Smelling Lavender Really Can Relax You: New Study
- A component in lavender oil, linalool, produced relaxation in mice in a new study
- The relaxation effects resembled those produced by benzodiazepines, antianxiety drugs, but lacked their motor impairment and sedation
- The relaxation effects were triggered by the smell of linalool, mediated through the olfactory/chemosensory system
- Linalool may also have pain relieving properties because it activates calcium channels that regulate aspects of pain processing
- Lavender also has antibacterial and antifungal properties. It’s even been shown to combat the dangerous bacteria S. aureus and multidrug-resistant E. coli
Anxiety is a worldwide problem, and in the U.S. it affects almost one-fifth of the adult population.1 Yet prescription treatments for anxiety are far from ideal and often present undesirable side effects.
SSRI antidepressants, often prescribed for anxiety despite questions about their effectiveness for this use,2 put patients at clear risk of suicide, mania and bipolar disorder, birth defects, weight gain and sexual dysfunction.3
When combined with other drugs, SSRIs can put patients at risk for serotonin syndrome4 and are increasingly suspected of contributing to osteoporosis.5 They’ve even been linked to a heightened risk of developing the dreaded intestinal infection, Clostridium difficile.6 Moreover, SSRI antidepressants have a “clinical effect delay” — it may take weeks for them to produce any response.”7
Benzodiazepines like Xanax, Ativan, Valium and Lorazepam, the drug class widely prescribed for anxiety, are also not ideal. On top of sedation and motor impairment, benzodiazepines put patients at risk of addiction and, according to some reports, dementia.
Moreover, they account for as many as one-third of overdose deaths. A treatment for anxiety without the side effects of SSRI antidepressants and benzodiazepines would help many.
A New Study Shows Lavender’s Effectiveness in Relieving Anxiety
Investigators at Kagoshima University in Japan recently studied the effect of linalool, a component of lavender oil, in mice and found a significant reduction in anxiety without impaired motor coordination. Their results appeared in the October 23 issue of Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.8
How could the researchers detect anxiety in the mice they were studying? The mice were put in a “light/dark box” in which they could choose between adjoining light and dark compartments. Mice with less anxiety spent more time in the lighted chamber, engaged in “exploratory behavior” said the researchers.
The researchers also put mice treated with linalool in a maze that consisted of two “open arms” and two “closed arms.” Again, mice with less anxiety spent more time engaged in “exploratory behavior” — in this case exploring the “open arms” parts of the maze said the researchers.
Linalool as Effective as Benzodiazepines in Study
Kagoshima University researchers compared the behavior of linalool-exposed mice to those exposed to nothing and those exposed to diazepam, a benzodiazepine commonly known as Valium. Mice exposed to linalool had roughly the same anxiety reduction as those on diazepam but they had no accompanying motor impairment as seen with benzodiazepines.
When the mice exposed to linalool were placed on a rotating bar, they could keep from falling off the bar for as long as control mice who had been treated with nothing.9 This, say the researchers, implies they experienced no significant motor impairment from the linalool.
This is not the first time linalool has performed as well as benzodiazepines in reducing anxiety. In 2010, a group of researchers in Germany writing in the journal Phytomedicine found that a lavender based preparation:10
“… is as effective as lorazepam in adults with GAD [general anxiety disorder]. The safety of silexan [a lavender based compound that was used in the study] was also demonstrated. Since lavender oil showed no sedative effects in our study and has no potential for drug abuse, silexan appears to be an effective and well tolerated alternative to benzodiazepines for amelioration of generalized anxiety.”
Aromatherapy Proved Effective in Study
In determining the anxiety reduction benefits of linalool, researchers at Kagoshima University also confirmed the effectiveness of aromatherapy, a mechanism that is still called into doubt by mainstream medicine despite its years of successful use. Here is how the researchers describe the way mice were exposed to linalool:11
“Linalool odor exposure was performed in a custom-made odor chamber. A piece of 2 cm × 2 cm filter paper treated with … linalool was placed at each of the four corners of an acryl box … A mouse was placed into an acryl cage with a wire netting cover … and was placed at the center of the odor chamber.
Mice were unable to access the odor source directly, but were exposed to odorized air. In this odor chamber, mice were exposed to linalool odor for 30 min[utes].”
To confirm that the drug effects were through the olfactory system and not a different means, researchers disrupted the ability to smell in some mice who would be used for control purposes, producing anosmic or the inability to smell. Effects from linalool were not observed in these anosmic mice who could not smell it, confirming the olfactory system as the route of transmission.
