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Topical Lemon Balm Lotion for Alzheimer’s

Improving cognitive performance with aromatherapy in young, healthy volunteers is one thing, but how about where it really matters? As I discuss in my video Best Aromatherapy Herb for Alzheimer’s, a group of Japanese researchers had a pie-in-the-sky notion that certain smells could lead to “nerve rebirth” in Alzheimer’s patients. Twenty years ago, even simply raising such a possibility as a hypothetical was heretical. Everybody knew that the loss of neurons is irreversible. In other words, dead nerve cells are not replaced, an important factor in neurodegenerative diseases. That’s what I was taught and what everyone was taught, until 1998.

Patients with advanced cancer volunteered to be injected with a special dye that’s incorporated into the DNA of new cells. On autopsy, researchers then went hunting for nerve cells that lit up in the brains. And, as you can see at 1:14 in my video, there they were: new nerve cells in the brain that didn’t exist just days or months before, demonstrating “that cell genesis occurs in human brains and that the human brain retains the potential for self-renewal throughout life”—something in which we can take comfort.

It still doesn’t mean smells can help, though. An aromatherapy regimen of rosemary, lemon, lavender, and orange essential oils was attempted for a month. At 1:43 in my video, you can see the trajectory of the subjects’ cognitive function and their ability to form abstract ideas starting six weeks before the treatment. Prior to the aromatherapy regimen, there was a rather steady decline, which was reversed after the aromatherapy. The researchers concluded that aromatherapy may be efficacious and “have some potential for improving cognitive function, especially in AD [Alzheimer’s disease] patients”—all, of course, without any apparent side effects.

What about severe dementia? We always hear about the cognitive deficits, but more than half of patients with dementia experience behavioral or psychiatric symptoms. Thorazine-type antipsychotic drugs are often prescribed, even though they appear to be particularly dangerous in the elderly. “Antipsychotic medication may be viewed as an easier option than non pharmacological alternatives,” such as aromatherapy. Another study examined the effect of rubbing a lemon balm-infused lotion on the arms and face of patients twice daily by caregiving staff, compared with lotion without the scent. “During the 4 weeks, significant improvements were seen” in agitation, shouting, screaming, and physical aggression, as were improved quality of life indicators, with patients less socially withdrawn and more engaged in constructive activities, compared to the unscented control. This is important because antipsychotics cause patients to become more withdrawn and less engaged. They are like a chemical restraint. The drugs can reduce agitation, too. So, aromatherapy with lemon balm “is safe, well tolerated, and highly efficacious, with additional benefits on key quality of life parameters.”

These findings clearly indicate the need for longer-term multicenter trials,” but we never had any, until…never. We still don’t have any. This study was conducted in 2002, and there have been no follow-ups. Is that a surprise? Who’s going to fund such a study: Big Balm?

I’ve produced one other video on lemon balm: Reducing Radiation Damage with Ginger and Lemon Balm. We grow lemon balm in our garden. It makes a delicious tea. Give it a try!


For more on the potential (and limitations) of aromatherapy, check out:

It’s better, of course, to prevent dementia in the first place. Learn more:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations:

Discuss

Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


25 responses to “Topical Lemon Balm Lotion for Alzheimer’s

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  1. A friend of mine, who is a pediatrician endocrinologist said that lavender has ben linked to early puberty. I was very surprised.

    Dr. Greger mentioned a concoction of oils on the blog that has been linked to helping neurotransmission in AD sufferers. Does anyone know the whole formula?

    1. ‘During the 28 days of aromatherapy, patients were exposed to the aroma of 0.04 mL lemon and 0.08 mL rosemary essential oil in the morning from 0900 to 1100 hours and to 0.08 mL lavender and 0.04 mL orange essential oils in the evening from 1930 to 2100 hours. The oils were placed on a piece of gauze in diffusers with an electric fan. (All essential oils and diffusers used in the present study were produced by the Peace of Mind Company (Tokyo, Japan).) Two diffusers were set up in each room where patients had been moved. The essential oils (rosemary and lemon; lavender and orange) were then mixed as described above. The lemon and rosemary mix activates the sympathetic nervous system to strengthen concentration and memory, whereas the lavender and orange fragrance activates the parasympathetic nervous system to calm patients’ nerves. The mixtures used in the mornings and evenings were changed because this method is known, through experience, to synchronize the autonomic nervous system to the circadian rhythm: the sympathetic nerve system works predominantly after stimulation by rosemary–lemon oil in the morning, whereas the parasympathetic nerve system works predominantly after activation by the lavender–orange oil at night.’

      https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1479-8301.2009.00299.x

    1. I could not find the 2002 research about lemon balm lotion applied topically to see what strength/brand they used.

      But here is the protocol used in the aromatherapy research. You would need to buy these 4 essential oils seperately and mix them yourself. Note….rosemary and lemon in the morning and orange and lavender before bed for reasons below. I am most familiar with the ultrasonic oil diffusers, they are very inexpensive online….under $20. Good quality oils likely would set you back another $40…but they last a long time, as you use small amounts.

