Lavender oil capsules are the latest treatment to gain the status of a traditional herbal medicine in the UK. Licensed for the relief of symptoms of mild anxiety such as stress and nervousness, more than 15 clinical trials involving 2,200 people support its use. The capsules are as effective as prescribed anti-anxiety medication for treating mild anxiety, and significant benefits are seen within two weeks.
When inhaled, lavender aromatherapy oil is an effective sedative used to aid sleep – but don’t even think about swigging from that bottle at the back of your cupboard. For safe consumption, the lavender oil must come from the flowers of one particular species of lavender, Lavandula angustifolia Miller, and be prepared to pharmaceutical standards known as GMP to provide a consistent dose of active ingredients. Other non-pharmaceutical grade lavender oils should not be taken by mouth as they may contain pesticides or other impurities, and contain synthetic chemicals.
How does lavender oil reduce anxiety?
As many as one in five people feel anxious for a lot or all of the time. Worry and negative, spinning thoughts interfere with self-confidence, the ability to concentrate and can lead to difficulty sleeping. These emotional symptoms, along with racing pulse, nausea, tension and headache, are due to excessive stimulation by excitatory neurotransmitters within the nervous system.
Brain scan studies (positron emission tomography) on 17 healthy men who took lavender oil capsules or placebo for 8 weeks, found that lavender oil works by significantly reducing the binding potential of specific serotonin-1A receptors in the brain. This allows free levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters involved in regulating mood and anxiety to rise.
Other studies suggest this leads to the release of less excitatory neurotransmitters to reduce over-stimulation of nerve cells and reduce anxious moods.
Clinical trials show lavender oil reduces anxiety
A trial involving 27 general practices and psychiatric centres compared the effects of pharmaceutical grade lavender oil against placebo in 216 people with an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety scores reduced significantly more in those receiving lavender than placebo, with effectives noticed within two weeks. 76% of those taking the lavender oil capules had at least a 50% reducing in anxiety symptoms and, on average, anxiety symptoms reduced by 59%. There were no unwanted sedative effects.
Lavender oil as effective as prescribed medication
Another trial, involving 77 people with generalised anxiety disorder, compared the effectiveness of pharmaceutical grade lavender oil capsules against a prescribed benzodiazepine, lorazepam.
Both reduced the physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety, and improved sleep to a similar extent (by around 45%).
The lavender oil capsules were as effective as lorazepam for treating generalized anxiety disorder, with no sedative effects and, importantly, no potential for addiction or drug abuse (unlike the benzodiazepines).
Yet another study compared pharmaceutical grade lavender oil capsules against the antidepressant drug, paroxetine, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) used to treat anxiety disorders, including panic attacks.
A total of 523 people with generalised anxiety disorder were randomised to take either lavender oil capsules or paroxetine. Results showed both treatments were equally effective, and the lavender oil had beneficial effects on mental health in general, and health-related quality of life.
Clinical trials show lavender oil improves anxiety-related sleep problems
When 170 people with anxiety-related restlessness and disturbed sleep were given either 80mg pharmaceutical grade lavender oil or placebo, once a day for 10 weeks, symptoms decreased significantly more in those taking lavender capsules, with 31% achieving remission, to confirm the calming and anxiolytic effects. The results were even more pronounced in those with moderate to severe anxiety at the start of the trial.
Is lavender oil safe?
Clinical trials confirm that pharmaceutical grade lavender oil capsules are safe, with no known interactions. Unlike when lavender oil is inhaled, the oral capsules are not sedative and that are not habit-forming.
Do not exceed the recommended dose.
Side effects can include belching or burping, and a few people have reported mild skin reactions such as itching or a rash.
If anxiety is persistent or excessive, always seek medical advice.
Have you tried lavender oil? Did you find it effective?
Click here to read my advice on How To Sleep Better Naturally.
Image credits: lanes_health; spinkhealth