Lavender - Its Soothing Scent Could Be More Than Just Folk Medicine


Researchers have found that some components of lavender odor have effects on anxiety similar to taking Valium…

Lavender bath bombs; lavender candles; deodorizing lavender sachets for your shoes, car or underwear drawer; lavender diffusers; lavender essential oils; even lavender chill pills for humans and dogs. And from Pinterest: 370 recipes for lavender desserts.

Take a deep breath. Release.

Everyone likes lavender. We’ve been using this violet-capped herb since at least medieval times. It smells nice. But Google “lavender” and results hint at perhaps the real fuel for our obsession: “tranquillity,” “calm,” “relaxation,” “soothing,” and “serenity.” Lavender has purported healing powers for reducing stress and anxiety. But are these effects more than just folk medicine?

Yes, say the researches from Kagoshima University in Japan.

In a recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, researchers studying mice found that sniffing linalool, an alcohol component of lavender odor, was kind of like popping a Valium. It worked on the same parts of a mouse’s brain, but without all the dizzying side effects. And it didn’t target parts of the brain directly from the bloodstream, as was thought. Relief from anxiety could be triggered just by inhaling through a healthy nose.

Their findings add to a growing body of research demonstrating anxiety-reducing qualities of lavender odors and suggest a new mechanism for how they work in the body. The researches believe this new insight may be a key step in developing lavender-derived compounds like linalool for clinical use in people.

In this study, they exposed mice to linalool vapor, wafting from filter paper inside a specially made chamber to see if the odor triggered relaxation. Mice on linalool were more open to exploring, indicating they were less anxious than normal mice. And they didn’t behave like they were drunk, as mice on benzodiazepines, a drug used to treat anxiety, or injected with linalool did.

But the linalool did not work when they blocked the mice’s ability to smell, or when they gave the mice a drug that blocks certain receptors in the brain. This suggested that to work, linalool triggered odor-sensitive neurons in the nose that send signals to just the right spots in the brain - those same ones triggered by Valium.

Though not directly tested it in humans, the researchers suspect that linalool may also work on the brains of humans and other mammals, which have similar emotional circuitry. This matters, because anxiety disorders affect nearly a fifth of all adults in the United States, and a lot of the medications used to treat them come with side effects, sometimes less tolerable than the anxiety itself. Who wouldn’t prefer to simply take a whiff of lavender and feel at peace with no impairment?

Learn more about the benefits of and how to use lavender

Fabio AlmeidaeZine33