Lavender Oil Reduces Anxiety

Lavender oil has a number of health effects, particularly a relaxing and calmative action. The calming effect of lavender oil has been attributed to phytochemicals within the essential oil. Lavender oil is used in aromatherapy, and in this capacity, the aroma from the lavender oil is considered necessary in order to fully transfer the relaxing properties of the herb. However, when used in aromatherapy massage, the active constituents of lavender oil, including linalool, have been shown to be absorbed through the skin where they enter the blood. Studies have compared the effects of an aromatherapy massage using lavender oil with unscented carrier oil on the anxiety experienced by surgery patients. In one study both the lavender and carrier oils were effective at reducing anxiety in the subjects, which likely attests to the positive health effects of massage. However, the addition of the lavender oil to the massage caused a significant reduction in anxiety when compared to the unscented oil.  

lavender anxiety depression

Lavender oil has been used as a therapeutic agent and medicinal treatment since ancient Rome and Greek times. The main advantages of lavender oil to treat anxiety is its low cost and lack of side effects. Lavender oil is safe and effective at treating mild and moderate anxiety in humans and animals. It is also widely available, which makes it a highly convenient treatment.

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Franco, L., Blanck, T. J., Dugan, K., Kline, R., Shanmugam, G., Galotti, A., von Bergen, A. and Wajda, M. 2016. Both lavender fleur oil and unscented oil aromatherapy reduce preoperative anxiety in breast surgery patients: a randomized trial. Journal of Clinical Anesthesia. 33: 243-249
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The Pharmacology of Lavender Essential Oil

Lavender is a description of a group of plants that belong to the lavendula genus of flowering plants. Lavender is used therapeutically as a mood stabiliser, and in this regard perhaps the most common specie of lavender for this use is Lavandula angustifolia or English lavender. Other common forms of lavender include Lavandula latifolia, a Mediterranean grass-like lavender, Lavandula stoechas, which has butterfly-like bracts on top of the flowers and is also called French lavender; and Lavandula x intermedia, which is a sterile cross between Lavandula angustifolia and Lavandula latifolia. Slight differences in the chemical compositions of the various lavender plants may explain slight differences in the biological activities of the plants observed in studies and anecdotally reported through traditional medicine. Lavender oil is produced commercially by steam distilling the aerial parts of the plant, and often this oil is used in aromatherapy for its relaxing properties.

The essential oil in lavender is a complex mixture of aromatic compounds. This complexity makes chemical identification of all of the components difficult, and this complexity is hampered by slight differences in composition between different plants of the same species depending on factors such as the age of the plant and the growing conditions. The main constituents of lavender essential oil that have been identified to date are linalool, linalyl acetate, 1,8-cineole, β-ocimene (usually both cis and trans-), terpinen-4-ol and camphor. The amount of each component differs considerably between plants and so the medicinal effects of any treatments may vary slightly. Certain plants such as Lavandula stoechas and Lavandula lanata have high camphor levels, whereas other plants such as Lavandula angustifolia, Lavandula dentata and Lavandula pinnata are low in camphor (around 2 %). However, the low camphor plants tend have greater amounts of terpenes (e.g. -phellandrene) and sesquiterpenes (e.g. caryophyllene).

lavener anxiety depression stress

One study demonstrated that just one session of aromatherapy with lavender (1 % Lavender angustifolia) was significantly effective at reducing anxiety in patients in intensive care.

The inhaled volatile compounds in lavender essential oil are evidenced to have central nervous system effects in humans and animals. Inhaled volatile compounds are believed to work by modification of the limbic system of the brain. In this regard these compounds may modify the amygdala and hippocampal regions. It has been suggested that lavender volatiles may have a similar mode of action to benzodiazepine drugs through an ability to enhance the activity of the GABA system of neurotransmission. In addition, linalool from lavender may increase levels of acetylcholine in the brain. Both linalool and linalyl acetate are absorbed rapidly through the skin and reach peak plasma levels around 19 minutes after application. Linalyl acetate acts as a narcotic and linalool may act as a sedative. This makes lavender an effective sleep inducer. Studies investigating the effects of lavender have supported the contention that it is able to induce sleep, relaxation and has a calming effect in humans and animals. Oral consumption of lavender extracts are also effective in this way.

