted to activate the parasympathetic state. And I kept playing with cemetery oils, you know, like lavender, chamomile, all these things that were relaxing and nothing, I would kind of assess it with heart rate variability, your ability to have resilience in your heart rate is a really good measure of if you’re getting into the parasympathetic state.

There’s a ring called the aura ring that kind of tracks that. So that wasn’t moving the needle. And right around the time, I was starting my company, in 2012, there was interesting research that came out of New York, New York neuroscientist named Kevin Tracy started surgically implanting a stimulatory device pacemaker-like device.

Right behind the earlobe on the mastoid bone, it was actually two surgeries, one behind the ear, and then one kind of in the chest with the battery. And he was getting such great success from stimulating the vagus nerve. With this electric device, the FDA actually approved it for epilepsy, migraines, and depression. And when I read that, it was like a light bulb went off.

They said, Oh, stimulate, oils can stimulate, you know, some oils like oregano, or thyme or cinnamon, clove, you put them on your skin, they turn the skin red, they feel really hot. That’s why the bottom of the feed is really safe place because the skin is thicker. If you put oil on and it’s hot, take another oil like anything in your kitchen, olive oil, and coconut oil and dilute it.

You know, don’t use water because it will make it but basically I started playing with stimulatory oils and clove works the best but it’s chemistry right? Look at slightly big molecules. If you combine it with a line that has really small molecules, it almost works like an acupuncture needle, you can literally flip a bottle, put it behind your ear, it turns on your parasympathetic state, which means it turns on your ability to digest your food.

You know your mouth releases saliva, the stomach releases hydrochloric acid. So any kid that has reflux or digestive issues, pancreas releases enzymes, gallbladder releases bile, motility kicks in constipation goes away. So it’s just it’s a great I think workaround especially for fussy kids, kids that you know, like my son, oh my God, he’s tempted by the special socks because he was sensitive to everything.

You know, he didn’t like the textures of certain things. You just, it’s it works for kids who it’s hard to find things that work for. So with citrus oils that come from the peels. So there are two ways to get that you can either press it, and then you have to be a little careful because, you know, if you were to put like lemon juice on your hand and then go out in the sun, your hand will be more prone to burn. You can also just still the citrus oil, and then it’s not phototoxic so clove and distilled lime so that there’s no sunburn involved.


Got it? Yeah, thank you. I wanted to thank you earlier for sharing your story and for this remarkable journey that you’ve been through and sharing that journey with us and how, I mean, there’s just so much research in the world. And I think the one aha moment for me was that when you talked about the vagus nerve as being the on-off switch between the sympathetic and the parasympathetic systems, and we’ve actually been, I’ve been talking about the vagus nerve and constipation and all of that. And it’s recently I’ve just been having this dialogue with a with the people that work with me with my audience and so on. I’m super excited to hear how essential oils fit into that. So thank you for sharing that.

I’m currently going through a certain level of adrenal issues. myself. So if we bring in moms into the picture, is there a certain blend or a few oils that you would recommend that they could just get kickstart their energy, their resilience? Yeah, whatever it is that they want to kick start.

Jodi Cohen:

Yeah, so absolutely. Parasympathetic is great for moms too. I call it the parasympathetic pause. You know, we’ve all had that moment where we’re like, running on fumes, and our kid-like has some kind of meltdown. And a friend of mine used to say, when the kids were little, you can’t have a tug of war, if you don’t pick up the rope. You know, like when they’re melting down, if you meltdown, it becomes a disaster. So you have to find this way to like no matter what they do, and how they poke the bear, to just be like, Okay, we’re good. And so parasympathetic is great for that.

I also have an adrenal gland that I think works as an adaptogenic herb, you know, if you, the adrenals, release the hormone cortisol, that helps with energy and managing stress. And it’s not really a flatline, during the day, it’s higher in the morning, so you have the energy to wake up. And then it kind of wanes, as the day goes on. So you’re able to fall asleep. And one of the complicated things about supporting adrenals is some nutrients, give the adrenals more energy, some nutrients, calm the adrenals down.

It’s a little bit like guesswork, like when do what you know, like you’re not quite sure where you’re at, and what you need to kind of return to balance. So adaptogenic herbs and oils are great, because they just if you’re too low, they lift you up, if you’re too high, they calm you down, they kind of you know, they’re like that perfect friend, you’re having a great day and they pump you up, you’re having a bad day. And you know, there are compassionate and validating, right?


Absolutely. So thank you. So there’s adrenal gland is available on your website.

Jodi Cohen:

Yeah. And there’s also one for the hypothalamus. Not to get too complicated. But in the brain, it’s kind of the hypothalamus is the CEO of the endocrine system, is what kind of sends the signals to the adrenals to release cortisol.


I know you mentioned earlier that there are certain conditions where, where you, if you need help you go and get that help if you need to go here, and so on. They did want to ask you, I know that you have some oils that come inflammation down, are there oils that you could use as a support or as something to get started in a highly sensitive child where you don’t have access, there’s a lot of children that have swallowing issues and any sort of, you know, anti-infection, or anti-inflammatory herb or supplement needs some level of swelling unless you’re injecting it into them, which is usually unlikely. So do you have anything to do you have to start that process and support?