Researchers also found that linalool was mediated through GABA receptors, as benzodiazepines are, and not through serotonin (5HT) receptors which are used by SSRI antidepressants. Again, linalool closely approximates the action of benzodiazepines but without motor impairment, which is a major drawback to their use. That is good news for anyone who wants to feel a little less anxious without becoming fatigued, sedated or experiencing muscle weakness.
Other Lavender Actions Unlocked
Linalool may also have pain reduction properties (analgesia) speculate the researchers at Japan’s Kagoshima University, because it activates calcium channels which regulate aspects of pain processing:12
“In addition to the odorant receptors, T-type calcium channels (TTCCs) are also affected by linalool … Because the TTCCs contribute to the generation of action potentials in olfactory sensory neurons … the modulation of TTCCs by linalool may also contribute to linalool odor- induced analgesia.”
In an earlier linalool study in mice, researchers at Kagoshima University explored similar, pain mediating functions:13
“Various folk remedies employ certain odorous compounds with analgesic effects. In fact, linalool, a monoterpene alcohol found in lavender extracts, has been found to attenuate pain responses via subcutaneous, intraperitoneal, intrathecal, and oral administration.
However, the analgesic effects of odorous compounds mediated by olfaction have not been thoroughly examined. We performed behavioral pain tests under odourant vapor exposure in mice. Among six odourant molecules examined, linalool significantly increased the pain threshold and attenuated pain behavior …
These findings reveal central analgesic circuits triggered by olfactory input in the mammalian brain and support a potential therapeutic approach for treating pain with linalool odor stimulation.”
Linalool, because it is administered through the sense of smell, as aromatherapy, may be useful for those who struggle with “oral or suppository administration of anxiolytics, such as infants or confused elders,” says Kagoshima University researcher Hideki Kashiwadani.14
Lavender Aromatherapy Can Ease Presurgical Anxiety
Studies that confirm the anxiety reduction problems of lavender oil are especially good news for the many people who fear medical procedures, especially surgery. Side effect-free treatments like lavender are immensely preferable to the benzodiazepines, painkillers and anesthetics usually used for “pre-op” fear.
These less natural treatments can often prolong recovery from medical procedures and surgery through longer hospital stays and slower wound healing. Here is what researchers wrote in Laryngoscope Investigative Otolaryngology:15
“Aromatherapy may offer a simple, low-risk and cost-effective method of reducing preoperative anxiety … Given the adverse effects of preoperative anxiety and the simplicity of aromatherapy, health care providers should consider the use of preoperative lavender aromatherapy in the ambulatory surgery setting, in which a short preoperative waiting time necessitates a convenient method of anxiety reduction.
While the researchers, writing in Laryngoscope Investigative Otolaryngology, affirm linalool’s role in reducing anxiety, they note that linalyl acetate, a different component found in the lavender plant, has pain relieving properties and “is recognized as a narcotic.” Lavender has been successfully used in a variety of medical settings say the researchers:16
“Lavender aromatherapy was shown to reduce anxiety in patients in the coronary intensive care unit (ICU), dental office, before open-heart surgery, general surgery, intrauterine device (IUD) insertion, during peripheral venous cannulation, and after myocardial infarction and percutaneous coronary intervention.”
The use of lavender aromatherapy may be especially valuable “in the ambulatory surgery setting, in which preoperative waiting time is brief and a convenient method of reducing anxiety is needed,” write the researchers.
Lavender Oil Fights Bacterial Infections Without Causing Resistance
Lavender has another important action –– it combats bacteria. According to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center website, lavender oil has “broad-spectrum antibacterial activity” including against the dangerous bacteria S. aureus and multidrug-resistant E. coli.17
This is especially important as the problem of antibiotic resistance grows from the overuse of antibiotics in medical settings and in livestock. Antibiotic resistance has become a major threat to public health worldwide, and the primary cause for this man-made epidemic is the overprescription and widespread misuse of antibiotics.
They are routinely given to food animals on cramped “factory farms” to keep disease from breaking out. Antibiotics are also irresponsibly prescribed to humans for viral infections such as the flu, for which they have no effect, a practice that should stop.
Many Antibiotics Have Been Removed From the Marketplace
Despite all that is known about the dangers of antibiotic resistance, antibiotics are added to personal hygiene consumer products such as soaps, wipes, gels and sprays, as well as household products like dish detergent and even laundry detergent. Even cutting boards have been treated with antimicrobials.
Products with antibiotics added to them do not get you “cleaner” than soap and water but allow consumer companies to call their products “new” and “improved” and charge more for them. Meanwhile, 2 million people a year get antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections in the U.S. and 23,000 die,18 making antibiotic-resistant bacteria one of our most pressing public health problems.
