In today's 24/7 times, with many of us trying to juggle increasing work commitments and often-gruelling travel schedules with hectic social lives, handy products that help us relax and unwind are in high demand. The use of natural remedies for health benefits dates back to biblical times, and one of the most widely used for alleviating anxiety and promoting relaxation is lavender. But despite its long-standing reputation, there has been a lack of large-scale clinical trials to test its efficacy. However, a recent study at Japan’s Kagoshima University adds weight to the argument in favor of lavender’s anti-anxiety powers.
One of the most widely used remedies in aromatherapy, proponents of lavender suggest that breathing in the scent in the form of essential oil or applying the oil to the skin transmits messages to the limbic system, a region of the brain known to influence the nervous system and help regulate emotion. And as reported this week in The New York Times, scientists have now been able to demonstrate the anxiety-reducing qualities of lavender odors.
Physiologist and neuroscientist Hideki Kashiwadani and his colleagues became interested in learning how linalool, an alcohol component of lavender odor, might work for anti-anxiety while testing its effects on pain relief in mice, noticing its calming effects. Their latest study, published on Tuesday in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, concludes that sniffing linalool is similar to taking Valium, working on the same parts of a mouse’s brain, but without the dizzying side effects.
Though it has yet to be tested, Dr Kashiwadani suspects that linalool may also work on the brains of humans, and other mammals that have similar emotional circuitry. The study's findings add to a growing body of research, and suggest a new mechanism for how lavender odors work in the body, a key step towards developing lavender-derived compounds like linalool for clinical use in humans.
The fact that the study provides a foundation towards the clinical application of linalool odor for anxiety disorders is important because, as The New York Times reports, not only do mood disorders affect nearly a fifth of all adults in the United States, but many of the drugs used to treat them come with side effects that can often be less tolerable than the anxiety itself. That relief could, in the future, be triggered by simply inhaling a soothing scent will undoubtedly be very welcome news to many.