      During the 28 days of aromatherapy, patients were exposed to the aroma of

      0.04 mL lemon and 0.08 mL rosemary essential oil in the morning from 0900 to 1100 hours and to

      0.08 mL lavender and 0.04 mL orange essential oils in the evening from 1930 to 2100 hours.

      The oils were placed on a piece of gauze in diffusers with an electric fan. (All essential oils and diffusers used in the present study were produced by the Peace of Mind Company (Tokyo, Japan).) Two diffusers were set up in each room where patients had been moved. The essential oils (rosemary and lemon; lavender and orange) were then mixed as described above.

      The lemon and rosemary mix activates the sympathetic nervous system to strengthen concentration and memory, whereas the lavender and orange fragrance activates the parasympathetic nervous system to calm patients’ nerves.

      The mixtures used in the mornings and evenings were changed because this method is known, through experience, to synchronize the autonomic nervous system to the circadian rhythm: the sympathetic nerve system works predominantly after stimulation by rosemary–lemon oil in the morning, whereas the parasympathetic nerve system works predominantly after activation by the lavender–orange oil at night.

      https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20377818/

      1. I found the research, but the entire article is behind a pay wall. I don’t think a tincture of lemon balm will do….you need the essential oil, which is a very different animal. Of course, lemon balm tincture, tea in baths or a beverage is great…but it is not what they used in the study. They added the essential oil to a base lotion…but again, concntrations behind the paywall. you likely should do a skin test first…before slathering all over to make sure you are not sensitive.

        https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12143909/

        Seventy-two people residing in National Health Service (U.K.) care facilities who had clinically significant agitation in the context of severe dementia were randomly assigned to aromatherapy with Melissa essential oil (N = 36) or placebo (sunflower oil) (N = 36). The active treatment or placebo oil was combined with a base lotion and applied to patients’ faces and arms twice a day by caregiving staff. Changes in clinically significant agitation (Cohen-Mansfield Agitation Inventory [CMAI]) and quality of life indices (percentage of time spent socially withdrawn and percentage of time engaged in constructive activities, measured with Dementia Care Mapping) were compared between the 2 groups over a 4-week period of treatment.
        Results: Seventy-one patients completed the trial. No significant side effects were observed. Sixty percent (21/35) of the active treatment group and 14% (5/36) of the placebo-treated group experienced a 30% reduction of CMAI score, with an overall improvement in agitation (mean reduction in CMAI score) of 35% in patients receiving Melissa balm essential oil and 11% in those treated with placebo (Mann-Whitney U test; Z = 4.1, p < .0001).

          1. Thank you Mr. fumblefingers! It looks like they used 10% by weight of melissa officinals (lemon balm) essential oil. I appreciate you going the extra mile!

    2. Firstly you need to find an honest distributor as according to the essential oil doyen of testing for companies, Dr Pappas, 70% of essential oils ara adulterated, especially the expensive ones and lemon balm has low yield and one of the more expensive oils.

      If you buy “Essential Oil Safety” Robert Tisserand/Rodney Young, you will be able to check virtually every EE as to its correct percentages for terpenes ect. Also if you don’t get either a gas chromatography or mass spectrometry readout of the batch specific oil from the company, find a company that will supply the data before you buy. There is no point buying expensive EE’s from any company that refuses to provide the data for the oil you are buying. Then you can check from your book if the correct percentages (within reason) are present. There will be some variations due to climate, soil, location etc, but you will expect to see the important elements listed percentage wise. Trust but verify is the only way when purchasing these products from companies.
      If I am allowed I can give the name of one of the only companies that list the data everyone requires, on the page of the essential oil you are viewing. Most major companies refuse to give this info! I wonder why?

        1. Hi Eileen, Oshadi in Cambridge have batch specific MSDS & GC readouts for their products on the same page as the oil is viewed. I haven’t found another company who automatically present batch specific data. Even Neil’s Yard London refused to supply data for yheir products.

  2. Lemon balm, a member of the mint family, is so easy to grow. In fact, once you have a plant started you’ll soon begin seeing more of them scattered around far from the mother plant. I wonder how it would do to just crush the leaves a bit and rub them on the skin. Of course, that would only do in summer.