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Cavanagh, H. M. A. and Wilkinson, J. M. 2002. Biological activities of lavender essential oil. Phytotherapy Research. 16(4): 301-308
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Lavender Essential Oil for Anxiety

Lavender is the common name for a group of plants belonging to the Lamiaceae (mint) family of plants. Like many mint plants, lavender is associated with an essential oil that gives a distinctive aroma. Lavender is a plant associated with a relaxing calming effects and the essential oil of lavender is often used in aromatherapy for its relaxing and calming properties. However, lavender taken orally may also have relaxing effects. Studies on humans and animals have suggested that the essential oil of lavender is an anxiolytic agent, and may act through its ability to alter GABA levels in the brain. In one study, the anxiolytic effects of orally administered lavender were investigated on subjects following exposure to a film that was chosen to cause anxiety in the subjects. Subjects took 100 or 200 μl of organic Lavandula angustifolia oil prior to watching the film. The results of the study showed that the lavender extract was significantly able to reduce the anxiety experienced by the subjects at the 200 μl dose.  

lavender anxiety depression mood

Lavender essential oil contain linalool, which has been suggested to be partially responsible for the anxiolytic effects of lavender. Interestingly carotenoids in tea are converted to linalool during the manufacture of black tea, and the presence of linalool in black tea may also explain some of the anxiolytic effects of black tea. Linalool blood levels peak roughly 20 minutes after consuming lavender orally.

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Bradley, B. F., Brown, S. L., Chu, S. and Lea, R. W. 2009. Effects of orally administered lavender essential oil on responses to anxiety-provoking film clips. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental Volume 24 (4): DOI: 10.1002/hup.1016
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Aromatherapy for Mood Disorders?

Aromatherapy is the use of the aromas of the essential oils from plants, along with massage, to cause physiological changes. For example, aromatherapy oils have been shown to cause relaxation or stimulation of humans and animals. This likely relates to volatile chemicals within the aromas of the essential oils that cause pharmacological changes to the consumer. Further, massage has been shown to elicit relaxation in humans and animals. As aromatherapy has been shown to have relaxing effects, it stands to reason that they may be effective as a treatment for anxiety or depression. A number of studies have investigated the effects of aromatherapy on mood disorders and generally results have suggested that they have beneficial effects. For example in one study, researchers gave fortnightly 40 min aromatherapy massages to a group of individuals and found that after 12 weeks the anxiety and depression in the subjects had been reduced significantly in comparison to a group that received massages but no essential oils.

aromatherapy anxiety depression

The essential oils most often used in this study were bergamot (Citrus bergamia), lemon (Citrus limon), clary sage (Salvia sclarea), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), geranium (Pelargonium graveolens), rose otto (Rosa damascena) sandalwood (Santalum album) and jasmine (Jasminum officinalis). Many of these plants have been shown to be effective against anxiety and depression due to the phytochemicals they contain, both within the essential oils and within other plant tissues.

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Lemon, K. 2004. An assessment of treating depression and anxiety with aromatherapy. International Journal of Aromatherapy. 14(2): 63-69
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Tea Versus Coffee

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More Evidence That Antidepressants are Antioxidants

Although antidepressant drugs are widely prescribed for the treatment of anxiety and depression, it is not fully understood how they work. Medical literature suggests that modern antidepressants work by increasing levels of serotonin, noradrenaline or dopamine in the brain. This is suggested to occur by inhibition of reuptake mechanisms that act to reduce these neurotransmitters for their intra-synaptic location. However, evidence is accumulating that antidepressant may actually be effective because they are antioxidants. For example, in one study, researchers measured the antioxidant status of a group of individuals taking antidepressants. The results of the study showed that after 12 weeks of antidepressant therapy there was a significant increase in the antioxidant status of the subjects, and this was accompanied by a significant decrease in oxidative stress. Therefore the antidepressant treatment was effective at significantly improving the antioxidant capacity of the subjects, suggesting that the antidepressants were antioxidants.

anxiety depression antioxidants

Antioxidants are effective at preventing and treating mood disorders because oxidative stress is a primary cause of the brain changes that lead to anxiety and depression. This relates to the inflammatory pathways activated by stress, which are accompanied by a significant increase in the generation of free radicals. These free radicals generate oxidative stress, and antioxidants are effective at preventing the tissue damage to the brain associated with these changes. Plant antioxidants are also effective antidepressants and anxiolytic agents, but are not associated with side effects like pharmaceutical antidepressants. A plant rich diet is therefore effective at preventing and treating mood disorders.