For example, in 2014, mega poultry producer Foster Farms was linked to a 29-state outbreak of drug-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg in a striking example of the dangers of antibiotic resistance.19 Six-hundred thirty-four people were sickened, and federal lawmakers urged that the operations be shut down.
Lavender oil’s ability to fight bacteria and especially antibiotic-resistant bacteria is also great news for anyone who has experienced any side effect from taking antibiotics, especially those containing fluoride. In fact, many antibiotics containing fluoroquinolone (flouride) have been removed from the marketplace due to their horrific side effects.
Omniflox,20 Raxar,21 Trovan,22 Zagam23 and Tequin24 were withdrawn from the market several years ago. Levaquin’s maker, Janssen/Johnson & Johnson, quietly halted production of this antibiotic in December 2017, telling an Indianapolis TV station in July 2018 that it had done so out of “safety concerns.” However, the drug hasn’t been pulled from shelves yet, so it’s possible it could still be available until 2020.25
However, Cipro, Avelox and Floxin continue to be prescribed for a variety of infections, both major and minor. Cipro is by far one of the favorites, despite new FDA warnings about serious side effects associated with the drug, including neurological problems such as delirium and memory impairments, as wel as serious dips in blood sugar, and my advice to you is to avoid it.
Lavender Oil Also Fights Fungal Infections
Lavender also fights fungal infections. Lavender oil’s antifungal properties are great news because various fungi are becoming as tough to treat as antibiotic resistant bacteria. Already, there are relatively few antifungal drugs, and they oftentimes have side effects.
The rise of antimicrobial resistant strains of bacteria, fungi and viruses has become a widespread problem due to the overuse of antibiotics in both animals and humans. Scientists tested lavender oil and also found it to be lethal to a range of skin-pathogenic strains known as dermatophytes, as well as various species of Candida.
Dermatophytes cause infections of the skin, hair and nails, and Candida species can cause mucocutaneous candidosis, also known as thrush. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):26
“Invasive candidiasis is a common health care-associated infection: It’s estimated that approximately 46,000 cases of healthcare-associated invasive candidiasis occur each year in the U.S. …
Candidemia, the most common form of invasive Candidiasis, is one of the most common bloodstream infections in the United States, The incidence of Candidemia is approximately 14 per 100,000 people in the Baltimore area and 10 per 100,000 people in the Atlanta area, but the incidence and the distribution of Candida species causing infection vary substantially by geographic location and patient population.”
Other Lavender Oil Benefits Are Medically Recognized
Lavender oil also accelerates wound healing, protects against neural damage and oxidative stress, protects against heart attacks through its antioxidant effects and can inhibit seizures.27 It has even improved spatial performance in an Alzheimer’s disease model and reduced falls in the elderly.28
With linalool’s newly confirmed ability to reduce anxiety, we again see the superiority of older, safer treatments. Time and time again medical science comes back to the age-old truth that simple, holistic remedies like lavender oil provide benefits where the drug companies cannot, and with few or no side effects.
If more people knew the truth about how easy it is to maintain your health naturally without the so-called “help” of the pharmaceutical industry, the U.S. might be able to escape the failed paradigm of “sickness management” that now passes for health care.
- 1, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12 Front. Behav. Neurosci., 23 October 2018
- 2 Psychother Psychosom. 2013;82(6):355-62
- 3 Big Pharma Wants People on Antidepressants for Years and It’s Working April 27, 2018
- 4 Mayo Clinic Serotonin Syndrome
- 5 Innov Clin Neurosci. 2012 Jul-Aug; 9(7-8): 42–47
- 6 BMC Med. 2013; 11: 121
- 10 Phytomedicine. 2010 Feb;17(2):94-9
- 13 Sci Rep. 2016 Nov 15;6:37129
- 14 Does Lavender Really Help With Anxiety? October 23, 2018
- 15, 16 Laryngoscope Investigative Otolaryngology November 8, 2017
- 17, 27 Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Lavender
- 18, 19 Experts: Antibiotic Resistance Worsening April 26, 2016
- 20, 21 Prescription Drugs January 30, 2014
- 22 New Drug Approvals June 14, 2018
- 23 Drugs.com August 10, 2009
- 24 Drug Injury Watch September 10, 2008
- 25 RTV6 July 17, 2018
- 26 CDC How common is invasive candidiasis?
- 28 J Am Geriatr Soc. 2012 Jun;60(6):1005-11