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Can lavender take the edge off of anxiety?

Lavender seems to reduce non-clinical anxiety a bit according to this meta-analysis, but the evidence isn't all that strong.

Study under review: Effects of lavender on anxiety: A systematic review and meta-analysis.

Introduction

Everyone has experienced some level of anxiety. It’s the feeling of uncertainty and worry that isn’t always logical, but keeps you physically on edge in anticipation of some sort of threat. While evolutionarily[1] it may have been beneficial to trigger a stress response and prepare the body for fighting or fleeing, as humans have progressed and slowly increased our consumption of information, stimulation, and exposure to bad news, the chances of firing up this useful feeling for relatively less logical or worrisome threats appear to have increased. Today, anxiety disorders are estimated to keep up to 15% of the general population[2] on edge when threats are actually few and far between.

Anxiety disorders are characterized by an acute autonomic system activation accompanied by anticipation of a future threat and range from generalized anxiety disorder and phobias to panic attacks, as shown in Figure 1. They are twice as common[3] in women, in comparison to men. Treatment can be drug-free through lifestyle changes and cognitive behavioral therapy, while anxiolytic drugs like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or benzodiazepines can be effective but include some adverse effects, including delayed onset, dependence, tolerance, sedation, and cognitive impairment.

Figure 1: Anxiety disorders as classified by the DSM-5
Separation anxietyHigh levels of fear and anxiety surrounding separation from an attachment figure. Symptoms usually develop in children.
Selective mutismSelective failure to speak in specific social situations where speaking is expected. Usually develops in childhood. Often accompanied by social anxiety disorder.
Separation anxietyHigh levels of fear and anxiety surrounding separation from an attachment figure. Symptoms usually develop in children.
Specific phobiaFear, anxiety, or avoidance that disrupts one’s quality of life and concerns a specific situation or object.
Social anxiety disorderDisruptive fear, anxiety, or avoidance of social situations.
Panic disorderFrequent, regular panic attacks, and a fear of future attacks alongside avoidant behavior.
AgoraphobiaStrong fear in situations where escape feels difficult, like crowded enclosed places or wide open spaces. Often accompanied by dysfunctional avoidance of those situations.
Generalized anxiety disorderExcessive, disruptive fear or worry about a wide range of subjects.
Substance-, medication-, and disease-related disordersAnxiety that can be traced to another cause, such as medication, substance withdrawal, or another medical condition.
Other or unspecified disordersAnxiety that is disruptive and troubling, but doesn’t fall into any of the categories above.

Lavender is an herbal remedy traditionally associated with anxiolytic properties and few adverse effects. The key active constituents[4] of lavender that are responsible for its supposed calming and sedative effects are linanyl acetate and linalool. The herb is often administered in the form of essential oil distilled from the flower, and the oil can be used orally, topically, or through inhalation.

Various animal studies have been conducted to elucidate the underlying mechanism of action for the sedative effects of lavender. Mouse motility has been notably reduced following 60 minutes of lavender essential oil, linalool, and linalyl acetate inhalation in two separate studies[5][6] from the same group. The anxiolytic properties[7] of lavender seemingly come from the antagonization of NMDA and GABA-related receptors in the central nervous system that influence muscle contraction, as well as inhibition of the serotonin transporter.

The authors of the study under review conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to determine the influence of lavender on anxiety and anxiety-related measures. They also evaluated the literature for the best method of lavender administration.

Lavender has traditionally been used as an anxiolytic. Animal studies have begun to uncover a potential mechanism for its effects, but clear evidence to support clinical use is lacking. The authors of the study under review designed a systematic review and meta-analysis with the aim of determining lavender’s efficacy and the best method of administration.

What was studied?

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