Lavender – a natural anti-anxiety agent

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Published: 28-11-2023

Lavender is known as a plant that has a calming effect and this is confirmed by scientific research. Most data indicate its beneficial effect in times of stress, but it may also help some people suffering from anxiety disorders. It may also improve sleep quality and reduce depressive symptoms that co-occur with anxiety.

Lavender is a genus of plants from the Lamiaceae family, including many species. Already in the 1920s, the oil from these plants was used in the production of balms, perfumes and cosmetics. It is also used in aromatherapy and is known as a sedative.

The main ingredients of lavender oil are linalool, linalyl acetate, 1,8-cineole, b-ocimene, terpinen-4-ol and camphor. The most frequently used in scientific research is Silexan – a drug based on lavender oil, registered in Germany and used to treat anxiety problems. It contains 20-45% linalool and 25-46% linalyl acetate.

Lavender oil binds to GABA receptors, similarly to benzodiazepines – sleep-inducing and anti-anxiety drugs. However, it combines with them in a different place, so it does not have a sleep-inducing effect or is not addictive, like benzodiazepine drugs. Interestingly, however, a mixture composed of half lavender oil and half lemon balm has an affinity for GABA receptors in the same place as benzodiazepines, even though lemon balm itself also does not have such an effect.

Lavender as a stress reliever

The anti-stress properties of lavender have been confirmed by many scientific studies.

For example, Lehrner and colleagues (2005) conducted a study among 200 people waiting to see a dentist. The patients were divided into 4 groups: One group was exposed to the smell of lavender, the second to the smell of orange, the third listened to music and the fourth was exposed to no scents or music. It turned out that the smell of lavender and orange reduced anxiety and improved mood, and lavender contributed to this to a greater extent.

Kritsidima et al. in 2010 examined 340 people waiting to see a dentist. They also confirmed that the scent of lavender reduces current anxiety (but does not reduce general fear of the dentist).

Field et al. (2008) demonstrated the beneficial effect of lavender-scented bath oil. Their study involved mothers who bathed their young children. Adding lavender calmed and lowered cortisol levels in both mothers and children. The children also cried less and slept better after bathing.

A meta-analysis of 30 studies on the effects of lavender under stressful conditions (Kim et al., 2021) showed a statistical effect size of -0.72, which means a level between medium and high.

Lavender in anxiety disorders

Uehleke et al. (2012) studied the effectiveness of silexan in 47 people with neurasthenia, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or somatization disorder. Patients took 80 mg of Silexan daily for 6 weeks, which resulted in improvement in just over half of the study participants. Their anxiety, depressed mood, sleep problems and anxiety decreased.

In the study by Kasper et al. (2010) there were 221 people diagnosed with unspecified anxiety disorder. They took 80 mg of silexan daily or a placebo for 10 weeks. Improvement occurred in 49% of patients taking placebo and 77% of those taking lavender extract. Lavender capsules reduced anxiety by 59% and improved sleep by 45%, while the placebo reduced anxiety by 35% and improved sleep by 31%.

Silexan has also been studied in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder. In the study by Woelk and Schläfke (2010), 77 patients took 80 mg daily of silexan or 500 mg daily of lorazepam (a drug from the benzodiazepine group) for 6 weeks and it turned out that both drugs reduced the level of anxiety to the same extent.

Another study by Kasper and his colleagues (2010) involved 539 people with generalized anxiety disorder. The study lasted 10 weeks and the participants were divided into 4 groups: silexan 80 mg, silexan 160 mg, paroxetine (an SSRI drug – selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) 20 mg and placebo. After 4 weeks, greater effectiveness of silexan at a dose of 160 mg was observed than placebo, and after 6 weeks, the lower dose also showed positive effects. The lavender-based medicine also reduced co-occurring symptoms of depression and improved overall mental health. Paroxetine, a drug often prescribed for generalized anxiety disorder, was also slightly better than placebo, but the difference was not statistically significant.

Lavender for insomnia

There is some data indicating the effectiveness of lavender in the treatment of insomnia, but the studies are few and some had no control group or had a very small number of participants.

One of the better quality studies (Chien et al., 2012) involved 67 women suffering from insomnia, aged 45-55. One group of participants was subjected to lavender aromatherapy for 20 minutes twice a week, and the control group received information on sleep hygiene rules. The study lasted 3 months and showed that sleep quality improved in people exposed to lavender scent, but there was no such change in the control group.

Lavender can certainly improve sleep quality by reducing stress and anxiety, but more research is needed to determine whether it can help with sleep problems unrelated to anxiety.

Pain-relieving effect of lavender

Lavender may also help with some types of pain, although there is not much research yet.

Sasannejad et al. (2012) studied the effect of lavender scent on migraine headaches. The participants of the study were 47 people who inhaled lavender oil or a neutral scent (placebo) for 15 minutes during a migraine attack. Lavender reduced pain in more people and to a greater extent than placebo.

Apay et al. (2012) showed that a 15-minute massage using lavender oil is more effective in reducing menstrual pain than a massage without the addition of fragrance.

Lavender for depression

Depression often co-occurs with anxiety disorders, and several studies have shown that by reducing anxiety symptoms, lavender also reduces depressive symptoms. There are also studies (Kasper et al. 2016) showing that silexan at a dose of 80 mg is more effective than placebo in the treatment of symptoms of mixed anxiety-depressive disorder. It is a disorder in which depressive and anxiety symptoms are approximately equally severe.

However, there is currently no data confirming that lavender can reduce depressive symptoms if they are not accompanied by anxiety symptoms.


Author: Maja Kochanowska

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