While conventional medicine continues to drug women with PMS with addictive SSRIs, Japanese researchers have determined that Lavender essential oil can alleviate premenstrual emotional mood changes, confirming other research showing that Lavender aromatherapy produces overall calming effects.
The research comes from Japan's Shitennoji University and Kyoto University. The scientists conducted a randomized crossover study using 17 women with an average age of 20 years old who experienced premenstrual emotional symptoms in the late luteal phase of their menstrual cycle. These emotional symptoms have been defined by conventional medicine as premenstrual syndrome, and in its worst stage, as premenstrual dysphoric disorder or PMDD – which typically appear in the late luteal phase (about a week prior to menstruation).
The women were selected from Shitennoji University after the researchers conducted medical questionnaires and medical histories from a larger group of women.
The women were tested during two different monthly cycles. Their cycle phases were determined by measuring their body temperatures and their levels of estrone and pregnanediol-3-glucuronide – taken from urine samples.
During the first test, half the women inhaled the scent of Lavender essential oil – generally called aromatherapy – for ten minutes. The other half of the women were tested using water as a control.
During the second test, the control group inhaled the Lavender aromatherapy while the other group was tested with the control.
The researchers tested the effects of the aromatherapy using two different measurements. The first was heart rate variability (HRV) measured by electrocardiograph. Other research has established that reduced heart rate variability (HRV) is associated with increased stress and anxiety and related symptoms.
The other measurement used to test their emotional states was the Profile of Mood States index – a standardized test that uses a five-point scale (ranging from "not at all" to "extremely") for 65 different adjectives describing a subject's current state of mind and mood. Examples include "irritability," "fatigue" and so on.
The researchers found from both tests that the groups inhaling the Lavender had increased heart rate variability – indicating improved moods and reduced stress. They also found that the Profile of Mood States test results were significantly better in the Lavender aromatherapy groups compared to the two control groups.
Some of the more significant improvements in the Profile of Mood States test were in the depression, dejection and confusion categories. These three categories are typically lower for premenstrual syndrome sufferers.
The improved symptoms of the Lavender aromatherapy groups continued for up to 35 minutes following the ten-minute aromatherapy.
The researchers surmised that the improvement from Lavender aromatherapy was due to Lavender affecting the women's parasympathetic nervous system:
This study indicates that short-term inhalation of Lavender could alleviate premenstrual emotional symptoms and could, at least in part, contribute to the improvement of parasympathetic nervous system activity."
Premenstrual syndrome and PMDD involve a number of symptoms, which include but are not limited to mood swings, anxiety, stress, panic attacks, fatigue, food cravings, insomnia and others.
While many doctors and scientists agree that the syndrome is related to changes in hormone levels, there have been differing opinions on which are responsible. However, a 2006 study from Sweden indicated that a reduction in serotonin availability appears to be related to increased occurrence of premenstrual syndrome and PMDD.
This finding has led to the widespread prescribing of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) by conventional medicine for premenstrual syndrome and PMDD. While in the U.S., PMDD is considered a disease and SSRIs the prescriptive course, many countries - including those in the EU - have rejected this notion that PMDD is a disease and SSRIs are the necessary prescriptive course, due to the fact that SSRIs have been shown to become addictive and have numerous side effects including nausea, headaches, drowsiness, mania and others.
Meanwhile, Lavender aromatherapy shows promise as a natural and safe way to boost serotonin levels. Recent research from China's School of Pharmaceutical Sciences indicates that Lavender essential oil aromatherapy elicits the stimulation of both serotonin and dopamine from the brain – both of which can elevate moods and produce calmness.
Confirming this, in 2011 researchers from Taiwan's Taipei Medical University Hospital found that Lavender aromatherapy elevated moods and increased sleep quality in a clinical study of 67 women who were aged between 45 and 55 years old. This study also showed that Lavender increased heart rate variability – another sign of serotonin boosting - among the women.
The Japanese researchers analyzed their Lavender essential oil and determined the major constituents included about 75% linalyl acetate and linalool, as well as ocimene, caryophyllene, ocimene and lavendulyl acetate.
Lavender (Lavandula sp.) aromatherapy has been used for centuries by herbal practitioners for calming anxiety and for mood disorders. There are more than three dozen medicinal varieties of Lavender, and Lavender's recorded use dates back over two thousand years.
The typical way of utilizing aromatherapy is with a diffuser. Just a few drops (3-4) of an essential oil onto a diffusing element can quickly deliver its therapeutic scents throughout the room. An easy diffuser is a clean crumpled tissue. Other types of diffusers are available - including some that utilize heat to diffuse the scent. An essential oil may be diffused by dropping into boiled water as well - this will diffuse the scent via the vapor - but less oil should probably be used in this case. Aromatherapy scents may also be diffused via candles and lamp rings - but be careful because essential oils are also flammable.
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Chien LW, Cheng SL, Liu CF. The effect of Lavender aromatherapy on autonomic nervous system in midlife women with insomnia. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:740813.
Eriksson O, Wall A, Marteinsdottir I, Agren H, Hartvig P, Blomqvist G, Långström B, Naessén T. Mood changes correlate to changes in brain serotonin precursor trapping in women with premenstrual dysphoria. Psychiatry Res. 2006 Mar 31;146(2):107-16.
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