Jodi Cohen:

So we have, we have a gut repair kit that includes the parasympathetic blend, then an anti-inflammatory blend, and an intestinal mucosa blend. People don’t talk about intestinal mucosa enough, it kind of works in tandem with probiotics and gut flora. Think of it like the pace that holds the wallpaper on the wall. And if you just apply clockwise around the belly button, you’re hitting a lot of valuable reflex points. That’s really good for any kind of leaky gut condition. And then to your point, this immune oil, you know, there’s something about heat raising the body temperature kind of activates immunity. So I call it immune support.

It’s a blend of hot oils, and I put it on the kid’s feet. I find like, you know if you ever feel like you’re coming down with a cold you get that tickle in your throat before bed. I usually do it in a hot Epsom salt bath. For adults, it would be two cups of Epsom salt, one cup of baking soda, you cut it in half for kids. But the secret is you use the bathtub as a mixing bowl and you add in just one or two drops of lavender.

Mix it into the oils before you add the hot water. So add water you know if it’s a fidgety kid you know and they stay in five minutes go you you know if it’s you try to stay in for 15 minutes and then put the immune oil on the bottom of the feet. Put on socks, go to bed sweat out the cold, you know, let kind of the heat help support your body.


Thank you. Thank you for that. Probably this is one last question to round out our conversation and you talk in your book about essential oils being used with other modalities what’s your favorite way to use essential oils like to use it with acupuncture? You know, I know everybody uses it with massage but you have a specific modality that you feel like it actually you know one plus one is for

Jodi Cohen:

I do love acupuncture but in terms of self-care, I love layering in Castro I think Castro is incredibly supportive for limb flow for any kind of inflammation especially if there’s congestion in the liver or gallbladder. I am there are Castro packs and a lot of ways that you can do it.

My, I err on the more low maintenance side I just put castrale with Epson Cyrus our castor oil with essential oils kind of over the liver were Setting the body under the breast and just wear a t-shirt that if it stains, I don’t care. I have my Castro college t-shirt, you know. So that’s the modality,


that’s probably most of my T-shirts, basically. So, yeah, I did want to ask maybe the elephant in the room does the source matter for the oils?

Jodi Cohen:

You know, I think there’s a lot of fear-based marketing because people want to sell you only their product. I think that when possible, it’s good to buy organic, because they’re good to concentrate the essences of plants, and you don’t want concentrated pesticides.

That said, Anyone who has ever grown an herb garden knows that it’s really hard to kill like mint and basil, and thyme. For a lot of these oils, you don’t need pesticides, because they grow so readily. So the ones that I would really be the most careful with are birch, Jasmine, and Rose, but are the other ones by organic when you can, you know, trust your sense of smell? You can walk through the mall, walk by the candle store, know that that’s not a smell found in nature, you know, otherwise, don’t make yourself crazy.


Thank you.Tell us a little bit more about your book, God and how where people can find it.

Jodi Cohen:

Yeah, so it’s called essential oils to boost the brain and heal the body. And they can actually just go to they can download a free gift on how to activate the parasympathetic nervous system 25 ways you only need to pick one. But if oils don’t speak to your heart and but activating your vagus nerve does, it’s just the brain book.com/giftandyoucandownloaditthereessentiallyastheasthebrainhealthebodyissoldanywherebooksaresoldandthenmywebsiteisvibrantblueoils.comifyouusethecouponcodewelcometen You’ll get $10 off your first order.


Thank you, sir. Do you have any parting words for parents, moms of children with disabilities?

Jodi Cohen:

Yeah, I think I have this really powerful aha moment. Um, when my kids were in preschool. You know, I, I was obviously high stress and high cortisol. And people used to tell me, Oh, it’s stress. And I think, you know, like, I need my job. I’m not getting rid of my children. You know, I love my husband, even though that was stressful, like, I didn’t feel like I could change my external world. And when I realized that I could change my internal response, that when I stimulate my vagus nerve and activate parasympathetic, it’s, I have so much more resilient.

You know, I used to read the New York subway and stilettos. And that’s pretty wobbly. When I was there with my sneakers, and you know, my feet apart, I didn’t wobble as much. And I feel like there are lots of tools, you have the power within you to kind of switch on your own resilience and make, you know, you can’t change. We can’t change what’s happening in the world. We can’t change the news, but we can change our own response. And that’s incredibly powerful.


Thank you, God, thanks for coming on this podcast. I personally had a lot of aha moments. And I’m sure a lot of moms, a lot of parents that. So thanks for sharing your wisdom with us.

Jodi Cohen:

Thank you. Thank you for having me.


I had a few aha moments from this podcast. And I don’t know about you. But one of my biggest learnings was some parts of polyvagal theory and the fact that the vagus nerve is the switch between the sympathetic and the parasympathetic systems.

In other words, it is the switch between the fight or flight response, and the rest and digest response. I’d like to leave you with the idea of thinking about how you can access your switch and how can you can help your child access their switch. Let’s also come together to think about what happens when we prevent children from accessing this switch by trying to forcibly eliminate stems. I hope you liked this podcast. Thank you for joining me on functional nutrition and learning for kids. See you in a couple of weeks with another brand new podcast. Bye