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Cumurcu, B. E., Ozyurt, H., Etikan, I., Demir, S., & Karlidag, R. (2009). Total antioxidant capacity and total oxidant status in patients with major depression: impact of antidepressant treatment. Psychiatry and clinical neurosciences, 63(5), 639-645
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Antioxidants as Therapy for Low Mood

Exposure to stress is a primary factor in the development of mood disorders. Stress is able to cause mood disorders because one of the downstream effects of the presence of high levels of stress hormones is the production of inflammation in the brain. This inflammation causes the generation of free radicals, and this can cause oxidative stress within the brain tissues that can subsequently alter brain chemistry. Antioxidants are protective of mood disorders because they can prevent the changes to brain chemistry associated with oxidative stress. In one study researchers administered an antioxidant formula containing β-carotene, ascorbic acid, pyridoxine, zinc sulphate and sodium selenite to subjects admitted to hospital for heart disease treatment. The results of the study showed that after 2 years of taking the supplement, the depression in the subjects was significantly lower than a similar group that had been administered a placebo, suggesting that antioxidants were an effective antidepressant therapy.

antioxidants mood anxiety depression

Interestingly in this study the antioxidants were not effective at reducing the anxiety of the subjects. The reason for this is not clear, but may relate to the slightly different causes of anxiety and depression. In other studies, antioxidants have been shown to provide beneficial effects against the development of anxiety. A diet high in plant foods is the best way of obtaining a high level of antioxidant nutrients.

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Leng, G. C. 1998. Impact of antioxidant therapy on symptoms of Anxiety and depression. A randomized controlled trial in patients with peripheral arterial disease. Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine. 8(4): 321-328
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Does Caffeine Consumption Cause Anxiety?

It is often reported that tea and coffee are able to trigger anxious symptoms in certain people. However, this anecdotal evidence is not supported by studies that have investigated the effects of caffeine, coffee and tea on the symptoms of anxiety. For example in one study, researchers used a detailed examination of a large scale nutritional study that was performed on thousands of individuals. From this they reported that there was no association between the consumption of tea and coffee with symptoms of anxiety. In fact other studies have reported that tea may be beneficial at protecting from the development of anxiety and coffee may be beneficial at protecting from the development of depression. One possibility is that caffeine itself is not the cause of anxiety, but that withdrawal of caffeine leads to brain changes that worsen any already anxious feelings. General advice is that in sensitive individuals who feel that caffeine worsens any symptoms of anxiety, moderation or cessation is likely the best solution.

caffeine anxiety depression

It should be remembered that not all caffeine sources are the same. Soft drinks for example may be a cause of anxiety not because of the caffeine they contain, but because of the sugar they contain. Also, instant coffee is not nutritionally the same as filter coffee, and instant coffee may not provide the same levels of beneficial protective phytochemicals as filter coffee. Some individuals also drink tea and coffee with sugar, which may actually be the cause of any anxious symptoms. Therefore a certain degree of care and common sense needs to be applied to caffeinated drinks consumption if it is felt that there may be some connection to anxiety.

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Eaton, W. W. and McLeod, J. 1984. Consumption of coffee or tea and symptoms of anxiety. American Journal of Public Health. 74(1): 66-68
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Caffeine Consumption and Depression

Many people associate caffeine with nervousness and the development of anxiety. In the short term, this may be the case, and those with anxiety are advised to avoid excessive intakes of caffeine, particularly from coffee, unless habituated to the intake. However, long term caffeine and coffee consumption does not show an association with depression and may actually be protective of depressed mood. A number of studies have looked at the association between caffeine consumption and depression and coffee consumption and depression. One group of researchers performed a meta-analysis on the association between coffee and caffeine consumption with depression and found that both coffee and caffeine were significantly protective of depression. In another study, a similar association was found for consumption of coffee and caffeine with a reduced risk of depression in women. In yet another study, coffee was significantly associated with a reduced risk of depression, but no association was found for tea.

caffeine coffee depression anxiety

Coffee and caffeine may be protective of depression for different reasons. Coffee contains a number of phytochemicals such as chlorogenic acid and caffeic acid, and these may confer antioxidant protection on the brain, thus protecting the central nervous system from the negative effects of stress. Caffeine is also able to affect the brain, as it can increase the release of catecholamine neurotransmitters. This may also protect the brain from the negative effects of stress and therefore be protective of depression. However caffeine consumption does often increase anxiety in sensitive individuals and so this factor must be taken into account when consuming caffeinated beverages.

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Wang, L., Shen, X., Wu, Y., & Zhang, D. 2016. Coffee and caffeine consumption and depression: A meta-analysis of observational studies. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. 50(3): 228-242
Lucas, M., Mirzaei, F., Pan, A., Okereke, O. I., Willett, W. C., O’Reilly, É. J., Koenen, K. and Ascherio, A. 2011. Coffee, caffeine, and risk of depression among women. Archives of Internal Medicine. 171(17): 1571-1578
Ruusunen, A., Lehto, S. M., Tolmunen, T., Mursu, J., Kaplan, G. A. and Voutilainen, S. 2010. Coffee, tea and caffeine intake and the risk of severe depression in middle-aged Finnish men: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. Public Health Nutrition. 13(8): 1215-1220
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