5 Healing Benefits of Lavender Oil
For over 2,500 years, lavender has been documented in medicinal and religious uses, from ancient texts through modern movements. Beginning with Egyptian mummification, lavender moved to Roman bathhouses, fragrance, and cooking.
In modern times, lavender oil is credited as the essential oil that Gattefosse instinctively covered his burned arm with, igniting a renewed interest in essential oils and inspiring the term aromatherapy. That lavender has stood the test of time, inspiring interest in so many eras, cultures, and generations, is a testament to the varied and effective capabilities it carries.
5 Special Health Properties of Lavender
While the millennia have used lavender based on tradition and ancient wisdom, modern science is only just now discovering the mechanisms of lavender's benefits and its rich health benefits. To scratch the surface of its capabilities, let's look at the top 5 properties that lavender essential oil brings to the table – a table riddled with health concerns.
1. Lavender is a Potent Antioxidant
A recurring theme in any natural health discussion, antioxidants are, in effect, the super healers that our culture needs. The free radicals created by toxins, pollutants, chemicals, and even stress are the culprits for a cascade of cellular damage, immune inhibition, and limitless health risks – including chronic illness and cancer.
If free radicals are the villain, antioxidants are the hero.
The body itself creates antioxidants in the form of the enzymes glutathione peroxidase (GSH-Px), superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase (CAT), among others. But we expose our bodies to an onslaught of free radicals and drain our bodies in sedentary lifestyles, so our natural production is not always sufficient.
We've already seen some super antioxidants, like clove essential oil, and lavender joins the ranks as a powerful natural antioxidant support. Not long ago, Chinese researchers observed that lavender essential oil would attenuate all three major antioxidant enzyme levels in mice within the first day of treatment. (1) In Romania, researchers noted similar activity using inhaled lavender for an hour each day and, according to the study, “Taken together, our results suggest that antioxidant and antiapoptotic activities of the lavender essential oils are the major mechanisms for their potent neuroprotective effects against scopolamine-induced oxidative stress in the rat brain.” (2)
2. Lavender Can Help Manage Diabetes
Tunisian traditional medicine utilizes lavender, grown in their region, as a remedy and health support. In 2014, local scientists released the results of a study they had conducted to determine how this traditional remedy actually works. Their findings were fascinating.
The researchers established a 15-day study of diabetic rats, during which lavender essential oil was used as a treatment. The lavender treatment protected against all of the following, each one a hallmark of the diabetic illness:
- Blood glucose increases
- Metabolic illness
- Weight gain
- Depletion of antioxidants
- Liver and kidney disfunction and lipoperoxidation
The presence of unmitigated free radicals, the depletion of antioxidants and liver and kidney function, the descent into metabolic illness and weight gain – all are components of diabetes as an illness. Potent antioxidants like lavender essential oil are allies in the pursuit of long term health, and this study underscored its abilities. (3)
With more research and concrete answers, perhaps one day lavender essential oil and other natural treatments will be the standard for diabetic prevention and relief!
3. Lavender Protects Neurological Health
While Tunisian researchers were analyzing metabolic health, lavender was taking center stage in published neurological research, and for similar reasons – to confirm longstanding traditional use. Lavender essential oil has long been used for stress, headaches, depression and anxiety, which all fall under the umbrella of neurological conditions.
Just as confirmation of diabetic and metabolic support was uncovered in 2014, lavender's neuroprotective abilities were confirmed time and again in 2012 – the year of the lavender! In other words, science and history are slowly but surely meeting on common ground.
A full literature review made its way to the International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice in 2010, confirming lavender oil's efficacy over the breadth of seven separate trials. A lavender essential oil capsule under the name Silexan was shown to consistently relieve symptoms such as sleep disturbance, anxiety, and low quality of life. What's more, no one reported side effects, interactions, or withdrawal symptoms. If you've ever encountered pharmaceutical use for these conditions, you know how incredible that statement is!
Lavender's neuro-heroics don't stop with sleep. Research confirms time and again its incredible properties.
- A 2012 study conducted in Germany demonstrated the restorative benefits of inhaled lavender essential oil vapor. With 60 minutes a day inhaled by rats with dementia, lavender was shown to prevent scopolamine-induced oxidative stress. (4)
- The same study took Post Traumatic Stress Disorder into consideration, as well, finding significantly improved sleep, moods and health, as well as reduced depression in individuals who were plagued with PTSD.
