The science of reducing anxiety with natural remedies

 Graphic by Penelope Taylor ’20

Graphic by Penelope Taylor ’20

BY FIONA HINDS ’21

Throughout history, lavender has played an important role in medicine and folklore. According to the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine’s website, Lavandula angustifolia, or English lavender, is the most common species grown and used medicinally. Its most common medicinal uses include remedying digestive issues, headaches, grief and stress.

An article published by the New York Times entitled “Lavender’s Soothing Scent Could Be More Than Just Folk Medicine” details the results of a study connecting lavender with reduced anxiety. Hideki Kashiwadani, a physiologist and neuroscientist at Kagoshima University in Japan, has been testing the effects of linalool, an alcohol component of lavender oil, on mice. The mice simply had to smell it to feel its calming effects. The linalool produced similar effects to Valium (a drug often used to treat anxiety), and triggered the same areas of the brain without the harmful side effects.

Though not yet tested on humans, Dr. Kashiwadani hypothesizes that linalool would work in a similar way for most mammals due to similarities in brain structure and emotional chemistry. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 31.1 percent of U.S. adults experience an anxiety disorder and many of the medications used to treat them come with harmful side effects. Although Kashiwadani is optimistic about the future of linalool and hopes it can be helpful to treat symptoms of anxiety, its effects on humans are currently only speculation.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s website, anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental illness in the United States, affecting about 18 percent of adults. Despite being common and relatively easy to treat, only about 37 percent of those suffering receive treatment. Anxiety is especially common on college campuses. It is estimated that between 40 and 60 percent of college students suffer from anxiety. Some big stressors for college students include social media, financial worry, classes and plans for after college. “Exams, for sure, having to study for something and not knowing if I’ll even have studied the right info is a nightmare to me,” said Sophie Bright ’21. Bright herself uses lavender as an anxiety remedy. “I love lavender and keep little sachets of it around because the smell calms me down a lot,” said Bright.

Anxiety is often treated with medication, talk therapy and forms of “self-help” such as exercising, eating healthy foods and getting enough sleep. For medications, treatment success depends on the individual, as some people take longer to respond to treatment. If the individual suffers from comorbidity, or having another mental illness in addition to anxiety, treatment usually takes longer.

Exercise is especially helpful for calming anxiety. Exercise produces endorphins, chemicals in the brain that act like natural painkillers, which can increase the quality of sleep and in turn reduces anxiety. Studies have shown that even a ten minute walk can help to alleviate anxiety, and that while temporary, exercise can deliver several hours of relief. However, as always, exercise doesn’t affect everyone the same way. Some people benefit immensely from it while others see less of a change.

According to the Medical News Today website, another emerging anxiety treatment is CBD oil, or cannabidiol oil. CBD oil is produced from cannabis, but does not carry any intoxicating effects. While research on it is still developing, there is more and more evidence that CBD oil has several health properties, including helping mental health and providing relief from anxiety. CBD oil is edible and can be used as a cooking oil or added to food. People can also take it as a medication by consuming a few drops. Despite the possible benefits, more studies are required to fully confirm the benefits and any longterm effects.

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