    Tinctures are so easy to make. It would be simple to make lemon balm tincture. There are various methods on Youtube.

    1. Yes, it grows like a weed. When I have time I chop it finely and put it on my oatmeal in the morning. When I don’t I sprinkle on dried peppermint and spearmint leaves. Seems like ingestion might even be more effective than topical.

    2. Rebecca & Blair, I, too, have some Lemon Balm growing in my little vegetable garden. And, yes, it does grow like a weed and I have to cut it back, every year or so.

      Like Blair, I chop some up and put it my vegetable soup all summer. At the end of the season, I pick some leaves, put them in a plastic bag, and freeze them. Then during the winter, I blend the frozen leaves with a little water and then put a spoonful of the blend in my soup during the winter months.

      Also, one researcher, who used to post here on NF.org, has some links on her blog site to a Dr. Jeanne M. Wallace about how Lemon Balm and other herbs from the Lamiaceae family can help prevent Covid-19 and other infections:

      https://glowingolder.blog/2020/03/29/containing-coronavirus-meet-the-lamiaceae-family/

      Excerpt:

      “Herbs in the Lamiaceae family: including lemon balm, mint, oregano, rosemary, basil, sage, thyme.

      Why are these helpful? Viruses attach to the surface of cells in our mouth, nose and throat and then start multiplying. Herbs in this family interfere with viral attachment. Lemon balm seems especially promising. It inhibits attachment as well as replication–that is, the process of viruses multiplying within cells–and has been “shown to inhibit viral replication across a wide variety of virus types,” she says.

      How? Consume high quality herbs, fresh and dried:

      Make herbal teas and sip throughout day.
      Make mouthwashes.
      Use in meals.
      Practice aromatherapy. Use high quality essential oils to clean the nasal passages periodically throughout the day. Shake bottle, place near nose and inhale.”

  3. I saw some organic lemon balm salve on etsy for about $6.

    Is it the aroma or is it because it is anti-inflammatory?

    I get confused whether aromatherapy would help me because I can’t smell out of my left nostril so I don’t know if it would have the brain effect on those parts of the brain, so I would feel happier if it was the anti-inflammation that was helping. But I like the smell of citrus and mint even if it is only the parts of the brain that my right nostril smells that get activated.

    Yes, I may be overthinking this but I am curious if being able to smell out of the left nostril matters for a test like that.

    Either way, I know that I have to try this. I have already experienced a few years of psychosis with the brain problems without using anti-psychotics.

    The meds for dementia made my grandmother way more confused and she got better again taking her off of them. There was one patch that she liked but it cost every penny of her social security to get it and insurance wouldn’t pay and I wouldn’t be able to afford it either.

    I find citrus soothing. When I peel an orange I can just sit there and smell my hands and smile for hours after. So I guess it doesn’t even matter.

  4. I had tested lemon balm the plant and could not smell it at all, at all, at all with my left nostril back when I watched that video.

    But I probably could smell it with my right nostril if it was used as a salve.

    I might add lemon to it because that would make it more satisfying to me.

    1. Deb, have you tried the practices of nasal breathing. You can find them on youtube. James Nestor has a book “Breathe” that is popular now. Patrick McKowen is another name (spelling?). Anyway, they promote nasal breathing. Mouth taping at night. All to regain control over your breathing. It worked for me and cleared both of my nostrils.

      1. Dennis,

        Thanks for sharing. I used to have a lot of allergies that did cause nasal breathing issues and drugged-out Benadryl head bobs sitting at the one-armed desks at school.

        I will look it up.

        But I stopped having many allergies a while back and I am not sure that it is blocked nostrils.

        I did the peanut butter left nostril test for Alzheimer’s and I did it a few times to make sure it wasn’t my nostrils, plus, I walked around smelling things like Lemon Balm trying to test my left nostril.

        I did not try taping my mouth.

        LOL!

        Duct tape?

  5. My husband has early on set Alzheimer’s and is in the early stages at 63. This looks very interesting about the lemon balm but wondering if it’s effectiveness is reduced with him as he has a very poor sense of smell.

  6. Carol,

    It may not have any impact on the therapy, so use this low-cost potential high reward approach.

    His poor sense of smell may also be an indication of additional issues, both medically and nutritionally. Please see a functional medicine practitioner and evaluate his situation further.

    Dr. Alan Kadish moderator for Dr. Greger http://www.Centerofhealth.com

  7. Thank you for your response. He has had a life long issue with allergies and then a procedure to fix his deviated septum. But I believe his sense of smell has been poor his whole life but might be worse now. Thanks, will try this therapy.

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