Ah, there’s nothing quite like a cup of hot chamomile tea to wash away anxiety. Dried chamomile flowers (Matricaria recutita) have been used as far back as Roman times for their calming effects. Today, an increasing number of studies shows that there may be some genuine relaxing benefits in that fragrant, calming cup of chamomile tea.
What’s the magic relaxing ingredient in chamomile? A yellow compound called apigenin, one of the chamomile’s phenolic flavonoids, appears to be the most promising component. Let’s take a look at the science behind chamomile’s impact on your mind.
A 2005 study published in Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin looked at apigenin, and linked it with sleep- and tranquility-enhancing effects. Since then, more research has proven this hypothesis to be true. A 2017 study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine concluded that the use of chamomile extract has the ability to significantly improve sleep quality in the elderly, making it a safer alternative to pharmaceutical sleep medications which can result in withdrawal symptoms and other negative side effects.
A study funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and published in the August 2009 issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology reviewed the effects of chamomile in patients diagnosed with mild to moderate generalized anxiety disorder. The 57 participants received either chamomile capsules containing 220 mg of extract standardized with 1.2 percent apigenin, or placebo, a chamomile-scented capsule with lactose. Chamomile was associated with a greater reduction in standardized test scores for severe anxiety, compared to placebo. These positive results were reproduced in a more recent study published in 2016 in Phytomedicine. These researchers found that individuals who took oral chamomile extract for 8 weeks had a clinically significant reduction in symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, and they reported that chamomile may have the potential to produce a more favorable risk/benefit ratio than typical anxiety medications, which can have side effects such as weight gain and insomnia. Further, an exploratory study that found a significant reduction in standardized scores of depression for chamomile versus placebo was published in the September-October 2012 issue of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine.
So, will your next cup of chamomile tea help resolve your anxiety and insomnia? Although conventional drug therapies for depression, anxiety, and insomnia have helped many, lots of people don’t care to try these medications for many reasons, including potential side effects and cultural or financial concerns. Thus, chamomile may be a promising “natural” calming agent to add to your pantry.
Evidence shows that bioactive ingredients in Matricaria recutita have the capability to calm you down, but it may not be plentiful enough in one or two tea bags to help all people. More testing of chamomile remedies needs to take place so that we fully understand its efficacy, as well as the dosage that is beneficial. Still, you surely can’t minimize the mental health power of taking a few moments for yourself while sitting down and sipping the warm grassy flavors of a cup of chamomile tea.
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Written by Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN with Ally Mirin, Dietetic Intern on October 2, 2019.