Around one in five people regularly experience stress-related anxiety, with worry and negative thoughts interfering with sleep and the ability to concentrate. Free-floating anxiety with no obvious cause is particularly distressing, and can lead to tiredness and exhaustion as well as loss of confidence and low self-esteem.
I often recommend Lavender aromatherapy oil to aid sleep as, when inhaled, it has a natural sedative effect to help overcome insomnia. The oil can be sprinkled on a handkerchief and tucked under your pillow, or you can use sachets of dried lavender flowers. It is so popular that Lavender pillow sprays are even provided in some of the more expensive London hotels.
Pharmaceutical grade oils are now also available in capsule form to relieve symptoms of stress-related anxiety. For safe oral use, the oil must come from the flowers of one particular species, Lavandula angustifolia Miller, and be prepared to pharmaceutical standards to ensure they do not contain pesticides or other synthetic chemicals. Don’t be tempted to take other forms of aromatherapy lavender oils by mouth.
How does lavender oil reduce anxiety?
Brain scans using positron emission tomography show that lavender oil works via serotonin-1A receptors in the brain, reducing their binding potential so that levels of free serotonin and related neurotransmitters rise, resulting in reduced anxiety.
How effective is lavender oil at reducing anxiety?
More than 15 clinical trials involving over 2,200 people show that lavender oil capsules are effective for treating anxiety and, unlike when inhaling the oil, there are no unwanted sedative effects. Typically, there was at least a 50% reduction in the severity of anxiety symptoms at the end of each study, with improvements in anxious moods, tension, fears and physical symptoms such as muscular aches and pains, racing heart, breathing changes and gastrointestinal symptoms.
In one study, involving 170 people with anxiety-related restlessness and disturbed sleep, taking 80mg pharmaceutical grade lavender oil once a day for 10 weeks, symptoms was significantly more effective than placebo with 31% achieving total remission. Those whose anxiety was initially graded as moderate to severe responded the best.
Some trials have compared lavender oil capsules with prescribed anti-anxiety medication, such as lorazepam, and shown similar effectiveness in relieving generalised anxiety disorder. Both treatments reduced the physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety, and improved sleep by around 45%.
It is slower acting than prescribed benzodiazepines, but significant benefits are seen within two weeks. Lavender oil capsules have also been compared against paroxetine, an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) drug that is prescribed to treat anxiety disorders such as panic attacks. Both treatments were equally effective in relieving anxiety symptoms, but the lavender oil also had beneficial effects on general mental health and resulting in an improved quality of life.
Pharmaceutical grade lavender oil capsules are safe for oral use, are not sedating and are not habit forming. The most common side effects are belching. A few people have reported mild skin itching or rash.
Dr Sarah Brewer MSc (Nutr Med), MA (Cantab), MB, BChir, RNutr, MBANT, CNHC, qualified from the University of Cambridge with degrees in Natural Sciences, Medicine and Surgery. After working in general practice and realising that many illnesses have a dietary basis, she gained a Master’s degree in nutritional medicine from the University of Surrey. As well as being a licensed doctor, Sarah is also a Registered Nutritionist, a Registered Nutritional Therapist and an award-winning health writer. Sarah writes widely on all aspects of health and nutrition, is the author of over 60 popular self-help books. She has a nutritional medicine website, a self-help website, and a site dedicated to lowering a high blood pressure. Follow her on Twitter for food and nutrition @DrSarahB and for health @DrSarahBHealthy.