In 2015, the World Health Organization estimated that anxiety disorders affect approximately 6.3% of individuals in the United States. Anxiety is particularly prevalent among the elderly, especially in those with Alzheimer’s disease.
In general, people with anxiety disorders are treated with anti-anxiety drugs, particularly with benzodiazepines. Although these drugs can be effective, they often produce many unpleasant side effects. Furthermore, even when effective, they can become less effective with time.
Recently, researchers at Kagoshima University in Japan studied the effect of linalool – a form of alcohol contained in the essential oil of lavender – as a treatment for anxiety. Lavender has often been cited by practitioners of aromatherapy and traditional Oriental medicine as being helpful for people suffering from anxiety. The goal of the researchers was to determine if lavender, and in particular linalool, were useful in reducing anxiety, and to determine the pathway in which linalool functioned.
Another motivator for the research was to find safer alternatives to benzodiazepines. Indeed, one of the team’s key findings was that linalool works without the common side effects of benzodiazepines. A paper describing the teams results was published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.
Dr. Hideki Kashiwadani, of the Graduate School of Medical and Dental Sciences at Kagoshima University, and a co-author of the paper noted that the calming effects of linalool have been investigated and confirmed many times. However, “the sites of action of linalool were usually not addressed in these studies.”
An important finding of the study was that the prevailing assumption of how linalool worked was incorrect. It had long been assumed that linalool’s effect derived from its entry into lungs, and from there into the bloodstream. From the bloodstream, it could reach specific proteins in the brain, known as gamma aminobutyric acid type A (GABAA) receptors. These are the same receptors targeted by benzodiazepines.
The research team devised a series of experiments to test this hypothesis.
In one experiment, they exposed mice that lacked a sense of smell to vapors of the compound linalool, and found that the compound failed to produce any calming effects on the test subjects.
In another experiment the researchers injected linalool, rather than having its vapors inhaled, and noted the same side effects as are found with benzodiazepines.
In another experiment, the research team pretreated normal mice with the drug flumazenil, which effectively blocks the GABAA receptors in the brain. After the administration of this drug, the mice were exposed to linalool vapors. In this case, the animals showed no reduction in their anxiety levels.
The conclusion of the studies was that, unlike benzodiazepines, linalool does not act directly on the GABAA receptors in the brain, but rather they activate the GABAA receptors via olfactory neurons. The olfactory neurons in the nose affect the GABAA receptors directly, which in turn causes the calming, anti-anxiety effect of linalool.
Their evidence was so compelling that it is now been conjectured that any calming effect of linalool when injected was likely to be due to the smell of the compound in their exhaled breath, rather than its introduction into the blood system.
At Hamilton Grove Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, in Hamilton, NJ, we have created a unique environment and care program specifically designed to address the needs of the Alzheimer’s and dementia population.
We not only know about the soothing effects of lavender, we use it and other scents in our Alzheimer’s Unit, which brings comfort to our residents by offering innovative sensory therapies, including audiovisual stimuli, artful pastoral scenes, in addition to aromatherapy.
Our Alzheimer’s Unit is situated in a separate, secure wing to ensure the safety and well-being of our residents. It offers a structured daily routine, mind-stimulating activities, excellent social interaction, with optimal patient independence in a calm and soothing atmosphere.
Or better yet, come see for yourself: Contact us to schedule a tour by calling 609-588-5800 or by clicking here.