Transcript: Lavender for Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.
Lavender oil, distilled from lavender flowers, is “most often used in aromatherapy and massage. Despite its popularity…only recently [have] scientifically-based investigations [been undertaken] into its biological activity,” however. There have been “small-scale studies” suggesting benefit from lavender massage; but, maybe it’s the massage, not the lavender.
There was a study on patients in intensive care, comparing massage with odorless oil to lavender oil, and though patients massaged with lavender oil did say they “felt less anxious and more positive,” there were no objective differences found in terms of blood pressure, breathing, or heart rate. Frankly, maybe the lavender was just covering up the nasty hospital smells.
Subsequent studies using more sensitive tests did find physiological changes, though. We know, for example, the smell of lavender changes brain wave patterns. But, what effect does this have? Well, evidently it makes people feel better, perform math better (faster and more accurately), whereas the smell of rosemary, for example, seemed to enable folks only to do math faster—not necessarily with greater accuracy.
What if you actually eat lavender flowers, or, in this case, take capsules of lavender-infused oil, so you could double-blind the study to compare lavender head-to-head to a drug like Valium (lorazepam, known as Ativan), for generalized anxiety disorder.
Generalized and persistent anxiety is a frequent problem, and is treated with benzodiazepines—benzos or downers, like Valium. “Unfortunately, these substances” can not only make you feel like you have a hangover, but “have a high potential for drug abuse” and addiction.
So, they decided to give lavender a try. The drug Ativan certainly reduces anxiety, but, so does lavender. By the end, you couldn’t tell which was which. And, in fact, among those that responded to either, the lavender actually seemed to work better.
“Since lavender oil has no potential for drug abuse and causes no hangover effects [it] appears to be an effective and well-tolerated alternative to benzodiazepine [drugs] for [the] amelioration of generalised anxiety.”
One cautionary note, however; there was a case series published in the New England Journal of Medicine. “Prepuberty Gynecomastia Linked to Lavender.” Reports of young boys exposed to lavender-containing lotions, soaps, hair gel, and shampoo starting to develop breasts, which disappeared after these products were discontinued—suggesting that lavender oil may possess hormone-disrupting activity.
And, indeed, when dripped on estrogen receptor-positive human breast cancer cells, lavender does show estrogenic effects, and a decline in male hormone activity, though it’s unknown if similar reactions occur inside the body when lavender flowers or lavender oil is ingested.
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