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Herb Lemon Balm Relieves Anxiety, Improves Mental Performance
Anxiety and stress in our daily lives are responsible for a range of problems beyond the immediate discomfort they cause – they contribute to heart disease, mental impairment, and diabetes. The commonest approach to treatment is the many drugs offered by pharmaceutical companies to alleviate symptoms. But most health-conscious people, wary of side effects and the possibility of addiction, would prefer to steer clear of them.
Fortunately, there are alternatives, particularly extracts of naturally occurring botanical elements. One of these, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), has proven to be as effective for anxiety as a leading synthetic prescription drug.
Lemon balm has been used by physicians since ancient times to reduce anxiety and agitation and promote sleep. Lemon balm extract cannot be patented, which has led to its properties being ignored by drug companies.
Animal studies on the effects of lemon balm have been conducted, however. One project administered low doses to mice being exposed to laboratory stress situations such as unfamiliar environments, and showed a decrease in anxious behaviors. Higher doses showed analgesic effects. Lemon balm extracts caused mice to sleep that had been given very small, non-sleep-inducing, amounts of regular sedative drugs.
More recently, a project studying the sedatives herbal preparations used in Lebanese traditional medicine showed that extract of lemon balm is able to bind to brain receptors that trigger relaxation.
Benefits of Melissa officianalis shown in human studies
In the last several years, a mass of research results from around the world has accumulated about lemon balm and its ability to reduce anxiety and alleviate mood disorder in humans. They agree with the experience of herbal practitioners: lemon balm, combined with other botanical agents is effective in ameliorating stress-related illness.
A double-blind study in 2004 used a combination of lemon balm and other herbal extracts reputed to quell anxiety, in lozenge form. Sixteen volunteers took either placebos or the lozenges in two doses, two hours apart, and had their brain wave patterns traced just before, just after, and at different intervals after the dosage. Those taking the lozenges showed significant increases in the alpha waves associated with the relaxed state. At the same time, they also showed increased activity in the brain waves associated with attentiveness. This suggests that the preparation in the lozenges helped the participants deal calmly with stress without loss of alertness or cognitive ability.
The same year, another study tested for the effects of lemon balm on people undergoing stress in a lab environment. The group of 18 volunteers were given either lemon balm extract (at 300 or 600 mgs) or a placebo. Mood assessment was made before the dose and one hour afterward, by using a standard stress simulation test. In addition, their cognitive responses were monitored. The higher lemon balm dose reduced the stress of the test, with markedly better levels of alertness and calm mood reported by the subjects. Even the 300 mg dose was associated with significantly better speed in solving the test’s math problems, with no loss of accuracy.
Clinical trial of lemon balm for insomnia and anxiety
Recently, 20 volunteers who suffer from sleep disturbance and anxiety took part in a clinical study of lemon balm for stress reduction, with excellent results. Either a placebo or a special lemon balm preparation, 300 mg per dose, was taken twice daily. After 15 days, the subjects taking lemon balm showed by self-report a 49% reduction in anxiety, 72% less anxiety-related physical symptoms, and 39% less insomnia. Those receiving placebos had no significant changes in their insomnia or anxiety.
These results are important evidence of lemon balm’s stress-reduction qualities; what’s more, the benefits showed clearly about two weeks after treatment was started. The subjects taking lemon balm experienced better sleep, but there was no undesirable drowsiness during the day – which suggests that it may be the anti-stress qualities of the herb that restores healthful sleep patterns.
Effects on cognition and attention
Another study by the same research team was published shortly thereafter that gave evidence of other lemon balm benefits. Another group of 20 volunteers took single doses (at 600, 1000, and 1600 mg) once a week. Cognition was tested just before, just after, and at one-, three-, and six-hour intervals after consumption. Participants were much calmer than their starting level and gave much better cognitive performances at each time interval after the highest dosage, whereas the lower doses showed improvements at lower levels. The researchers, using a laboratory model, were able to show that lemon balm binds with receptors in the brain (cholinergic receptors) in the occipital cortex. These receptors are altered in those with Alzheimer’s and age-related cognition deficits, and the effects of the lemon balm extract may be able to benefit them.
New and encouraging data has become available that supports the concept of lemon balm enhancing cognition in those suffering age-related cognitive decline. Such decline is often accompanied by stress and anxiety, and the anti-stress properties of lemon balm may also be useful in bettering these problems.
European scientific body recommends lemon balm
The tension-soothing and mind-clarifying properties of lemon balm are not its only qualities. It has enjoyed a reputation for centuries for improving symptoms such as bloating and gas, nausea and vomiting, insomnia, earaches, toothaches, and headaches. The European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy (therapy using botanical products) has officially recommended lemon balm for treating tension, irritability and restlessness.
Source: Life Extension Foundation www.lef.org. Original article by Tiesha D. Johnson, RN, BSN