- In the same year, Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practices published a control study that highlighted the benefits of lavender for postpartum women. Twenty-eight women at high risk for postpartum depression found lessened anxiety and depression symptoms under a four week lavender aromatherapy treatment plan. (5)
- Finally, in 2012, Molecules took a different neurological route when they published the theory that lavender may be a treatment worth considering for stroke. Yes, you read that right! According to the study, “In comparison with the model group, treatment with lavender oil significantly decreased neurological deficit scores, infarct size, the levels of [free radical], and attenuated neuronal damage [and antioxidants].” (6)
4. Lavender as an Antimicrobial Agent
As much as lavender has been inhaled for neurological health, it has been utilized as an antimicrobial protectant against infections and disorders. Nearly one hundred studies have been conducted and published on this topic, confirming repeatedly what history has known to be true.
Generational wisdom has rarely used oils singly when treating infectious illness. The combination of oils creates a synergistic reaction, maximizing each oil's potential. This has been validated with science.
Scientists from the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa found that 75.6% of the forty-five blends they attempted produced favorable results. Of the blends used, the lavender-cinnamon and lavender-orange mixtures were the most powerful. Candida albicans and Staph aureus were susceptible to a 1:1 ratio of these oils, both frequent causes of topical and respiratory illness. (7)
5. Lavender Soothes and Heals the Skin
Those antimicrobial and antioxidant components come full circle in this last – and certainly not least – major benefit of lavender essential oil.
Particularly when mixed with a soothing carrier oil like aloe or coconut – 10 drops per 1 ounce – lavender essential oil is highly effective against sunburns, dry skin, minor scrapes and cuts, and canker sores. Even some immediate-type allergic reactions may be mitigated with lavender! (8, 9)
A Note About Working Memory
As we've already seen, lavender essential oil can possibly help protect people with dementia from oxidative stress. However, we need to remember that lavender is so calming, that it can affect “working memory.” This doesn't mean that lavender will make people stupid, it's just that you don't want to be diffusing lavender while taking an important test or doing work at the office when you need to focus; especially if you have dementia or Alzheimer's disease!
Over 140 participants were gathered for the study conducted by University of Northumbria, Newcastle. Aromatherapy including rosemary and lavender, as well as a control group were utilized to affect cognitive performance.
- Regarding lavender and it's calming abilities, “lavender produced a significant decrement in performance of working memory, and impaired reaction times for both memory and attention based tasks.”
- On the other hand, as a memory stimulant, “rosemary produced a significant enhancement of performance for overall quality of memory and secondary memory factors.”
In other words, lavender made participants feel relaxed and complacent, while rosemary increased alertness and provoked memory retention. (10)
A Note About Estrogen and Lavender
The only reason why we're even having this discussion is because of a poorly researched 2007 New England Journal of Medicine article titled, “Prepubertal Gynecomastia Linked to Lavender and Tea Tree Oils.” The long and the short of it is that three boys obscurely developed idiopathic cases of prepubertal gynecomastia (when boys experience enlarged, tender breast buds) for a short period of time (1 – 5 months).
It was determined that all three patients were using either a shampoo, lotion, soap or balm that included lavender oil and Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil as ingredients. The researchers extrapolated that these essential oils were “estrogenic” based off of a preliminary in vitro evaluation. In their words, “On the basis of the three case reports and the in vitro studies, we suspect that repeated topical application of over-the-counter products containing lavender oil or tea tree oil was the cause of gynecomastia in the three patients.” (11)
There are several epidemiological reasons why this conclusion is false and is out of the scope of this article to cover each one, but I'll leave you with this thought: just because lavender and tea tree oils were two common ingredients in the products that these three boys were using, it does not prove that they were the cause. This is a classic statistics blunder that many make. “Correlation does not imply causation,” because there are countless other variables that not being considered (diet, environmental triggers, medicines, and etc.).
Suffice it to say that essential oils safety expert Robert Tisserand emphatically states that, “Lavender oil does not mimic estrogen nor does it enhance the body’s own estrogens. It is therefore not a ‘hormone disruptor’, cannot cause breast growth in young boys (or girls of any age), and is safe to use by anyone at risk for estrogen-dependent cancer.” (12) And Tisserand's conclusion has been supported by more recent research.
In 2013, for instance, the International Journal of Toxicology published a study confirming that lavender is not estrogenic, at least in female rats. Whether it is for humans remains to be seen, but there is literally no research to prove otherwise. (13)
Safety & Contraindications
When it comes to drug interactions and contraindications, there are literally textbooks devoted to the study of essential oil safety, and I must defer to the chemists, pharmacists and experts who understand this complicated topic more than I.
With that said, as a trained researcher and doctor, I think it’s important to note that there is virtually no research out there discussing how essential oils interact with drugs in human clinical trials. Essentially, what this means is that essential oil safety is still a wild frontier in the science community and no one really knows (for certain) how essential oils will interact with drugs or your body.
Let common sense be your guide. Still, be sure to maintain proper dilutions, and general safety considerations still apply. As always, discontinue use if any adverse reactions occur and consult your physician immediately.