Lavender as Therapy for Depression
The combination of lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) and imipramine is more effective in the treatment of depression than either treatment alone, according to a new study in Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry (2003;27:123–7). The findings of this study suggest that taking a moderate amount of lavender may help reduce the amount of tricyclic antidepressants needed to treat depression, leading to fewer side effects that are common with these types of medications.
Depression currently affects about 5% of all adults in the United States. Causes of depression include life circumstances, stressful events, biochemical changes in the brain, poor nutrition, and hormonal imbalances. While some people with depression respond well to counseling and psychotherapy, others need more aggressive treatment with prescription medications. Several categories of medications have been used to successfully treat depression, including tricyclic antidepressants (such as amitriptyline [Elavil®] and imipramine), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (Marplan®, Nardil®), heterocyclic antidepressants (Desyrel®, Wellbutrin®), and the more popular selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (Prozac®, Zoloft®, Paxil®). However, most of these drugs can produce adverse side effects, including dry mouth, weight loss or weight gain, low blood pressure, arrhythmias, and decreased sexual function.
In the new study, 45 adults between the ages of 18 and 54 who were diagnosed with depression were assigned to one of three groups. The groups received either (1) 60 drops per day of lavender tincture (1:5 extract in 50% alcohol) plus a placebo tablet, (2) 60 drops per day of a placebo tincture plus 100 mg per day of imipramine, or (3) 60 drops per day of the lavender tincture and 100 mg per day of imipramine for four weeks. Scores from the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAM-D), a questionnaire used to evaluate the severity of depression (higher scores suggest more severe depression), were evaluated initially and then weekly after the start of treatment.
Each of the three treatment groups showed a significant decrease in HAM-D scores at the conclusion of the study, compared with initial measurements. However, the group taking the combination of imipramine and lavender had a significantly greater reduction in HAM-D scores and the antidepressant effect occurred more rapidly, compared with those taking imipramine or lavender alone. Side effects of imipramine included dry mouth and urinary retention, while some individuals taking lavender reported headaches. None of these side effects were considered to be severe.
Lavender has long been used by herbalists as a treatment for anxiety, nervous exhaustion, and depression. However, this is the first scientific study to document its effectiveness as an adjuvant to prescription medication for the treatment of depression.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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