The Grapevine

Feeling Anxious? Smell Of Lavender Could Help Calm Down, Study Says

In the past, studies have examined how lavender oil could provide healing benefits when used in an orally administered form or topical form. But can simply smelling the oil do anything for our health?

The study titled "Linalool Odor-Induced Anxiolytic Effects in Mice" was published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience on Oct. 23.

Aromatherapy, which is the use of aromatic plant oils to improve well-being, is considered to be a form of alternative medicine. This is because the associated scientific evidence is, at times, limited or questionable.

"Many people take the effects of 'odor' with a grain of salt," said co-author of the new study Dr. Hideki Kashiwadani of Kagoshima University, Japan. "But among the stories, some are true based on science."

In folk medicine, Kashiwadani noted, there has been a belief that odorous compounds derived from the extracts of plants could help in soothing symptoms of anxiety. 

Lavender oil is among the most popular essential oils, used in a variety of products ranging from bath bombs to candles, many of which claim to help induce calmness. The research team decided to find out if this effect actually takes place by studying a group of mice.

They observed the behavior of the mice after being exposed to linalool vapor. This was done to find out if linalool, a naturally occurring alcohol found in lavender extracts, was responsible for triggering relaxation.

According to the findings, the mere act of smelling the scent was able to induce a relaxing effect in the brain of every mouse. Additionally, the movement of these mice was not impaired when compared to mice injected with linalool and mice that were on benzodiazepines.

It appears to be an indirect effect as the smell stimulates odor-sensitive neurons in the nose which goes on to activate receptors in the brain. With this in mind, it is a possibility that mice injected with or fed linalool actually experience benefits because of the smell in their exhaled breath, not because of linalool being administered into their system.

Further research using animals is still needed, to ensure safety and efficacy, before the scent can start being tested in human clinical trials. If successful, linalool could be introduced in the future as a form of treatment for patients with anxiety disorders. It may be of particular importance to those who want to avoid drugs like benzodiazepines.

"These findings nonetheless bring us closer to clinical use of linalool to relieve anxiety — in surgery for example, where pretreatment with anxiolytics can alleviate preoperative stress and thus help to place patients under general anesthesia more smoothly," the researchers noted.

"Vaporized linalool could also provide a safe alternative for patients who have difficulties with oral or suppository administration of anxiolytics, such as infants or confused elders."