Lavender has long been touted for its calming properties and ability to help people relax, but until this week, this has largely been overlooked by the medical world.
Researchers led by Hideki Kashiwadani of Kagoshima University have now published a study in Behavioral Neuroscience demonstrating the profound calming effects of vaporized lavender compound linalool, a fragrant alcohol found in lavender extracts.
They key is to smell the compound, not absorb it in the lungs, in order to reap the benefits that it can offer to stress and anxiety disorders.
The findings come amid a growing need for safer alternatives to current anxiety-relieving drugs like benzodiazepines.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults nationwide each year.
There have been previous studies looking into how linalool could treat anxiety disorders however, Kashiwadani pointed out in a statement that the "sites of action of linalool were usually not addressed in these studies."
In their study, Kashiwadani and colleagues tested mice to see if the smell of linalool could trigger relaxation and they found that the relaxing effects were triggered via olfactory neurons in the nose.
"These results suggest that linalool does not act directly on GABAA receptors like benzodiazepines do -- but must activate them via olfactory neurons in the nose in order to produce its relaxing effects," explained Kashiwadani.
The study suggested that relaxation seen in mice fed or injected with linalool could be due to "the smell of the compound emitted in their exhaled breath," Kashiwadani noted, adding that while further studies were needed, the implications could be profound.
"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," said Kashiwadani.
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