Lavender: nature's analgesic and relaxant  August 19, 2015 15:51

Lavender  (Lavandula angustifolia) has been used in the folk medicine for centuries. Its purple flowers are so popular in aromatherapy that theplant has become a object of interest of scientists. Scientific databases are now full of papers describing studies of lavender. Do these studies support the anecdotal evidence of the powers of lavender? At least partially – yes.

 

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It appears that the essential lavender oil relaxes and soothes the nervous system. This could be because one of the ingredients of the oil – linalool – downregulates a chemical in the brain called NMDA, whose task is to excite the brain cells (Brum et al., 2001). Linalool also enhances  GABA – a transmitter which calms the neurons (Hossain et al., 2004). It seems that the effects of lavender are strongest when it is given orally. German scientists compared a lavender tablet called Silexian with a well know, addictive anxiety medication – lorazepam, which potentiates GABA (Woelk and Schläfke, 2010). Patients who suffered from general anxiety were divided into two groups. One group received lorazepam, and the other the lavender tablet. After six weeks it turned out that the natural product had a similar anti-anxiety effect to lorazepam. Silexian also improved the quality of sleep. It did not cause addiction or sedation – problems often associated with lorazepam. I don’t know about you, but I am now tempted to start using lavender in cooking and baking!

Another study focused on women suffering from  intense menstruation pain (Ou et al., 2012). Here again the particiapants were divided into two groups. Women from one group were asked to massage their bellies with a 3% cream that contained essential oils of lavender, sage and marjoram in proportions: 2:1:1. Ladies from the second group received a cream with a synthetic scent.  In those who used the herbal cream the average duration of painful cramps went down from 2.4 to 1.8 days. Patients using synthetic smelling cream also felt better, but improvement in their case was significantly smaller. For those of you interested in biology, the analgesic ingredients of botanical oils include linalyl acetate, linalool, eucalyptol and b-caryophyllene.

Lavender also reduced pain in another group of patients: those undergoing haemodialysis (Ghods et al., 2015). This unpleasant procedure requires inserting a needle, which causes pain and stress. As you have probably figured out by now, here too participants were divided into groups, but this time three: in one the essential lavender oil was sprayed on the skin before the needle insertion, in the other the skin was sprayed with water, and in the remaining patients nothing was applied before the procedure. The result revealed that the lavender oil reduced pain. This effect could be partly due to the fact that this natural oil decreases the response of the emotional centres in the brain to pain, blocks the transmission of the pain signals, calms and improves the mood.

 

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So we now that the lavender extract works when it is given orally or topically. But is it worth inhaling it? Here the results of studies are mixed, but it seems that inhaling the vapours of this fragrant flower for at least five minutes acts like an analgesic and relaxes. This was shown in healthy volunteers who had a needle inserted into their arm (for no other reason than the good of science!) (Kim et al., 2011). Those volunteers whose oxygen mask was wiped with lavender oil felt less stress and pain than those with regular oxygen mask.

There is a reason why the folk medicine for centuries relied on lavender oil to soothe anxiety, fears and pain. This pure nature’s medicine, used in the correct way, is safe and inexpensive. If you have problems with sleep, try inhaling the oil before going to bed. Remember though to always use the lavender oil and extract as advised by the manufacturer or a qualified therapist.

 Jadwiga Nazimek ©

Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only.

  

References:

Brum, L. F., E. Elisabetsky, and D. Souza, 2001, Effects of linalool on [(3)H]MK801 and [(3)H] muscimol binding in mouse cortical membranes: Phytother Res, v. 15, p. 422-5.

Ghods, A. A., N. H. Abforosh, R. Ghorbani, and M. R. Asgari, 2015, The effect of topical application of lavender essential oil on the intensity of pain caused by the insertion of dialysis needles in hemodialysis patients: A randomized clinical trial: Complement Ther Med, v. 23, p. 325-30.

Hossain, S. J., H. Aoshima, H. Koda, and Y. Kiso, 2004, Fragrances in oolong tea that enhance the response of GABAA receptors: Biosci Biotechnol Biochem, v. 68, p. 1842-8.

Kim, S., H. J. Kim, J. S. Yeo, S. J. Hong, J. M. Lee, and Y. Jeon, 2011, The effect of lavender oil on stress, bispectral index values, and needle insertion pain in volunteers: J Altern Complement Med, v. 17, p. 823-6.

Ou, M. C., T. F. Hsu, A. C. Lai, Y. T. Lin, and C. C. Lin, 2012, Pain relief assessment by aromatic essential oil massage on outpatients with primary dysmenorrhea: a randomized, double-blind clinical trial: J Obstet Gynaecol Res, v. 38, p. 817-22.

Woelk, H., and S. Schläfke, 2010, A multi-center, double-blind, randomised study of the Lavender oil preparation Silexan in comparison to Lorazepam for generalized anxiety disorder: Phytomedicine, v. 17, p. 94-9.