There is a reason why lavender oil is considered the “Swiss-Army Knife” of oils. It is very versatile and has many uses from being a natural air freshener to a natural anxiolytic, antidepressant, and de-stressor. Anxiolytics are substances (ranging from essential oils to drugs) that inhibit anxiety.
What is anxiety? Anxiety is defined as an “apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness (Quoted from Merriam-Webster Dictionary).” Anxiety (along with stress) over long periods of time can disrupt the natural homeostasis (or balance) of the body. It puts the body into “fight-or-flight” mode. This acute (or short term) use of the “fight-or-flight” system can be good to help you accomplish or avoid the anxiety inducing task. However, chronic (long term) anxiety and stress can result in an inflammatory response, resulting in increased cortisol levels (a stress hormone), increased blood sugar, increased fatty plaque build-up and can eventually lead to heart disease, and other cardiovascular incidences if left unchecked. It can also cause gut disturbances leading to decreased ability to absorb essential nutrients the body demands during an anxiety inducing/stressful event.
So how does lavender fit into this? Lavender essential oil has been described as very calming and has a “grounding” effect. I personally have used lavender frequently to help get me through the stress of graduate school. After applying some topically (generally my wrist or neck) and inhaling the residual on my hands, I feel much more relaxed. The aroma from the oil goes straight to the brain via the olfactory nerves located in the nasal passages. However, don’t just take my word on the effectiveness of lavender oil. Here are some neat studies about lavender oil from the US National Institute of Medicine.
In 2016, a study was conducted assessing the effectiveness of lavender on postpartum depression, anxiety and stress. 140 women were randomly divided into groups using a control group (non-aromatherapy) and the aromatherapy group. They found statistical significance (meaning the study showed positive evidence) in the use of essential oils and how it helps relieve postpartum anxiety and depression. Stress during the time of a newborn is extremely high, however, 3 drops of lavender on the palm of the hands rubbed together every 8 hours was found to help with the stress, and reduced the anxiety and risk of depression. The conclusion of this study stated, “As inhalation of lavender can lead to prevention of stress, anxiety, and postpartum depression, it can be used as a complementary method to prevent these disorders.” This study can be found here.
In 2017, a study was published on the use of lavender aromatherapy to help with preoperative anxiety. The final results showed a modest effect and possible statistic significance. The reason for the word “possible” being added was because of limitations (which means something that inhibited the study from progressing, [think what limits the study?]) The author of the study stated, “Given the questionable clinical significance and limitations of this study, further research is needed to substantiate the clinical benefits of lavender aromatherapy in the ambulatory surgery setting, especially its efficacy in reducing adverse patient outcomes, limiting use of preoperative anxiolytic medications, and improving patient satisfaction. However, it should be noted that a majority of patients reported that they felt calmer while receiving aromatherapy and found the lavender scent pleasant. Given the simplicity, low cost, and safe profile of lavender aromatherapy, the authors promote its use in reducing preoperative anxiety in the ambulatory surgery setting.” (Emphasis added). You can find this study here.
There is even some research that lavender can even help lower blood pressure, and heart rate. It is still in the beginning stages, however, results look promising regarding using lavender, ylang ylang, and bergamont essential oils as an intervention to high blood pressure. I would highly recommend reading this study here.
Disclaimer: As with any natural products, it should be taken under the supervision of a health care provider and medication should not be stopped unless directed by your doctor. Essential oils are not FDA approved to treat illnesses, however, they are becoming increasingly popular as a complementary alternative. Always talk to your healthcare provider (whether MD, NP, DO, ND, DC, etc.) about complementary medicine, especially if you are on current medications, as essential oils (or any complementary alternative medicine) may adversely effect the drug causing dangerous side effects. Inhalation, and topical use of essential oils are the safest method and least likely to cause side effects.
I am extremely picky about what brand of essential oils I use because I believe in purity, quality, transparency, affordability, accessibility, safety, years of experience of the company, and educational information available about essential oils. As a healthcare professional, I have really high standards for oils and where to purchase them. If you have any questions or comments on lavender or other essential oils, please feel free to comment below or send me a message through the “contact” portion and I will gladly answer them.
The next post in our essential oils series will be on one of my favorite oils: Frankincense!
Remember: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!