Can these purple flowers benefit more than just potpourri?
Beyond its use as a household moth repellent, lavender (Lavandula) may benefit human life in other useful ways. The last several months of lavender studies have looked at pain, sleep, mood and other cognitive issues. The focus has been on the oil of this purple flower, which, as WebMD puts it, “seems to have sedating effects and might relax certain muscles.”
Results, however, are mixed.
Lavender After Cesarean Surgery
When Iranian researchers assigned 60 pregnant women to inhale lavender oil drops or placebo after C-sections in 2013, women in the lavender group appeared to benefit the most. They reported less perceived pain and higher satisfaction after surgery (90% vs. 50%), and they had decreased heart rates. Lavender sniffers were also less likely to use anti-inflammatory drugs after surgery. The totality of results left the researchers to conclude that lavender may be useful as part of a “multidisciplinary treatment of pain.”
Lavender in a Nursing Home
With the help of a blinded observer, Australian researchers evaluated the behavior of 64 nursing home residents before and after residents were administered lavender or placebo oil on their forearms. Because each resident was characterized with dementia-like behavior, the observer (wearing a nose clip) watched for the presence or absence of “physically agitated behaviors” 30 minutes before and 60 minutes after oil application.
Lavender oil did not show a discernible impact. Despite the result, the researchers wrote that “[lavender’s] potential for sedative and anticonvulsant activity is clear,” based on previous studies. Product variability and a limited knowledge of lavender’s pharmacological properties are two areas where lavender science needs to improve.
Sleeping with Lavender
In a curious 2014 study involving bedside lavender, 50 subjects slept a night with or without lavender-filled glass jars placed near their beds. Using vital signs and a 6a.m. sleep questionnaire, researchers looked for signs of better sleep. Those who slept near lavender reported better overall sleep scores along with lower blood pressure during sleep, but the differences were deemed insignificant. Interestingly, subjects in the placebo group experienced an increase in blood pressure.
Lavender for Stress
Yes, anxiety disorders are often treated with pharmaceutical drugs such as paroxetine (Paxil). But lavender may serve as a sufficient, natural alternative. In another 2014 study, European researchers assigned over 500 adults with anxiety disorder to daily lavender oil capsules, paroxetine, or placebo for 10 weeks. Lavender users reported less anxiety than paroxetine users, based on Hamilton Anxiety Scale scores, and, like placebo users, they reported fewer side effects.