In a double-blind study, lavender oil worked as well as the valium-like drug lorazepam (Ativan) for relief of persistent anxiety, though there are concerns about estrogenic effects.
Image thanks to Off2riorob via Wikimedia Commons.
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. 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 case 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 the smell of lavender changes brain wave patterns, but what effect does that have? Well the it evidently makes people people feel better and perform math better—faster and more accurately, whereas the smell of rosemary, for example, seemed to enable folks only to do the math faster—not necessarily with greater accuracy.
But 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, also 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 amelioration of generalized 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 disprupting activity and indeed when dripped on estrogen receptor positive breast cancer cells do show estrogenic effects and a decline in male hormone activity. It's unknown if similar reactions occur inside the body when lavender flowers or lavender oil is ingested.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Ariel Levitsky.
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The math thing is so cool! How else might one use natural means to improve cognitive performance? Check out my video Does a Drink Of Water Make Children Smarter? More mind-body brain hacking tips in Dietary Brain Wave Alteration.
More on dietary interventions for anxiety in:
In fact the saffron may be aromatherapeutic too. See the follow-up to the PMS study, Wake Up and Smell the Saffron. And speaking of brain effects, there's Saffron vs. Prozac, Saffron for the Treatment of Alzheimer’s, and Saffron Versus Aricept,
For more flower power see my blog and videos on hibiscus tea (Better Than Green Tea) and chamomile tea (Red Tea, Honeybush, & Chamomile and Chamomile Tea May Not Be Safe During Pregnancy). And hey, broccoli florets are just clusters of flower buds. See The Best Detox, Broccoli Versus Breast Cancer Stem Cells, and dozens of other broccoli videos.
How else might diet affect with the hormonal balance of young boys? Check out Dairy & Sexual Precocity.
More on lavender in my next video Lavender for Migraine Headaches.
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