Using Lavender to Treat Anxiety

Lavender oil, which is distilled from lavender flowers, is often used in aromatherapy and massage. Despite its popularity, only recently have scientific investigations been undertaken into its biological activity.

While there have been small-scale studies suggesting benefit from lavender oil massage, we didnít know if the benefit was coming from the lavender, the massage, or both. In an attempt to separate these two variables, a study was conducted in which patients in intensive care were given massages with either odorless oil or lavender oil. While patients massaged with lavender oil did say they felt less anxious and more positive, there were no objective differences found in terms of blood pressure, breathing, or heart rate. The lavender may have just been covering up the nasty hospital smells.

Subsequent studies using more sensitive tests did find physiological changes, though. We now know the scent of lavender can actually change brain wave patterns, but we didn’t know what the implications were until more recently. Studies have shown the scent of lavender makes people feel better as well as perform math faster and more accurately (whereas the smell of rosemary, for example, seemed only to enable folks to do the math faster, but not necessarily with greater accuracy).

How else might one use natural means to improve cognitive performance? Check out my video Does a Drink Of Water Make Children Smarter? and for† more brain hacking tips, Dietary Brain Wave Alteration.

But what if you actually eat lavender flowers? Or in the case of the study I profile in the above video, take capsules of lavender-infused oil so as to perform a double-blind study to compare lavender head-to-head to lorazepam (Ativan).

Generalized and persistent anxiety is a frequent problem and is treated with benzodiazepines (also known as benzos or downers) like Ativan and Valium. Unfortunately, these substances can not only make you feel hungover, but they have a high potential for drug abuse and addiction, so the researchers decided to give lavender a try. Ativan certainly reduced anxiety, but so did the lavender! By the end of the study you couldn’t tell which group was which, and among those that responded to either, the lavender actually seemed to work better.

The spice saffron may be aromatherapeutic as well. See Wake Up and Smell the Saffron for its role in treating PMS,† above and beyond its other effects on the brain (Saffron vs. Prozac, Saffron for the Treatment of Alzheimerís, and Saffron Versus Aricept).

Since lavender oil has no potential for drug abuse and no sedating side-effects, it appeared to be an effective and well-tolerated alternative to benzodiazepine drugs for amelioration of generalized anxiety. †One cautionary note, however: There was a case series published in the New England Journal of Medicine entitled “Prepubertal Gynecomastia Linked to Lavender and Tea Tree Oils.” They reported cases of young boys exposed to lavender-containing lotions, soaps, hair gels, and shampoos starting to develop breasts. These effects disappeared after the products were discontinued, suggesting that lavender oil may possess hormone-disrupting activity. Indeed, when dripped on estrogen receptor positive breast cancer cells, lavender does show estrogenic effects and a decline in male hormone activity. It’s unknown, however, if similar reactions occur inside the body when lavender flowers or lavender oil is ingested.

More on lavender in Lavender for Migraine Headaches.

And more on dietary interventions for anxiety can be found in:

How else might diet affect with the hormonal balance of young boys? Check out Dairy & Sexual Precocity.

For more flower power see my†blog and videos on hibiscus tea (Better Than Green Tea) and chamomile tea (Red Tea, Honeybush, & Chamomile and Chamomile Tea May Not Be Safe During Pregnancy). And hey, broccoli florets are just clusters of flower buds. See†The Best Detox,†Broccoli Versus Breast Cancer Stem Cells, and dozens of my other†broccoli videos.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you havenít yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations†Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image credit: Off2riorob via Wikimedia Commons

Saffron vs. Prozac for Depression
Treating PMS with Saffron
Boost Serotonin Naturally


Fi T.
Past Member 4 years ago

Try not to depend on drugs

Bonnie M.
Bonnie M4 years ago

Nothing like the wisdom of Mother Nature. I/ve used lavender- as an oil, an incense and body soap. The scent is very pleasing. I grow lavender , tro to gather the plant and dry them to hang around the house or use as dried plants or in smudging. A few cc. of lavender oil in a pot of water on top ot the woodstove in colder weather fills the house with that calming scent.

Angela W.
Angela W4 years ago

Interesting, thank you!

Gabriela Maftei
Gabriela Maftei4 years ago


Skylar S.
Skylar S4 years ago

Gah lavender is quite calming. And Ativan's memory loss side effect isn't worth it.

Shawn P.
Shawn P4 years ago

I use lemongrass essential oil, a few drops on a cotton ball, big deep breaths through my nose and the smell helps me feel better almost instantly. Good for headaches too!

Liliana Garcia
Liliana Garcia4 years ago

Wow! Great info one must know. Thanks!

Aino M.
.4 years ago

thank you!

Edgar Zuim
Edgar Z4 years ago

The lavender essential oil is fantastic, with proven medicinal properties.

LMj Sunshine
James Merit4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.