Orange Aromatherapy for Anxiety

NF-Mar31 Does Orange Aromatherapy Reduce Anxiety?.jpg

Aromatherapy -- the use of concentrated essential oils extracted from plants to treat disease -- is commonly used to treat anxiety symptoms. Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent class of psychiatric disorders in the general population. However, their treatment is challenging, because the drugs used for the relief of anxiety symptoms can have serious side effects.

Thankfully, credible studies that examine the effect of essential oils on anxiety symptoms are gradually starting to appear in the medical literature. However, in most of these studies, exposure to the essential oil odor was accompanied by massage. This makes it difficult to draw firm conclusions about the effect of the aroma itself.

A typical example includes this study where patients in the intensive care unit the day after open-heart surgery got foot massages with orange-scented oil. Why not back massages? Because they just had their chests cracked open so they have huge sternotomy wounds. Patients showed a significant psychological benefit from the aromatherapy massage.

But how do we know the essential oil had anything to do with it? Maybe it was just the massage. If that's the case, then great--let's give people massages! I'm all for more ICU foot rubs. "There is considerable evidence from randomized trials that massage alone reduces anxiety, so if massage is effective, then aromatherapy plus massage is also effective." One study where cancer patients got massaged during chemo and radiation even found that the massage without the fragrance may be better. The researchers thought it might be a negative Pavlovian response: the patient smells the citrus and their body thinks, "Oh no, not another cancer treatment!"

More recently the ambient odor of orange was tested in a dental office to see if it reduces anxiety and improves mood. Ambient odor of orange was diffused in the waiting room and appeared to have a relaxant effect--less anxiety, better mood, and more calmness--compared to a control group where there was no odor in the air. No odor, that is, except for the nasty dentist office smell. Maybe the orange scent was just masking the unpleasant odors. Maybe it had nothing to do with any orange-specific molecules. More research was necessary.

So in another study, highlighted in my video, Orange Aromatherapy for Anxiety, researchers exposed some graduate students to an anxiety-producing situation and tested the scent of orange, versus a non-orange aroma, versus no scent at all. The orange did appear to have an anxiety-reducing effect. Interestingly, the observed anxiety-reducing effects were not followed by physical or mental sedation. On the contrary, at the highest dose, the orange oil made the volunteers feel more energetic. So orange aromatherapy may potentially reduce anxiety without the downer effect of Valium-type drugs. Does that mean we can get the benefits without the side effects? I've talked about the concerns of using scented consumer products before, even ones based on natural fragrances (Throw Household Products Off the Scent), and there have been reports of adverse effects of aromatherapy.

Alternative medicine isn't necessary risk-free. For example, there are dozens of reported cases of people having their hearts ruptured by acupuncture. Ouch.

But the adverse effects of aromatherapy were mostly from skin irritation from essential oils being applied topically, or even worse swallowed. Certain citrus oils can also make your skin sensitive to sunlight.

Lavender may also help for both anxiety (Lavender for Generalized Anxiety Disorder) and migraines (Lavender for Migraine Headaches).

The only other aromatherapy-related video is Wake Up and Smell the Saffron, though I have others on natural ways do reduce anxiety, including:

Natural, though, doesn't always mean safe. See, for example:

Of course eating citrus is good too! I have videos on Reducing Muscle Fatigue With Citrus and Keeping Your Hands Warm With Citrus, but Tell Your Doctor If You Eat Grapefruit.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: Tim Sackton / Flickr

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Using Lavender to Treat Anxiety

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 didn’t 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. Perhaps the lavender was 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 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 we actually eat lavender flowers? Or in the case of the study I profile in my 3-min video Lavender for Generalized Anxiety Disorder, 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 one feel hungover, but they have a high potential for drug abuse and addiction. So 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 Alzheimer’s, 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.

There are some dietary components known to affect with the hormonal balance of young boys. Check out Dairy & Sexual Precocity.

More on lavender in Lavender for Migraine Headaches.

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

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 DetoxBroccoli Versus Breast Cancer Stem Cells, and dozens of my other broccoli videos.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t 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: tfengreen / Flickr

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