Traditional folk medicine maintains that the smell of some plants can calm the nerves. Now, new research is suggesting that one fragrant compound present in lavender can lessen anxiety by stimulating the nose to pass signals to the brain.
Investigators at Kagoshima University in Japan studied the effect of linalool, sweet-smelling alcohol that is present in essential oils of lavender and other scented plants, in mice.
How does it work?
Lavender contains an oil that seems to have sedating effects and might relax certain muscles. It also seems to have antibacterial and antifungal effects.
Lavender flower and its extracts have been used, both internally and by olfaction, for centuries as a treatment for anxiety and depression. Modern analytical research has identified the main active constituents of the oil; in vitro and animal studies have begun to elucidate mechanisms of action; and controlled clinical trials in humans now document lavender's efficacy, safety, and dose. This paper reviews these developments, with summary details from selected studies, and provides a preliminary comparison of lavender's efficacy and safety to its main botanical and pharmaceutical alternatives.
Oral Lavender Supplementation: Anxiety
Lavender oil has also been shown to be effective via the oral route. Several clinical studies have demonstrated the benefit of lavender extracts in comparison to reference or placebo in decreasing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Orally administered lavender capsules (100 mL and 200 mL) were tested in 97 healthy subjects in a randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.61 Film clips were used to elicit anxiety. Measures included anxiety, State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI), mood, positive and negative affect scale (PANAS), heart rate (HR), galvanic skin response (GSR), and heart rate variation (HRV). After baseline measurements, capsules were administered. Participants viewed a neutral film clip, then an anxiety-provoking and light-hearted recovery film clip. For the 200 mL lavender dose during the neutral film clip, there was a trend toward reduced state anxiety, GSR, and HR and increased HRV. In the anxiety-eliciting film, lavender was mildly beneficial in females but only on HRV measures. In males, sympathetic arousal increased during the anxiety film (GSR). HRV significantly increased at 200 mL during all 3 film clips in females, suggesting decreased anxiety. The authors concluded that lavender has anxiolytic effects in humans under conditions of low anxiety, but they were unable to draw conclusions about high anxiety or clinical anxiety disorders.