Herbs, flowers, and plants have been used for thousands of years to treat all types of ailments. From physical pains to mental disorders, various growing greenery has been noted in ancient manuscripts to provide healing wonders across societies. But how much of it is true – and how much is a folk tale?
Unfortunately, Western medicine veered away from traditional remedies at the turn of the 20th century. As clinical trials and modern medicine became the standard practice, natural treatments grew obsolete. This was especially true after the advent of pills, which could be regulated and prescribed under the care of a licensed physician. However, it’s important to note that many of these treatments, such as penicillin, were originally derived from plant or natural bases.
But now, the tide is turning once again. In response to the increasing demand for plant-based medicine and supplements, scientists are turning back to traditional remedies to see if the old folk tales hold a grain of truth. And, as it turns out, numerous plants can trigger healing or calming effects on the body and mind.
Lavender is one such plant that has reappeared in clinical settings. This plant is especially popular in aromatherapy, which uses strong smells to clear and calm the mind. People have claimed to use lavender for calming properties for centuries by dabbing it on their wrists or spraying it on their pillows. And now, there is emerging research that can help us answer an important question: does lavender help with anxiety?
What is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is what we call the practice of inhaling smells to improve your well-being. This works by stimulating your olfactory nerves, or the smell receptors in your nose. In turn, this activates your nervous system. Aromatherapy is also thought to subtly affect the body’s energetic processes.
Scientists also speculate that aromatherapy may be effective because the molecules travel through the nose to the amygdala. Also known as the limbic system, this is the part of the brain that controls emotions and feelings. By calming this part of the brain with aromatherapy, possibly individuals may find relief from symptoms of anxiety.
Using lavender in aromatherapy has been a popular treatment for centuries in recorded medicine. But it’s not until modern times that we’ve had the technology to discover just how lavender works in the brain.
Does Lavender Help with Anxiety?
There is some research to suggest that lavender may help with anxiety by affecting the limbic system. By activating the amygdala with the compounds the symptoms of anxiety in some individuals.
But don’t take our word for it – let’s take a look at the science.
Study 1: Lavender & the Immune System
This paper, published in the open-sourced, peer-reviewed journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, sought to study experimental and clinical data on lavender’s effect on the nervous system. Researchers found that lavender may help with:
- Spatial memory deficits
- Motor activity
- Mood disorders
While the degree to which lavender helps with anxiety requires further study, this article found substantive evidence that oral administration could significantly reduce symptoms. But how does lavender oil help with anxiety?
Study 2: Effects of Lavender Oil
This 2012 study, published in the Natural Medicine Journal, provides a secondary view of the scientific literature surrounding lavender. The authors found that lavender oil works in the brain by:
- Expressing GABA-A receptors in the brain
- Inhibiting glutamate binding in the brain
- Reducing and inhibiting acetylcholine release
- Exerting a relaxing effect in the limbic system
Additionally, these authors determined that lavender aromatherapy may work due to a combination of these actions. Furthermore, small- and medium-sized clinical trials found that lavender is “effective in the management of anxiety and depression.”
Study 3: Linalool for Anxiety
This study, published in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal Frontiers, focused on one specific compound in lavender: linalool. This terpene alcohol is one of 160 compounds in lavender, but only one of a handful is thought to have a direct anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effect in the brain.
In this study, researchers studied the effect of linalool aromatherapy on mice and found that:
- Linalool acts to reduce anxiety without motor impairment
- Flumazenil, a GABA receptor antagonist, eliminated the anti-anxiety effects
- Olfactory input (smell) was essential for producing anxiolytic effects
Thus, this study shows not only that lavender can help with anxiety, but it pinpoints the exact method – and which compound. Due to the way that flumazenil shuts down GABA receptors in the brain, this study concluded that linalool worked by activating the GABA receptor. Additionally, researchers established that linalool did not produce the same effects when swallowed as when inhaled, suggesting that smelling lavender is essential to calming anxiety.
Study 4: Silexan From Lavender for Anxiety
Of course, aromatherapy is not for everyone. Thus, this study published in the peer-reviewed journal European Archies of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience took another focus and asked: does lavender help with anxiety in oral form?
To answer this question, researchers examined the outcome of several clinical trials that used Silexan, a drug that uses the active ingredients from lavender oil, to treat patients with anxiety. The authors found three randomized, placebo-controlled trials and studied the effects of Silexan on anxiety, restlessness, agitation, and depression. This study found that:
- Silexan significantly reduced anxiety compared to placebos in all three trials
- Silexan significantly improved sleep patterns compared to placebos in all three trials
- Overall psychological impairment reduced with Silexan compared to placebos
Thus, this study shows that it may be possible to use the active compounds in lavender to help with anxiety. This opens up the possibility of using lavender in prescription medication to help with anxiety under the supervision of a licensed medical professional.
So, Does Lavender Help with Anxiety?
The short answer: yes. Although more research is still needed to confirm these findings, these studies show promising evidence that lavender does help with anxiety.