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Lavender oil for anxiety

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Ask the Experts
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Q: have heard that natural health products such as lavender oil may help with my anxiety. Has this been evaluated through scientific research?

A: Lavender oil has been used in Germany for years, where it is also approved for the treatment of anxiety and restlessness. There are a surprising number of human trials evaluating this substance for its anxiolytic effects, including in generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), post traumatic stress disorder, and chronic fatigue (neurasthenia).

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Research summary

In a study in patients with GAD, a lavender oil supplement was shown to reduce ratings of anxiety by over half in 60 percent of patients. By comparison, 43 percent of patients taking the medication paroxetine and 38 percent of patients taking placebo experienced a similar reduction.

In another study of patients with anxiety, the same lavender oil supplement was shown to significantly reduce ratings of anxiety, as well as improve sleep quality and quantity.

A third study compared the lavender oil supplement to the anxiety and sleep medication lorazepam. In this study, ratings of anxiety decreased to a similar extent in both groups: 45 percent in the lavender group and 46 percent in the lorazepam group. Unlike lorazepam, lavender does not have side effects such as over-sedation and dependence.

Finally, a study of patients with chronic fatigue, post traumatic stress disorder, or somatization disorder found that the lavender oil supplement improved the following symptoms: restlessness, depressed mood, sleep disturbances (including waking frequency, waking duration, and morning tiredness), and anxiety.

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How does it work?

Imaging studies of the brain have shown that lavender oil affects serotonin communication in the brain, and appears to especially affect specific areas within the limbic system, which is known for its role in emotional regulation.

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